Thursday, February 10, 2011

Sowing Your Own Seeds – Part I

Every spring, you head down to the local nursery to buy the plants you carefully selected during your winter hibernation. The joy of seeing the plants you will nurture and enjoy is often marred by the jolt you receive when the cashier gives you the total price of your new garden! Thankfully, there’s a way to avoid sticker shock; you can start seeds at home. Not only does starting your own seeds save you a ton of money, it opens up your seed choices considerably. As you browse through Gurney’s Seed catalog and website, you’ll find varieties you would have had to seek out through multiple stops at different nurseries. The rewards of seed-starting aren’t just fiscal, though. Through this process, you’ll gain the satisfaction that comes from knowing you were behind the plant’s success – it also gives you a head start on the growing season!

Let’s Get Started

Once you’ve found the right seed varieties for you, you’ll need to determine the proper start date. Typically, seeds are started indoors 8 to 10 weeks before the last frost.

Get your seedlings off to a good start by using the right growing medium. A perfect growing mix is very light and holds moisture well. Avoid using potting soil, which becomes too dense after a few waterings and doesn’t allow good air and water circulation. Additionally, regular potting soil can introduce bacteria to a young seed, resulting in its death. If you don’t want to buy a mix, you can create your own by combining 2 parts peat or sphagnum moss with 1 part perlite and 1 part vermiculate. This will not have the nutrients usually included in a commercial mix, however.

Where to Start Your Seeds

The first container for your seeds should be no more than three inches deep and provide good drainage. If you don’t want to buy containers specifically designed for starting seeds, you’ll need to create your own: empty egg cartons, cut-off milk cartons, or deep-sided disposable aluminum pans work fine. Make sure you punch drainage holes in the bottom.

Planting Your Seeds

The general rule of thumb is to plant seeds four times as deep as the seed is wide. Fine seeds, such as petunia seeds, should be sprinkled on top of the medium but not covered. When using individual containers, plant more than one seed in each cell; you’ll need extras since you seldom get 100% germination. If you’re using flats, space seeds a half inch apart only if they’ll be transplanted into a separate pot following germination. If they’re going to stay in the flat until they head outside, space the seed one to two inches apart. Label your seeds, because most seedlings look alike.

Watering Your Seeds

Once they’re planting, you won’t have to worry about feeding your little guys at first. Seeds contain their own food supply packaged neatly within their shells. Make sure you keep them mist, since most seeds absorb water and use it to bust through their shells. Daily checkups are necessary at this point. To water, you can either use a spray bottle, or set up a bottom watering system (this way, seeds can take as much water as they need.) If you choose a bottom watering system, it’s important to avoid letting your pots sit in a pool of water; this can lead to a moldy pot and a dead seed.

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