This is the first year that I haven’t started seedlings, and I’m sorry that I don’t have much diversity in the varieties of vegetables that shopping the seed catalogues affords. I don’t like being at the mercy of the local nurseries, but I just didn’t get my act together in time to get my seeds started this year. Next year I won’t make the same mistake. Here in South Florida, seeds can be started in August for the prime planting time of the first week of October (weather permitting.)
There’s something very special about growing vegetables from seed. It’s a nurturing proposition, and I’ve always found it fascinating to watch life emerge, grow, and mature. The beautiful harvest is an abundant reward, too. Every night as my husband and I would enjoy fresh salad, eggplant, tomatoes, corn, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, collards, beans and lots of fresh herbs, I could proudly say “I grew this meal from seeds!”
You will need an indoor seed starting station if you are in cooler climates, as seeds need warmth to germinate. Here in beautiful sunny South Florida, I start mine on our screened in lanai. The garden supply companies all have beautiful little seed starting racks and lights for a premium price. We built our own (I use the word “we” very loosely – Rick did all the man-stuff!) utilizing a wire 3 shelf rack and a 4′ fluorescent fixture that we suspended from the top shelf with chains. (This allows us to move the light up as the plants grow.) We put a timer on it so the plants all get 14 hours of light a day. The trays all fit nicely on the top shelf and as some grow taller than others, I move them to one side and adjust the light accordingly.
Seedlings need nurturing, but don’t require a lot of work if you have the right setup. I’ve used several different types of seed starting techniques, and have three different recommendations. In one I utilize styrofoam cups; another method utilizes a seed starting kit that I purchased from Gardener’s Supply, and the other method uses peat pellets, a neat little expanding pellet that turns into a peat pot (also purchased from G.S.)
This kit pictured above includes the bottom tray to hold the water, the tray that holds the individual little pots, and of course it has the little plastic pots. The kit lasted me through two years worth of seedlings before the pots started cracking.
The peat pots are the easiest and simplest way to go. These pellets are inexpensive, and once immersed in water for a couple of minutes they expand into little 1 – 1/2″ pots with little holes in the top to put the seed. Keep them in a tray with water in it, feeding every couple of weeks, and they’ll be ready to harden off in about 7 weeks. The entire pot can be planted, but I like to cut through the netting that forms the cup before planting. Because the peat moss offers very little nutrition, the seedlings need to be planted as soon as they’ve matured. Labeling these is challenging, however. I label each row of seedlings, but they sometimes get mixed in the tray. For that reason, I prefer the starting system or the styrofoam cup method.
Get the smallest styro cups you can find – 5 oz to 10 oz work well. With a pencil, poke three approximately equidistant holes on the sides of the cup at the very bottom. Fill 2/3 full with potting soil. Plant a seed in every cup, and label each cup’s contents by writing on the side with a Sharpie. Put in a tray and place under grow light so that the cups are about 4″ from the light. As the seedlings grow, move the light up so that the plants remain about 3″ from the light. Set the timer to provide 14 hours of light a day. Make sure to water every day. If the cups dry out, they’ll bob in the water until the soil is moist again, and seedlings that dry out die out. Watering from the bottom helps the roots to grow downward, but if they’re bobbing, water from the top until they’re weighted.
Lots of places sell vegetable seeds; I’ll cover the best places I’ve found in a future blog.