Friday, March 12, 2010
Starting seeds indoors
"Though I do not believe that a plant will spring up where no seed has been, I have great faith in a seed. Convince me that you have a seed there, and I am prepared to expect wonders." -- Henry David Thoreau
Sprouting your own seeds seems so simple, yet it brings an enormous sense of accomplishment and pride to me as a gardener. I've known that food comes from seeds my whole life. It seems, well, obvious and kind of boring at first. But when you stop to think that a tiny tomato seed can come to life with just a bit of moisture and the right temperatures... and can pull just the right nutrients out of the ground and air, all the while using sunlight as fuel to built itself up to a million times it's original weight to produce fruits with thousands of new seeds which can do just the same thing - THAT is amazing! While waiting and watching for them to sprout, it's easy to be inspired on a personal level: the idea that "planting a seed" in the right place and at the right time in my life might, with time and care, yield such a harvest! It really is a beautiful thought.
So, as you've probably guessed, I love seeds! And plants... but you knew that bit.
There are several reasons many people choose to start plants from seed:
1) It's cheaper than buying transplants.
2) You can begin them indoors before the weather warms up, and plant an already established seedling/transplant outdoors as soon as the weather warms up
3) there are many more varieties of seeds to choose from than if you choose to buy transplants. Meaning you can get more plant seeds that work well in your climate, in containers, with natural disease/pest resistance, that can tolerate less sun, or are heat/drought tolerant... all sorts of cool traits! Pretty cool, no?
4) You can be bolder about planting... since they are cheaper and you can grow/sprout more of them indoors, you can put them outdoors early, if the weather looks good, and if a frost kills them you can replace them with more; if a frost doesn't kill them, you get an early harvest!
5) You can exchange/give any extra seedlings you grow with your neighbors, and get to know them better at the same time!
6) It's fun!
One way I like to start seeds indoors is by using old plastic egg cartons! Though I am intrigued if others have more creative ways of doing it! Here's an example of mine. The top part of the egg carton traps moisture and keeps the air inside humid (note moisture in egg carton tops in second picture). The plants like that. I poke holes in the egg carton bottom for drainage, and use a plate or lid underneath to catch any drips. Fill each pocket with soil or a seed starting mix (I sometimes mix in vermiculite - light, white, fluffy mica rock pieces - with regular soil to make the soil light, airy and good at retaining moisture). Get soil moist. Plant seeds. Keep soil moist (gently water or use a mister so not to disturb/uproot seedlings).
To germinate, many plants need warm temperatures. You can put them in a sunny, insulated windowsill or be creative and find anywhere warm like on top of the refrigerator (usually is warm from trying to keep it's insides cold) or oven (esp. if your stove is older and has a pilot light). In a few days! Wal-la! Sprouts! Transplant to a bigger pot (or to the final destination if the weather is ready) when they have 3-4 leaves.
Another way to sprout is using peat or coir pellets that expand when in water. You plant the seed, keep the pellet moist and humid. Here's some I did recently. I use a lid/cover to keep the air around the pellets humid and moist. Note: Peat pellets sometime contain fungus fly eggs... the name makes them sound terrible, but they are really pretty benign, basically like gnats. And can show up in potting soils, too. The concern is that young ones can/do eat new, tiny plants roots, potentially killing off a few seedlings. One way to make sure you don't have any is to fully saturate/expand the peat pellet in water, then microwave it on high for 1-2 minutes. Let it cool. Then proceed with planting. Be warned! The kitchen may smell quite earthy if you decide to do it this way!
It's important to note that plants such as snap peas, runner beans, and really a lot of climbing plants, in general, do best if planted directly in the soil. They don't transplant well. Great plants for growing ahead of time are tomatoes, peppers, herbs, flowers... check the package of your seeds to see how early they recommend you grow them indoors.
P.S. I am at .4% of my goal!!! Yay sprouts!
P.P.S. And yes, there's a lot of thinking that still needs to go into what will grow outside on the balcony... more thoughts soon!