Time to Start Seeds!…

Spring is on its way and that means for those of us that live in zone 5 (most of New York) it’s time to start planting seeds! Let’s start by learning the basics about a seed packet:

Today I’ll be planting pansy seeds as well as tomatoes(and many others). Pansy’s like cooler weather and do well in the spring, but if you plant pansy seeds in the ground they won’t bloom for a few months…this is why we start them indoors when the snow is still on the ground. Notice on the right side you can see basic info about your seeds….where it likes to grow (full sun/part shade), how long till it blooms, how big it gets etc. Now look at the map, I live in Central New York so I’m right on the edge of transplanting as early as April. Pay attention to what it says on the map, some say “transplant” which means these seeds have already been started indoors….other plant seeds might say “direct sow” which means this is when it’s reccomennded to plant right in the ground.

At this point you probably have spring fever and are aching to get your hands dirty with fresh soil mix…before you go to the store and get soil let’s plan ahead.

There’s a lot of seed starting mixes out there. I have been gardening for two decades now and I personally don’t enjoy seed starting mixes, it’s so light and fluffy and when you water it it floats weird and takes forever to absorb water. So I prefer to buy a bag of seed starting mix as well as a bag of potting soil. Some gardeners might not like this idea but for me this is what I prefer.

I prefer to use organic mixes but this was what I was able to find at the store(one is organic and one isn’t). Someday I hope to compost my own soil mix but for now this is what I’m going to use. Benefit of seed starting mix is it is light and fluffy which is great for the seeds to easily sprout…benefit of adding potting soil is it gives it a bit more body and easier to work with in my opinion.

So you’re at the store and you picked out your soil….now your thinking “wow look at all these seed starting kits!!!! I’m going to buy a bunch!!!” Hold on…let’s take a look at common seed starting kits…

This is one of the most common style kits. It has three parts. The base tray that doesn’t have holes, the cell tray and the clear dome lid. There’s nothing wrong with this kit, certainly a good option. So the dome lid will hold in all the humidity, this can help get seeds to germinate but once you see the seeds pop up remove the lid and keep it off. Too much humidity will kill your seedlings. Benefit of the cell trays is each plant is neatly contained. But since the cells are small the plants will probably become root bound, not a huge deal but can often stress your seedlings which makes for less healthy plants. For the environmentally conscious you may not like how much plastic your using to start your garden. But if you have these save them! Even if they crack a bit you can use them for many years! Some of my cell trays are 5-10 years old!

Another common and magazine worthy way of starting seeds is using half an egg shell… adorable right!?

How cute! Not only is it adorable but it’s all natural and using up leftovers that would be thrown away! Well….not really…..so the shell has great nutrition in it but a whole shell will take quite some time to break down to make it’s nutrients usable to the plant. It also is far too small to hold enough soil to grow a healthy plant. Yes a plant will sprout but it will very quickly grow out of this shell. If you’ve read my past blogs you’ll see that I save all my egg shells and bake in the warm oven until slightly golden…once cooked I grind them to a powder. This powder can be added to the garden which will give the soil a boost of calcium. Egg shells are amazing for the garden but not ideal for starting seeds.

Another thing I see often is starting seeds in cardboard egg cartons. Again you have the issue of not enough soil. I did this one season and 90% of my seedlings didn’t make it to being planted. And what did survive were the worst looking plants I’ve ever grown.

I beleive this type of egg carton can be composted. Probably better to tear it up so it composts faster but it’s really not a good idea to use it for seed starting.

If your on a budget and can’t afford to buy the cell trays which is making you tempted to use egg shells or egg cartons try using small containers you already have….anyone have kids? Then I’m sure you have small yogurt cups, apple sauce cups, or I happen to have some Italian ice cups! Wash them out and be sure to poke holes in the bottom for drainage. This will not only reuse “trash” but you can save them and use them for years.

Note that since there’s holes you will need something to keep these in otherwise Everytime you water them muddy water will dribble out.

Another popular choice are those biodegradable cups. They are a great choice especially if your grow plants to sell or give away. Your soil is contained and your not using plastic. It’s a great option!

The great part is it’s biodegradable and easy to give to friends. The downside is it’s one more thing you need to buy every season and they often don’t biodegrade fast enough so before planting break up the pot gently so that the roots can spread out.

So let’s say you really want to dive right into gardening and your budget allows for a small investment. You don’t want to spend money on plastic and you want the healthiest plants you can get. This is my new best friend! It’s a soil blocker! It makes little blocks of soil with a little spot already for the seeds! Benefit if this tool will last a lifetime, because the sides of the soil block are exposed your plants root will self prune which means they won’t get root bound!

This soil blocker was about $15-$20 but this means never buying another cell tray again. It makes 4 soil blocks at once. It’s easy to use and once your plants are ready you simply put them in the ground and there’s a seamless transition with no waste! You will need to have something to put these soil blocks on otherwise you’ll have a mess. So reuse plastic trays or if you have some spare cookie sheets that would be great, you’d need something that has a rim so when you water you don’t make a mess.

Now you have a little more info for tips on starting seeds. Use whatever option you want or try them all and see what you like best! For you beginners, make a list….you’ll need:

Soil, something to grow your seeds in and you need to choose your seeds. As you pick out seeds bare in mind what the seed will need….does it need to be started indoors? Do you have a sunny spot to plant it if it requires full sun? But most of all have FUN, you don’t need to do this perfectly the first time! I’ve had 20years worth of success and failure in the garden! Enjoy it! Allow gardening to relax you whether it goes perfect or you have some mistakes. Enjoy time alone in the garden but if you have friends or family or kids allow them to join you! I’m getting most my seeds started this afternoon but when my little girl comes home from school she will be getting soil all over as I teach her how to use a soil blocker too!

My next blogs will be about where to make a “nursery” for your seedlings when you don’t have a green house (FYI….I do not have a green house😊). I’ll also blog about how to use the soil blocker, how to use cell trays and small plastic cups. Some of my seeds are many many years old so you will see first hand how well old seeds sprout!

Keep checking my blog daily for more seed starting tips! And read the past blogs for photos of my gardens, family stories and other gardening tips!

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