Well, the time has almost come for me to sort through my seeds, order new ones, clean up the basement, and get ready for the new season of gardening.  This will be the first year that I am starting this adventure with a child!  I wanted to talk a little bit about what I do to start plants from seeds, things that I have learned along the way, and what setup that I use.  Here are the things that I need to get started:

  • shelving unit ($40)
  • grow lights  ($15) – I have enough for three shelves
  • heating pads ($20)- I have two
  • plastic trays with lids ($4)- I have MANY
  • peat discs ($2.5)- 36 come in a pack, and I usually by three packs
  • fertilizer ($6-8)- I use fish emulsion- stinky but good

I now have some metal shelves with adjustable heights that I currently use, but this is what I started with.  I have 24″ grow lights as well as 48″ grow lights to have some options.  I rotate the heating pads to use when I am germinating and remove them once things have sprouted. I wait until most plants are at least 1″ before transplanting from the peat pods.  I plop the whole pod into the dirt and avoid disturbing the roots.  For my soil mixture I buy the 3.8 cubic feet of sphagnum peat moss and mix it with perlite 10:1.  I also mix in some fertilizer with warm water so that the soil is moist.  My ideal texture is moist enough to clump.  I try to keep the lights no more than 2″ from the tops of the plants.

This is a close up of the onions, lettuce, and parsley.

I have started seed with the peat pots and I have started them without, and I have determined that I like the peat pots even if the cost is a little bit more.  I also prefer the sphagnum bales for transplanting  instead of bags of dirt.   The sphagnum  comes in a huge bale and I can use the same bale throughout the growing season and put the leftover on the garden bed for some more organic material.

I currently use a chart from the Farmer’s Almanac to determine my start date for various seeds.  That chart can be found here:  http://www.almanac.com/garden/garden.frostchart.html

The two books that I use the most often for reference for start dates, starting depth, transplanting information, etc. are:

The Vegetable Gardener’s Bible by Edward C. Smith

Joy of Gardening by Dick Raymond

These two books alone have given me almost all of the information that I needed to get started.

When it is time to plant, I place a peat pod into each circle in the plastic tray.  Saturate the entire tray with warm water until all pods have expanded.  Place 2-3 seeds in each pod, being careful to label each row so that you know what is what.  Push the seed into the dirt (I use a chopstick) and cover lightly.  When all pods are seeded, place plastic cover over tray, put on shelf, plug in warmer, and wait.  Once the seeds begin to germinate, I set the grow lights on a timer to give them at least 14-16 hours of light each day.  You do not need to water the plants at all as long as the plastic cover is in place.  Once the plants are touching the top of the plastic lid, I remove and transplant into 4×4 pots.

Once the plants and the weather are ready, I move everything to our back porch so the plants can get exposed to cooler evening temperatures and warm daytime temperatures and prepare for planting.

That is the process up to hardening off and transplanting.  Stand by for more on getting your plants into the garden.