Category Archives: Seed Starting

Five Seed Starting Tips…

Tomato Seedlings

Tomato Seedlings

Here are five tips for seed starting…

1. Use a moist matchstick to plant your seeds. Pour your seeds into a flat container. The moistened stick will pick up one seed at a time and you can easily drop your seed into the hole.

2. Make your own seed tape using paper towels strips and cornstarch moistened with water for glue. Dot the cornstarch mixture onto the paper towel and drop in your seed (using your moistened matchstick). Let dry and roll up. Store in plastic bags until ready to plant. Seed tape eliminates seed waste and gives you super tidy rows!

3. Use only fresh seed for shallots, leeks, onions and parsnips. Seeds for these veggies last only one year.

4. Some seeds last several years. If you are unsure if your seed is still good, give it a test. Moisten a paper towel, sprinkle on 10 seeds and roll it up. Store in a plastic bag for a few days. Check the seed to see if any germinated. If so, you have a good idea of your germination rate. For instance, if five of ten seeds germinate, then you can count on a 50% germination rate for your old seeds.

5. New seedlings need air circulation. The air moves their stems slightly which makes them stronger. Keep a low fan going in the room where you are growing the seedlings. In addition, you can help your plants by “petting” them once or twice a day by gently running your palms over the tops of the plants so them move back and forth a bit. Also, keep rotating your trays so they keep leaning in different directions towards the sun or light source.

FOR YOUR REFERENCE: We handed out a flyer on Seed Starting that one of our gardeners, Steve Abbott, made up a couple of years back. We also included a flyer on local Planting Dates made up by Beth McQuinn.



Starting Seeds with Donna Miller

We had a terrific turnout for our first meeting of 2012!

Donna Miller was our speaker for the night. Donna is a Master Gardener from Canterbury. Over the past 10 years, she and her husband, Jim, have converted their yard into beautiful theme gardens including children’s, butterfly, heritage, fairy and Halloween gardens. Two years ago they opened Petals in the Pines to the public.

Donna started out the talk with a question. Why start your own seeds?

The answer is that you can grow a huge variety of vegetables  by starting your own seeds. If you only buy your plants from a local nursery, your selection of seedlings is very limited. It’s fun to experiment with different and unusual varieties of plants.

When starting seeds, the first thing you need to do is READ YOUR SEED PACKET! The seed packet normally has all of the information you need for planting.

Follow the directions on your seed packet!

Our area has a 120 day growing season that starts around Memorial Day. Your seedlings should be ready to plant in the ground by then. If you read the back of your seed packet, that should give you all of the information you need about when it is time to start your seeds indoors. For example, if your seed packet says that transplants can be started 6-8 weeks before planting date, then you should start your seeds early to mid-April for planting on Memorial Day.

To start your seeds indoors, all you need are containers with drainage holes, seed starting mixture, water and light.

Containers: You can use any container you like. Many people reuse the containers they get from the garden store. Just make sure that they are scrubbed perfectly clean with soap and hot water. You don’t want to transfer any plant diseases to your sensitive seedlings. You can also use containers you have around the house like food containers. Just make sure to poke drainage holes in the bottom.

Soil: Use a fine, uniform, well aerated, loose soil especially formulated for seedlings. Promix is a good medium to use. Fill your containers with the soil to the top and water the soil. The soil will absorb the water and settle down into the planting container a bit.

Planting: Follow the planting depth recommended on the seed packet. Lightly firm the soil over the seed but do not pack down.Water lightly.

Some seeds benefit from a technique called scarification or stratification. This involves nicking the seed with a sharp knife and then soaking the seeds overnight before planting them. This helps them to germinate faster. Your seed packet will tell you if you need to do this technique.

Label: Make sure to put a label in your containers. Seedlings look remarkably alike when they are small!

Water: Keep planting mixture moist, but not waterlogged.

Heat and Light: Seeds and seedlings need a well lit, controlled environment. between 50-70 degrees.

Transplanting: Once your seeds sprout and have two small leaves, they will be ready to transplant into a larger container. Water the seedlings well, then  loosen the soil around the seedling and its roots with a stick. Lots of gardeners use chopsticks as a tool for this task.  Transfer the seedling to a larger container by gently holding it by one of its leaves. Do not hold it by its stem, it is too delicate. Ease it into the new planting hole and gently tamp down the soil around the seedling. Water and keep out of the sun for 24 hours to recover.

Label Again!!: Make sure to put a label in every container. You think you might remember what a particular vegetable looks like but you can be surprised. Zucchini seedlings look like summer squash which looks like butternut squash which looks like pumpkins which looks like melons. Take the time to label!

Care of seedlings while they grow: Rotate the trays each day so that they are not always leaning one way towards the sun. Fertilize with a diluted fish emulsion once a week. (Follow directions on the container for fertilizing seedlings.)

Getting ready to plant outdoors: Seedlings need to be hardened off before you plant them outside. The process of hardening them off lessens the shock they sustain when they move outside. To harden off your seedlings, put them outside in a protected, shady spot on a mild day. Leave them out for a couple of hours then bring them inside. Over the next few days,  increase the amount of time they are outside and increase the amount of direct sun they receive until they are out 24 hours a day. Keep watering and fertilizing them well.

Transplanting Outdoors: When the plants are hardened off, they can be planted outside. It’s best to plant on a cloudy day at the end of the day. This lessens the shock that the plants receive when transplanting. Gently remove them out of their containers into their planting hole. Tamp down the soil and water well. Make sure to transfer your marker so you will remember what you planted.

Ta Da! You are done!

For more information about starting seeds and caring for seedlings, there is a wealth of information on the UNH Cooperative Extention website. Here are a few resources you can download and print for reference…
Starting Plants Indoors From Seed
Timing Vegetable Transplants
Planting and Maturity Dates of Vegetables in NH

Seed Starting was the focus for our first meeting of 2010

Starting your own seeds will save you lots of money!

We had a very nice turnout for our first meeting of 2010. It was great to see some new faces and also wonderful to connect with some old friends. We are ALL looking forward to getting into the garden as soon as possible!

It’s too early to start planting, but not too early to start seeds. We were very happy to have Steve Abbott come and run us through the basics of starting your seeds. Steve is an experienced gardener and former farmer who ran his own CSA a few years ago. Steve’s wealth of knowledge and thrifty hints informed us while his dry sense of humor kept us entertained. Thanks Steve!

Step 1: Steve starts with a basic bag of seed starting mix from Blue Seal. He gave us the recipe for making your own mix but warned us that you need to sterilize the mix in the oven and it smells bad…very, very bad.  BAD! Fair warning people!

Step 2: Put your soil in a clean container. Anything will do but ideally 2″-3″ deep with drainage. Wet the soil down and let the moisture soak in overnight. If you are pressed for time, you can wet the soil down with boiling water and wait a couple of hours before planting. Sometimes the boiling water will melt a plastic container, so be careful.

Step 3: Plant your seeds according to the packet. The general rule of thumb is cover seeds with soil to a depth of three times their diameter.

Step 4: Place container in warm place and keep moist. Do not cover tightly with plastic because that can promote fungus growth. A loose fitting plastic lid is fine.

Step 5: Once the seeds start to sprout, put into the light immediately and take off the plastic  covers. Keep seedlings moist by using a spray bottle to wet them down.

Step 6: Once the seedlings have two or three true leaves, fertilize. Steve, like many organic gardeners, loves Neptune’s Harvest. The instructions for dilution are on the container.

Step 7: Thinning. You do not want the seedling’s leaves to be touching each other. Once the seedlings get larger, thin them by cutting out smaller seedlings with scissors. Do not yank out unwanted seedlings because they may disturb the roots of the plants you want to save.

Step 8: When the seedlings begin to outgrow their small containers, repot into larger containers.

Step 9: When it comes close to the time you want to plant your seedlings in the garden, you need to harden them off so they don’t die. Set your seedlings outside everyday. Start with a half hour in a protected location and build up time over a few days until they can stay outside full time.

Step 10: Plant!! Generally, planting is done between May 15 and June 1st in this area. Keep an eye on the weather because our last frost in 2009 was June 3rd. You might need to cover your seedlings if you plant early. Steve told us a story about a neighbor who always waited until the end of June to plant and by August, their gardens always looked the same. As long as your seedlings look healthy don’t sweat the dates for planting too much. Relax!

Here is a handout that Steve made: Seed Starting

Here is a handout about planting dates for seeds and plants: Planting Dates

Steve recommended these books. Order them from your local bookstore!

The New Seed Starters Handbook by Nancy Bubel

Seed to Seed by Susan Apworth