Every spring, I marvel at the crowds of people buying flats and flats of expensive annual and vegetable seedlings at nurseries and box stores. For expediency’s sake, that’s fine; but for better economy, and for better gardening, you can save a tremendous amount of money, and grow a much wider variety of plants, if you start your own seeds at home. There’s really nothing to it, provided you follow a few important guidelines.
Here’s a step by step guide:
|Step One: Purchase several flats, companion clear plastic cover domes, and interior plastic dividers. (All this material can be reused year to year provided the flats are thoroughly washed.) These dividers come in several preset sizes. As we are planting tomatoes in this demonstration, and since I don’t want to “plant up” – or transplant the tomatoes into larger pots before setting them out into the garden – I’ve chosen 2″ squares, 32 to a flat, which will allow the seedlings to stay in place until its time to go outside. I next fill the squares with soil-less mix – not potting soil. This special germinating mix is sterile, and helps to prevent seedling diseases like damping-off. You can find this mix at most garden centers. Water the flat thoroughly, until the mix is completely saturated, and set aside to drain. (Soil-less mix is often hard to wet due to its high peat moss content. Be patient. You can also place the flat in its dome, fill the base with water, and allow the soil to become completely soaked.)|
|Step Two: When the flat has drained, place two or three seeds in each container segment, on the surface of the soil. The seeds are often hard to spot, so be careful. (There’s one at the tip of that wooden label to the left, but it looks much like the vermiculite in the mix). When the seeds sprout, you’ll remove the weaker seedlings in each pot so only one strong plant remains.|
|Step Three: Next LIGHTLY cover the surface with soil-less mix. Don’t bury the seeds deeply – you can see how much soil I scattered on this flat by looking at the sideways-wooden label. It’s just barely sprinkled: a light coating to cover the seeds. Afterward, water the flat GENTLY to moisten the top, being careful not to disturb the surface. (This is the reason why you do the main watering before planting.) Finally cover with the plastic dome, and, if you have a heat mat, position the flat on the mat until germination The flats should be placed in a bright southern window, greenhouse, or under fluorescent lights.|
A last word or two about bottom heat: germination, by and large, is determined by soil temperature, not light. Vegetable seeds need on average a comfy 65º to sprout; the purchase of a a small bottom heat pad (also available at most garden centers) will guarantee excellent germination and rapidly pay for itself. Once the seedlings sprout, remove the domes, keep the flats evenly moist, and thin to one plant per segment, gradually acclimating the plants to outdoor light and temperatures (preferably in a cold frame) before placing out in the garden.
See? Nothing to it: for an investment of about 5 bucks, you’ll soon have $36 dollars worth of tomato (or pepper, or lettuce) seedlings, not to even count the value of the produce on your table. And that certainly “beets” paying full dollar for something you can easily do yourself for mere cents.