Although our garden is still covered in snow, we started our seeds last week. I know that a lot of beginning gardeners buy plants, but starting your own seeds is easy and rewarding. You have a much larger choice of plant varieties and you will probably end up with better quality plants with just a little time and effort.
Pan to hold water and containers
To buy seeds, visit your local hardware store or find a seed company that is close to your geographic area. You want a company that operates in a similar climate to yours. We order from Harris Seeds. They are located fairly close to us and their area has the same growing conditions that we do.
To figure out what seeds to start when, ask your local Cooperative Extension office if they have a chart available for your area. Your seed company also may have something in their catalog about this. We start peppers first, as they take the longest to germinate and are slow to grow. We also start broccoli early as they don’t mind the cold and can go outside when it’s still pretty chilly. Next comes tomatoes, and then our winter squash.
Starting seeds requires a good heat source. If you have a woodstove and have space close enough to it, you can set up your seed cups near the stove. You can also use heated seed mats (available at your local hardware store or seed source) or heating pads (only ones without auto shut-off mechanisms). You could also put a lamp or two with incandescent lightbulbs underneath a table to warm up the surface.
There’s no need to purchase containers for your seeds. We use old yogurt containers that we save from year to year. Any small plastic container will do. Drill drainage holes in the bottom with an electric drill. You don’t want to have big containers or the warmth won’t come up from the seed mats/table surface to warm up the dirt enough.
You need old baking sheets or large plastic containers to put below your seed containers to hold water. We repurpose spinach containers, rusty bread pans and old cookie sheets.
Most hardware stores have potting and seed-starting soil available at this time of year. We don’t bother with the seed-starting soil and instead buy the highest quality organic potting soil we can find.
Marking what is in each of your containers is important. Every year we somehow end up with a dozen tomato plants and at least a couple of them we aren’t sure if they are cherry or slicers… Don’t make that mistake!
Make sure to start a few more plants than you’ll use because some may not germinate or thrive. It’s better to have a choice come time to transplant everything so you end up with the strongest plants.
Next week I’ll write about what to do with your seedlings once they pop up!