Let’s look at how to start seeds for the first time. Many new gardeners would like to try growing from seed but need advice on how to get started. Growing from seed means being able to grow plants normally not available at the garden centres. It can also save you a lot of money. There is something special about raising plants from seed to flower.
Decide where you will start your seeds. If you don’t have a greenhouse, you will need an area in your home that gets good light. Even if it has good light adding supplemental lighting may be a good idea. I use heat mats under my seed trays but it’s optional. Bottom heat helps seeds germinate faster. Your seeds will germinate without bottom heat but may take a bit longer.
First let’s look at the pots you will use. I refer to planting containers as cell pots, 4″ pots and trays but there are so many options to fit every budget. You can reuse milk cartons, juice jugs, newspaper pots and peat pots for seed sowing but there are many more options. The key to being successful is to choose the container that works best for you, make sure it is clean and has drainage holes in the bottom. Because I grow literally thousands of plants I buy my containers from the farm and feed store. For the home gardener you can simply reuse old pots by washing them thoroughly with a bit of bleach and hot water. Remember the first step is having clean containers free of disease and pests.
The next step is choosing your medium in which you will plant your seeds. Do not use garden soil. I can’t say this often enough. Bringing garden soil inside may also bring you unwanted pests and fungal diseases. Not only is garden soil too heavy for tiny seeds to push through, it may bring in weed seeds, ones you didn’t plant. I recommend using a seed starter mix that can be bought at any garden centre. It’s usually a mix of peat and perlite, nice and light for those seeds to grow in. The peat allows for good water retention and the perlite adds aeration.
So you have your pots ready and filled with seed starter mix, what next? The first thing you should do is water the mix before you plant your seeds. This means that you won’t have to water after planting the seeds. You don’t want the seeds pushed around by the force of the water. Of course, you will have to water once the soil surface looks dry but it’s best if you can water from the bottom. That’s where the no-hole flats come in handy. You can place your pots in no-hole flats and add water to the flat and the pots will soak it up.
Label, label, label! Make sure you have a label for every single pot you plant seeds in. You may think you will remember but trust me, things get moved around and all of a sudden you see a plant with no label. All tomatoes look alike. If not labeled you won’t know what it is until the plant matures. Cut old margarine and yogurt containers into strips and use as labels. Be sure to use a permanent marker to label your plants.
I love seeing seeds germinate. Once they have geminated I remove the pots from the heat mats. If you decided to use a dome top over your seeds be sure to remove it once the seeds have germinated. The clear dome cover traps in moisture which is great when the seeds are first planted but once the seeds germinate they need to be exposed to fresh air. Too much condensation can lead to problems with a fungal disease called damping off. Once your seeds are up water only when needed and if you have too many seeds in a pot you will need to transplant them or pot them up to a four-inch pot so the roots have room to grow.
The best seeds for beginners are easy ones like peas, beans, lettuce and kale. Remember to start your seeds by choosing cool season crops like peas, lettuce, kale and spinach first as they can be planted outside earlier than warm weather crops such as tomatoes, beans, corn and peppers. Here on the west coast of BC we plant warm weather crops outside in mid May so their seeds don’t need to be started until mid March. Cool season crops can often go out from mid March to late April depending on the crop. For more information, check with your garden centre for proper planting times. For gardeners in the lower mainland of BC you can check out the seed planting charts at West Coast Seeds.