It’s been decided. The first round of seed-starting 2008 starts today. I considered shooting a mini video how-to of this procedure to post here but decided against it because it is another miserably grey and sunless day in Toronto and video would require the additional hassle of setting up lights. And of course I would need to shower, dress, and “style” my hair. My friend Jen insists these extra steps are not required but I’m convinced that a video shot in my pj’s is a little more truthiness than I’m comfortable revealing to the world. Rest assured, dear reader, that despite the occasional slip into TMI territory you will never be asked to peer inside my fridge, or my bag.
And in truth a seed-starting video how-to is redundantly painful when I think about it. Certain aspects of seed-starting are certainly troubling, but the part that involves plopping some seed-starting mix in a container, adding some seeds, and covering the hole with more soil really is that easy. I’m going away for a long weekend soon, smack dab in the middle of a critical point in a young seedling’s life, so I’ll be starting this batch in my self-watering seed-starter — my neighbour has enough stress dealing with the cat and house plants, I don’t need to add Keeping Very Important and Very Fragile Seeds Alive to the list.
There are a million and one ways to approach just about any gardening procedure and everyone will tell you their way is THE RIGHT WAY when in fact there are lots of right ways. That is the first and most important lesson beginner gardeners should know if they want to save themselves a whole lot of future hair-pulling.
Below, in a nutshell, is how I get my seeds started:
- Assemble tools and ingredients including but not limited to: Seed-starting mix, empty containers or self-watering device, seeds, water. If your containers are previously used you’ll probably need to wash them in some hot soapy water. Add a few splashes of oxygenated bleach.
- Moisten a batch of seed-starting mix by dumping it in another container, adding in enough water to make the mix damp but not soaked.
- Loosely fill each container or chamber with the pre-moistened seed-starting mix and lightly press the soil to eliminate air pockets and bubbles. Another container of the same size works well and of course so do your fingers.
The goal here isn’t about seeking a perfectly level surface, reasonably level with suffice. The key is to try and leave a little space between the tamped soil surface and the top of the container/chamber so there is space to cover the seed/s later on. The only trick here is to make sure the amount of space left is relative to the depth each particular seed needs to be buried. Seed packets will tell you what’s what but a good general rule-of-thumb is to bury the seeds approximately as deep as they are in size. So following this theory a tiny seed like basil would need to be buried quite close to the surface while a pea or bean would need to be buried about a half-inch or so below the soil surface.
I prefer this method to making a hole because it allows me to space as many seeds as necessary. Of course making holes will work just fine too.
- Sow a seed or two or three in each container/chamber. I sow more than one to be sure at least one germinates but how many depends on the size of the container. You can always cut extras out later but you waste time trying again with seeds that don’t germinate. If you’re unsure about the shelf-life of a pack of seeds you can always try testing them out first.
- Cover the seeds with a layer of seed-starting mix. I’ve used vermiculite too but to be honest haven’t noticed a difference. Either works just fine. Remember that the amount of coverage required varies depending on the seed. Consult your seed package or use the general rule of thumb I mentioned above.
- Place your containers on a tray and water from the bottom (into the tray rather than the container). Remove any excess water that is still sitting in the tray 15 minutes later.
- Place your tray in a warm spot. It’s optional but I can’t say enough about a heating mat. They’re not cheap so I don’t recommend it if you’re not yet sure if seed-starting is your thing. However, a mat (sort of like a bottle warmer for plants) will provide constant heat at just the right temperature. At this stage in the game light isn’t an issue (for most seeds) but warmth is critical in aiding germination. Unfortunately the warmest spot isn’t always the most convenient — appliances make adequate but slightly dangerous make-shift heating mats!
- Tag or label each container. Do not delude yourself into thinking you will remember what you’ve started where. I’ve grown enough mystery plants to have developed a deep appreciation for labeling.
- Keep the soil damp like a sponge that has been wrung out but not soaking wet. Now relax and wait for the magic to happen.