Seed Starting Success

from Stokes Seeds
by Joan Adams
February 27, 2005

Starting your garden plants from seed takes time and patience, but the results are very rewarding as well as economical. Even the most seasoned gardener gets excited with the first sign of a seedling poking through the soil. I consider my seedlings my little babies and check them daily. This kind of enjoyment you just can’t get from a store bought plant. With diligence and the proper materials anyone can grow from seed successfully.

When to Sow: Follow the directions on the back of your Stokes seed packages to find out how many weeks before your last frost date you should sow certain varieties. Don’t “jump the gun” and sow too early. You do not want overgrown seedlings to set out. If kept indoors too long, these seedlings will be weak and bloom poorly.

Containers: Any container with drainage holes that is at least 3 inches deep will work; cut down milk cartons, yogurt containers, clear lidded deli containers, etc. Just make sure they are clean. Easiest is the plastic growing flat with the clear dome. For larger seed, Jiffy 7’s (C2081, C2082, C2083), which are small peat pellets, are very easy to use as they can be later planted directly into your garden without disturbing tender roots.

Soil: The soil you use is extremely important for success. A sterile, light soiless mixture (i.e. Peat moss & vermiculite) is recommended. The soil you choose should not have added fertilizer.

Thoroughly moisten (not soggy) the soil with warm water before putting into your chosen container. Use a large bucket, wheel barrel or the Stokes Tidy Tray (KP351) to thoroughly mix soil.

Seeding: Again, read your Stokes package for the proper seeding depth. Some varieties require light to germinate, so they are not covered with soil, just pressed into the top. If the seed does not require light, lightly cover with your potting mix. Generally the rule of thumb is; the sowing depth is approx. twice the size of the seed. Do not plant too deep as the seedling will have to struggle to emerge. Cover the container with plastic or a clear dome and move to a warm, bright spot. (Unless otherwise directed)

Light: Seedlings need a lot of light! Even if your south facing window has lots of light, consider adding a fluorescent light so your seedlings grow strong and healthy. Expensive grow lights are not necessary; just purchase an inexpensive fluorescent fixture. Hang the fixture from chains so that you can adjust the height as the seedlings grow. Keep the lights approx. 3 to 4 inches from the seedlings.

Germination: This is where your patience comes in! Different varieties germinate at different rates. Soil temperature is very important for proper germination (check your seed package). Some gardeners use the top of the fridge to keep the soil warm, but since the top of my fridge is always filled with junk, I invested in the Seedling Heat Mat (HF417) which keeps the soil nice and warm. The HotBed Mini Greenhouse (FL218) is also very handy as it incorporates your heating mat, seedling tray and dome. Keep the soil moist with a gentle mist of water. As soon as seedlings emerge, remove the plastic wrap or lid.

Growing On: Check on your seedlings daily, keep the soil moist and adjust your lights as the seedlings grow. Thin or transplant your seedlings once you have 2 true leaves. Seedlings need room to grow strong and healthy. At this point you can start fertilizing with a diluted solution of plant food.

Avoid the dreaded disease – Damping Off: By following the above guidelines you should be able to avoid the fungal disease called Damping-off. There is nothing more heartbreaking than watching your healthy seedling suddenly collapse and lie dead on the soil. The first year I started my plants from seed, I did it in our damp basement with soggy, non-sterile potting soil and lost every seedling that emerged. Since then, I always use a sterile soiless seed starting mix in a well-ventilated area. If you can only do your seedlings in the basement, run an oscillating fan, make sure your soil is mounded to the top of your container so air will flow over the soil, avoid over-watering, and make sure you remove the cover as soon as seedlings emerge to avoid disease.

Sounds like a lot of work? Maybe, but it is worth it in the end when someone compliments your garden and you can say with pride; “I grew it all from seed myself!”

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