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Starting seeds – the cheap and easy way
by Lisa Hutchurson
April 18, 2010

With vegetable gardening the hot new thing, you may want to try starting veggies from seed. It’s cheaper than buying them in the grocery store, the veggies tastes more fresh and more flavorful, and you’ll have many more varieties to choose from. You also don’t have to wonder what kind of chemicals are on them.

So I started seeds this past winter for all these reasons, plus one more – it’s a great activity to do with kids. My 2 ½-year-old daughter, Maya (see picture) absolutely loves it. She now asks to see the “plant babies” every day. She mists the babies when they look dry, talks to them and pets them. She studies the seed packets, looking at the sprouting seeds and then looking back at the pictures of the plants they’ll grow into.

Even though I’ve started seeds before, I always try to think about ways to make it easier. I do, after all, blog about easy-care gardening and I had to admit - this wasn’t a "plant it and forget it" kind of thing. But I did figure I could make the process more streamlined for those wanting to try it.

So here’s how we went about it – the cheap way – and the super-easy way for those people who just want to jump in and start without hitting a lot of roadblocks along the way.

THE CHEAP WAY

First, it helps to shop for and gather your materials all at once. It should be noted that just about all the supplies below (except for the grow lights and stand/cart) can also be bought at Home Depot, which is what I did.

I just followed the seed starting demo at the front of the store:

"Burpee Complete Growing System," said the sign, with the prices broken out for each of the components:

Supplies

Seeds. When you sow seeds indoors depends a lot on the plants you’re growing and where you live. Some plants need to be sown a dozen or so weeks before the last frost in your area. Others are fine being direct-sown into the soil after the last frost. I live in upstate New York, in Zone 6a and started sowing my seeds in February. I just went by the handy Burpee planting chart that told me which seeds need to be started first (swiss chard, broccoli, peppers, tomatoes and eggplant). But you might want to refer to the handy indoor seed starting calendar at Savvygardener.com.

Starting kit (Burpee Ultimate Growing System). $19.95.

24-inch metal wire rack $19.95 (I skipped this since I planned to use a wire rack I already had at home, along with the plastic tie wraps (as seen in the display, to attach the top of the fluorescent light fixture to the bottom of the above wire rack shelf).

15 watt, 18-inch-long Philips plant & aquatic light (look for the green package). $7.97.

32. oz spray bottle (with the potted plants display at the front of the store). 96 cents.

General Electric 18-inch fluorescent under-cabinet light fixture. $9.77 (OK, this wasn’t on the sign. But it should’ve been. I had to go hunt it down in the store myself. Got detoured in the "shop light" aisle, with a fixture that not only cost $30, but which the Home Depot Guy and my husband said involved "hard wiring," "electrical tape" and a bunch of other stuff I immediately tuned out. Turns out the fixture I wanted, which plugs directly into the wall and has an on/off switch on it, was at the back of the store with home lighting fixtures, not commercial-grade light fixtures (in a completely different part of the store, more toward the front).

Plug-in light timer. $1.69 (Also not on the sign, but I ended up going back to the store for it because it made my life a whole lot easier)

Total: About $42 (not counting the extra bag of seed starting mix and biodegradable transplant pots I bought, anticipating that I’d have to move the “babies” to bigger “beds” before moving them to the garden).

Now, this project would’ve taken me about half-an-hour to an hour to do (trip to the store included, and I was already there to buy a curtain rod) - except for the light fixture setback and one more thing: attaching the fixture to the shelf above.

Because the folks at Home Depot had been able to attach their fluorescent light fixture to the underside of the metal wire shelf above using plastic tie-wraps, I assumed there were hooks or another device on top of the fixture that would allow for this. Nope. It just came with two screws, mounting instructions and two holes (for an undermount to the bottom side of a shelf above).

Now had I just followed the directions and borrowed my husband’s cordless drill, this part of the project could’ve been over in 5 minutes. My husband thinks the Home Depot People drilled holes into the fixture at the store so they could attach it with the tie wraps. But I’m averse to using power tools (probably because of my klutziness…I’m afraid I’ll lose an eye). So I waited 20 minutes to a half-hour trying to figure out an ingenious way to attach the fixture to the metal shelving unit with tie wraps before giving up and watching my husband attach it in one minute with a cordless drill to the underside of wooden storage shelves we already had in the basement.

So… lesson learned. Just follow the instructions and use the screws and drill.

THE CHEAP WAY

Of course, the easiest way to do everything these days is to just order it all online or find it at your local garden center.

I suggest you start by going to Google. Type in "seed starting supplies." You’ll come up with a bunch of catalog companies like Johnny’s Selected Seeds, Harris Seeds, Home Harvest Garden Supply, Growers Supply, Burpee or Park Seed. At any one of those sites, just buy the following supplies:

Tabletop or freestanding grow light system/stand/cart. ($60 and up, depending on how fancy the setup is).

Growing kit. Ideally, should include soilless potting mix pellets, self-watering mat, seed cell tray, plastic dome, plant labels and seeds ($20 to $60). Some have heat mats, some don’t. The heat mats are supposed to make your seeds grow faster and healthier, but I’ve never used them and my seeds have always started fine. If you’re growing seeds in a cooler place and want to make doubly sure they germinate, go ahead and spring for the heat mat (if your kit doesn’t have one I found them sold separately between $26 and $28 at Planet Natural and Amazon.)

Seeds. (A few bucks a seed packet).

Light timer. (Harris Seeds sells one for $12.25; Home Harvest sells one for $16.95).

Seed sower (I wish I had one for my daughter when she tried to plant the smaller seeds in the soil, but really, it’s a matter of preference. Burpee sells one for $1.95).

Trigger mister bottle, for watering new seedlings without drowning them (Home Harvest sells them for $3.49).

Sharpie-type indelible marker (for writing on plant labels or the cell trays. Burpee sells them for $1.97 each).

Instructions

Just follow the instructions that come with the products. The general overview, however, is that you add the required amount of water to the soil-plug-filled cell trays (until the soil is damp, then plant several seeds per cell, lightly covering them with some of the damp soilless mix. Put the plastic dome on the cell tray, set a light timer so that it remains on for 12 to 18 hours a day.

And there you go - loads of family fun! Looking back, I’m really glad I did it. Gardening never goes as planned, but you’re always glad you did it instead of say, watching TV. It’s kind of like choosing to participate in life and enjoy the journey.

This article originally appeared on Your Easy Garden.com, written by Lisa Hutchurson on behalf of Tesselaar Plants, introducers of the easy-care Flower Carpet® roses.

www.youreasygarden.com

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