Now with spring on the way I began to think of ways to grow my own seedlings, without a greenhouse. We live in a rental house with small windows and gorgeous old pine trees shading the south side. I did some research and found there are ways to do it, even if you don't have as much as a sunny window. I am starting seeds in my house and will post pictures of the progress every week so you can follow along, and do it with me if you want to. So lets get started!
Starting your Seeds
First you want to get your seeds to germinate. For that you need bottom heat that warms the soil to preferably 75 to 80 degrees. Your seeds/seedlings do not like cold tootsies! That is why heat from the bottom is the best. After they are up nicely you can grow them with a little less heat, like 65-70°.
Most seeds germinate best in the dark, so you don't have to worry about putting them in the light until they start popping up. If you have a sunny window and just need to get that extra heat until they germinate, here are some great ways to do it:
- Wood burning stove. I used to germinate seeds above our wood burning stove at home. We had a rack hanging about 3 feet above, and a little behind the stove that we would dry our gloves on. It worked perfect! Just put the seed trays in a plastic bag and place them on the rack. You may want to experiment a little with the placement of your shelf/rack till you have the perfect temperature.
- Air vent. If you have central heat in your home, you can place seeds on top of an air vent. The warm air blowing out will do a fairly good job of getting your soil temperature up there. This will also depend on how high you set the thermostat in your house.
- Anywhere you can find a warm spot. Some people have set their seeds on an electric blanket, a Bunn coffee maker and even an old boxy type computer monitor. You can get pretty creative! Just be sure to move seedlings to adequate light as soon as they start germinating.
- Heat mat. There are many heat mats on the market that are made specifically for growing seedlings. They work really well, as you set your seed trays right on the mat and it warms the soil about 10-20 degrees above ambient temperatures.
- Rope lights. Check out this link to make your own heat mat using rope lights. This is a great way to start seeds and a great way to put those lights to work after the holiday season!http://www.vegetablegardener.com/item/11658/diy-heat-mat-speeds-seed-starting
- Submersible aquarium heater. This is the method that I'm using since I already had an aquarium heater. (I use it to keep my compost tea at the right temperature as it brews.) So here is what I did step by step, and it works just wonderful!
What you need:
- Large 25 - 30 gallon tote with lid. (I used a 30 gallon but a slightly shallower one would also work)
- Smaller tote with lid, about 6-7 inches deep that fits inside the big one.
- Submersible aquarium heater. (available at any pet store). Mine is 50 watt, and heats up to 40 gallons. You may be able to use a smaller one too.
Suction heater against the wall of the tote. Fill tote till it reaches the maximum water line of the heater (unless your heater is completely submersible). I put in warm water so my heater wouldn't have to work to get the water warm.
Set the smaller tote on top of the water. Plug in the heater, set to about 80 degrees. Your seed trays will go in the shallow tote and the warm water will make them nice and toasty (not literally :)
...Wallah! you're ready to get your seeds in the dirt.
Things you need.
Egg cartons are awesome for seed starting! And yes that is a cottage cheese container, cut off, and holes drilled in the bottom for drainage. Whatever you do, make sure excess water can drain away.
The right potting soil can very well determine the success of your seedlings. See how dark the soil on the right is compared to the one on the left? The dark soil is heavier and more suited for larger, potted plants. The soil on the left is Pro-Mix, a professional growing medium. It is light and porous, but retains moisture. That is the stuff we want!
Sometimes its hard to find a good, light potting soil that is organic. (yeah, I was lucky!) If I couldn't find an organic one, I would consider non-organic, since most of the time the only synthetic ingredient in a general purpose growing medium is the wetting agent. That should be leached out by the time you plant your seedlings in the garden. You may want to check the ingredients and make sure there are no synthetic fertilizers mixed in. (if you are growing organically, that is)
Greenhouse supply stores are great places to get potting soil and other garden supplies.
And of course you need seeds! Baker Creek Seeds is my favorite resource for heirloom seeds. They have one of the largest selections of heirloom seeds in the world.
I made these tags out of window blinds. You know how your blinds are pretty much always to long, and there are a gazillion extra pieces bunched up at the bottom? Well I just cut off several of the bottom pieces, (not the string!) and made some cute little labels.
This is one way to water your newly planted seeds. You want something that is gentle and doesn't disturb the soil too much. A hand pump or backpack sprayer works really well too, and does the job faster. One of these days I'm getting one!
The brown liquid in there is compost tea that I had brewing the past 24 hours. I brewed a small batch but still didn't need it all, so I put half of the concentrate in a gallon jug and keep it in the fridge.
Seeds can germinate by just watering with plain water, but I have found that giving them a little good food really gets them growing happily. You can also use Liquid fish solution instead of compost tea. In my greenhouse, I used it at the rate of 1 oz. Liquid Fish concentrate per gallon of water. For newly planted seeds I would recommend a half strength solution. Liquid Fish is available at most greenhouse and garden centers.
For more information on compost tea and a ton of other gardening things, I would recommend this awesome book by my friend Shoshanna Easling: http://www.bulkherbstore.com/Making-Vegetables-Vol-1
Lets get started.
I put my tags in as dividers before I planted the seeds.
Tip: do yourself a favor by not sowing your seeds too thickly. They need a little elbow room to grow strong stems.
I covered all my seeds with about a forth inch of soil. Whenever I plant fine seed like celery, I just barely cover them with finely sifted soil.
Watch and wait.
That is all for this week! I will be back in a week with updates. And watch for my post in a few days on how to provide adequate lighting and get ready for your brand new seedlings.
Best of luck and happy growing!