On every cold day I make a wish for spring to come sooner.
I typically start thinking of what seeds need to be started and when that all needs to be scheduled so I stay on time with my seeding schedule.
More times than not, something manages to throw off my seed starting. Mother Nature doesn’t seem to care whether I make a schedule or not. She still will let spring only come when she is good and ready — which is why I still have enough time to finish my late winter tasks. There is something to accomplish with every season, even though harvesting in the summer is the one we seem to recall the best.
I try to resist the urge to start my seeds too early, which takes some discipline to do. If you start your seeds too soon, they seem to always outgrow their space and conditions indoors and end up too leggy once planting season rolls around.
So, I follow the schedule of planting my leeks within the first couple weeks of February and then start my tomatoes and other vegetables around the first week or so of March. That still gives me at least a good eight weeks of growing before the frost date.
If you are running behind it isn’t the end of the world. Most plants will catch up on their own once they are outdoors.
The most important rule when starting seeds is to read the seed packet. It seems like it would be common sense to just add seeds to some soil, add water and then let them grow, but some seeds require different growing conditions.
Some seeds require cold temperatures before they will even think about sprouting such as Coneflower seeds. This is called stratification.
Usually the seed packet will tell you if your seeds require this or if it has already been done for you. If it is where you need to do it, place your seed packets in your freezer for the required number of weeks and then plant as you would normally.
Other seeds have thick outer coats that need to be broken open prior to sprouting. Morning glories and moonflowers are the ones that come to mind when I think of this type of seed starting. This is called scarification. I take a fingernail file and file a cut into the outer shell so that the water and light will be able to reach the inside. Some people use a knife which would work fine as well.
Once that is finished you can plant as normal, otherwise I myself soak the seeds in a bowl of shallow water and let the seed coat soften overnight. Then I go ahead and plant it the next day.
Once planted, you want to be sure to maintain the humidity levels in your container, basically making it a mini greenhouse. Clear egg cartons are perfect for doing this, as well as the plastic clamshells from lettuce mixes.
Moisten your soil, you want it to stay damp, but not dripping. You also want to keep your soil from drying out which will create unneeded stress for your new seedlings. Be sure to place your seedlings under fluorescent or grow lights, or at the least a sunny window.
In the past I have converted an entire side of my mother’s basement to a seed starting area with tables and fluorescent bulbs before I finally broke down and bought a greenhouse. The greenhouse ended up being worth it, especially since I didn’t have to carry gallon after gallon of water down the basement stairs for the eight weeks that I kept my plants inside.
These days I use the advantage of every south and west facing windows to assist me in seed starting. Just be sure to turn your container occasionally — otherwise your plants will lean too far to one side as they reach for the sunlight.
If you realize that you really don’t want the mess and drama of starting seeds, you can always visit your local farmer or greenhouse to purchase already started plants in the spring. The main difference will be in what varieties you can choose from.
When starting seeds yourself, you can grow any variety that you can get the seed to. When purchasing plants, you are only able to purchase the varieties that they chose to grow at the place where you are shopping, which can vary from place to place.
Choose whichever way makes you happy and just make sure that you get them planted in the ground or a bigger container so that come summer you can harvest your own garden.
Sacha Burns is an organic gardener and owner of Sunkissed Organics in Pinola. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org