It is that time of year and depending on where you are and your climate it is time to start your seeds. I am in zone 5b and so it is time to get things rolling. One of the big draw back to gardening is the consumerism that surrounds it. Someone telling you that you have to buy "stuff" or you won't have a good garden. Well I am here to tell you that for the most part that just isn't true. There are a few things you will want to invest in that will last for several seasons or much longer. So this time of year we need to start seeds for plants that take a longer time to mature and produce. If you live in an area like I do that gets early frosts just as your tomotoes and peppers are starting to produce you know exactly what I mean. So there are some things that really benefit from getting seeds started and having good starter plants for the growing season. Starter plants at the stores can get quite expensive so it is yet another reason to start your own. So lets talk about some of the things that can be very helpful to getting your plants started.
Suggested seed starting tools:
1. A shelving unit or place to put your seeds as they are getting started. Preferably a place where they can get a lot of sun or you have grow lights in place to provide the needed light.
2. Grow lights, you can buy some cheap shop lights, and get some natural light spectrum bulbs. All this can be found at Walmart.
3. A grow mat, temperature controlled heated mat. This will allow you to set a temperature that will keep the seed trays warm enough for the soil to germinate.
4. Seed starting trays. I found that the Jiffy trays over at Walmart with the plastic clear dome for the top work fine.
Some tips to the seed starting trays.
1. Use your seed sparingly, only put a few seeds per starting pot. If you use too many your just wasting your seed. You will get lots of sprouts that will have to be thinned out.
2. For plants that you know are going to be in the starter soil in trays for a longer time give them room in the roots to grow so start them in larger size starter pots. I use the peat moss starter pots and for tomatoes and peppers, eggplant etc I start them in s larger size pot vs the things that are going out sooner like cold tolerant plants like collards, kale, spinach, chard and things like that. They can be started in smaller pots because they are going out in beds much sooner.
3. Don't be afraid to thin out the plants once they sprout. You will probably have several cute little sprouts per pot, but don't be afraid to thin them out. They are competing for the same resources in a limited resource environment.
4. After a few weeks of growing you will want to either cook up a batch of organic fertilizer in liquid form to feed your plants. Every week or two give them a dose in their water.
5. Water from the bottom, not the top. Let the water wick up from the bottom of the tray.
6. If your plants appear to be getting root bound don't be afraid to put them in a larger pot.
Finally to find out when you should be starting seeds you can find an online seed starting guide to help. You plug in your last frost date and it will spit out a time line for when to start your own seeds. I use Johnny's Seeds online guide found here.
If you follow these tips you will be successful and will save yourself a lot of money year after year by starting your own seeds and having your own starter plants instead of buying them. And of course save your seeds and plant heirloom seeds.