Beginning Seed Starting–The Timing Is Everything!

There was a time when I would start so many seeds that they would over flow my 6′ tall, 3′ wide light tower and I’d have the trays stacked on the floor around the fluorescents desperately trying to get them some extra light.  No more.

Back then I was starting annuals, perennials, houseplants, cacti and of course vegetables.  I’ve grown vegetables for as long as I can remember–far longer than it was fashionable.  Even as a child we always had a few tomato plants tucked in an out-of-the-way corner somewhere–because no summer ever went by without homegrown tomatoes–and of course basil to go with it.

My gardens are full to overflowing now so about all I need to grow every year are vegetables.  Last year I was gifted with a raised bed by a Canadian company (to whom I shall be eternally grateful).  This fall, although I didn’t exactly think of it as a gift, many of our trees–or the tops of them–came down, giving me more sunlight than I’ve ever had on this property.  So I expect this gardening season to be even more bountiful.

Since that’s the case, I need to start my seeds–but if I were a new gardener and didn’t know and saw the seeds appearing in the box stores in early January, I might have thought it was time to start them then.  That’s probably the biggest mistake a new seed starter makes–starting seeds too soon.

The back of the seed packets aren’t whole lot of help–they have a tiny map with wavy lines that show you roughly when to plant the seeds outdoors.  Great–but how do you know how long it’s going to take them to get going indoors?

One of the best resources, if you’re a new seed starter, is a book on seed starting.  No, this is not something you sit down and read cover to cover–who has time for that?  Get something like The New Seed Starter’s Handbook by Nancy Bubel and flip to the type of seed you’re trying to start.

It will give you a wealth of information–whether the seed germinates in the dark or whether it needs light to germinate (in other words, don’t cover it with soil); whether you need to scarify it (scrape it with a file to simulate the motion of having it go through a bird’s intestines); whether it needs stratification (a period of cold treatment (if so, plant it and put it in a cold place–if you’re having winter right now, a garage or shed will do, otherwise a spare fridge or even your own fridge, in a baggie, in a pinch) and how long it might take to germinate (some seeds take notoriously long times, like parsley and peppers, which can take up to 3 weeks!)

Once you know how long the thing will take to emerge from the ground, and anything else that might be relevant, you can plan when to plant–and perhaps how to plant–the seeds.  More on that on Monday.

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