A few years ago I attended an estate sale for a lawyer associate of mine whose life was tragically cut short by a motorcycle accident. I have attended a couple of estate sales in the past and I occasionally stop at a garage sale or two looking for items for my next gardening project. Attending this kind of sale, involving someone you know, is a strange experience as you look through their life’s treasures to find items compatible to your own. I had no idea I had so much in common with this gentleman. He had a love of fly fishing which seemed to only be equal to his love of gardening.
The first thing to catch my eye was this great indoor seed grower rack and lights. I have no idea where he purchased this item but it is the best I have seen. It included two, three florescent 4 foot light hoods and two waterproof plastic trays. One of the light hoods had burn marks on one end so I took a trip to Home Depot and picked up a two light hood for around $26 to replace the burned one. The lights can be raised and lowered about two and a half feet to accommodate growing plants. I bought both warm and cool florescent tubes to provide the seedlings with the full spectrum of necessary light for optimal growth.
Tomorrow is the first of February and I plan on planting broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage seeds to be able to get them in the ground by the middle of March. I will hopefully get around to building my pvc greenhouse in the next couple of weeks so that I am ready to take the seedlings outside by the second week of March or so to harden them off.
Many cold season vegetables such as carrots, lettuce, spinach, beets, radishes, etc. are best sown directly outside once the ground can be worked in early March. I try to get my peas in the ground in late February as they do their best when their growth is done when the weather first turns hot in May/June.
For warm weather vegetables it is best practice to research your last average date of spring frost and count backwards six to seven weeks to find the correct planting date to start your seedlings indoors. In the fall you look at your first average frost date and read your date to maturity time range on your seed packet to find out when you should start your seedlings for your fall crop.
To start seeds in trays indoors you need a light soil mixture. Never use soil from your garden as it is way to dense and heavy. You can buy seed starter mix or you can make your own. A good recipe is one third homemade compost, one third sand, vermiculite or perlite and one third peat moss. It is best to sterilize your compost by placing it in an oven appropriate container, cover and bake at 250 degrees for one half hour. Seedlings are susceptible to disease so pasteurizing the compost is the safest bet for healthy seedlings. Also clean all equipment, pots and tools with one part bleach to ten parts water to give your plants the best chance of success.
As temperature and humidity are the most important elements for successful seed starting, I plant in trays with a plastic cover and keep the soil evenly moist but not soggy. I keep my grow lights just a couple of inches from the top of the plastic and continue to move the lights up an inch at a time as the plants grow. It’s best to put the lights on a timer so as to simulate full daylight while still allowing a night period. I leave my lights on from 0700 to about 1800 for spring crops as the days are not as long when they will go out in the greenhouse in a month or so. You can use heat mats but I have a heating vent right above the grow frame and the lights keep my temperature in the 60’s which is fine for cool crops. Warm weather crops need the soil to be a little warmer (high 70’s minimum).
You can save money by growing your own seedlings and it is a fun project for the kids. Just make sure you properly store your unused seeds in a paper, breathable envelope in a cool and dark place for use next year. Seed is usually viable for a few years. Spring is almost here. It’s hard to tell from looking outside today.