It is already that time of year, garden planning and seed starting!
This weekend I got my shed all set up to start a bunch of seeds. Normally I only start tomatoes and peppers indoors but this year I am branching out and planting A LOT more inside.
Before I get to the nitty gritty....you do not have to start seeds inside and you do not have to buy fancy equipment to start seeds inside. This is the first year I am really using trays, lights and heat mats to helps my plants. Previously I would just save old containers throughout the year and use those and a window sill and it DOES work. I will get into more detail regarding this below.
Okay so here's what you need:
There are about a MILLION grow light options out there, and the ones I will be referring to will be just for seed starting, not fruiting. If you want to grow full size plants under lights they require specialty lights (maybe the topic for another day).
I have always used a sunny window to start seeds. You can even use multiple windows if you work from home or are home a lot and move your seedlings around from window to window. Some things I have noticed doing it that way though. The plants get leggy fast trying to reach for the sun through the window. This just means the plants tend to be a bit weaker and struggle more once they are transplanted outside.
I have one grow light that was gifted to me :) and I bought two shop lights from Wal Mart. Shop lights are a great inexpensive alternative to the expensive grow lights that are available online. When purchasing the lights, the higher the lumens and kelvin the better (want at least 5000 of each). You do not have to spend a fortune to get grow lights.
I am hoping using the lights will make my plants stronger and increase production overall once they are outside, I will be sure to let you know!
For soil, some people will tell you you must use a sterile seed starting mix. I personally have never used one, I usually just buy the cheapest potting soil at Lowe's and I have had no issues. You can also easily make your own mix if you want, most people use 1:1:1 ratio of peat moss (or coconut coir), perlite, and vermiculite if you so desire. As long as it is semi-loose soil you will be fine.
You can plant your seeds in pretty much anything you want. I normally use old sour cream and yogurt containers and poke holes in the bottoms of them. This year I purchased some 72 cell trays to make the most of the space under my lights but will use the old containers to up-pot my plants when the time comes.
Another option is making your own containers out of newspaper (there are tons of tutorials online). I did this my first year and it worked wonderfully.
Another option is egg cartons. I personally didn't like the egg cartons because there is so little space in them you have to up-pot as soon as they germinate basically, but it is an option.
Get creative and remember you don't have to spend a fortune to start seeds. Recycle what you have and don't be afraid to ask friends and neighbors for old containers.
(my 2019 seed starting set up)
Temperature is so important to the germination and growth of seeds. Every plant is different and needs different temperatures to successfully germinate. Tomatoes and peppers like it hot, so they will get a heat mat (this is my personal choice they don't have to have one) but brassica and cold weather crops do fine germinating in a little colder temperatures...but not too cold. Be sure to check all of your seed packs before you get started so you know what temperature your seed babies need to be at to thrive.
Now the reason I decided to try heat mats this year is because I am starting my seeds outside in my shed where it can get pretty chilly. The heat mats will just provide the plants with the extra boost they need to germinate in a colder environment and keep growing. They run about 12 bucks for a 10 inch by 20 inch mat which is a pretty good size. This is another reason I got the trays to use this year, because one tray fits perfectly on one heat mat. If you are starting seeds indoors you can probably get by without a heat mat but remember to check your seed packs for ideal temperatures so you get hearty plants.
When to plant?
Another question many people have in regards to seed starting is, when do I start planting my seeds indoors? Well the short answer is now. Peppers, onions, leeks, and eggplants (and I am sure more) all should be started fairly early. Be sure (again) to check your seed packs, they will say when you need to sow your seeds indoors. To go along with this, it is SO IMPORTANT to know when your first frost date it. The seeds packs will say start your seeds x weeks before your first frost. Timing is crucial. If you start too late you won't get the most out of your plants. If you start too early you are going to run out of space because your plants are going to get huge before you can plant them outside and will have to continuously up-pot them. So, do your research and read your seed packs so you know when to start your seeds indoors.
Honestly, I always start mine way too early because I get too excited, I am going to try to avoid that this year.
Here are some photos of my set up this year. I am so excited to seed my seedlings start growing.
That is it. Nothing fancy about it. Lights were $20, heat mat (under the right tray) was $12, seeds trays were $20 (I bought a pack of 10 which was way more than I needed).
As the seedlings start to grow I will up-pot them and put some under the other light I have, some outside (cold-tolerant crops), and start more seedlings under these lights in the same trays.
I will keep you updated as I go along.