Guide to Starting Seeds Indoors
My old friend and nemesis.
As we sit in the depths of these frosty Canadian months, I become more and more anxious to feel the sun on my bare skin again. To smell pollen and tree resins in the air… To watch the birds migrate back and watch the sun set at 9 pm… those were the days.
But instead of dreaming, I’m going to tune in for all the plant nerds out there and tell you guys to get started on some growing!
Our warm season is so short that often our edible plants barely hit their peak production before the frost creeps in, which is why starting plants indoors is a great way to maximize your harvest and also feel like a master botanist in your own home.
Sourcing your Seeds
This is important.
You can buy your seeds from many big box store in their garden centre and those will grow perfectly nice plants!
However, I will make a point to mention that your dollar supports the growing practices of that company.
I try to opt for ethical and small scale whenever I can. Some of my favourite brands are:
Calgary has an awesome event called Seedy Saturday every year in Hillhurst/Sunnyside, where a ton of different presenters and Horticulture nerds come together for a very interesting, fun, and informative event. You will be able to buy seed and plant starts here so be sure to bring! The 2019 Seedy Saturday is on Saturday, March 16th.
Once you obtain your seed, you will need the basics to start growing.
** Below are suggestions. You can use any household material that you see fit! **
Plug Trays and Holding Trays are my preferred propagation method, as it allows you to sew many seedlings without taking up too much space, and they are easy to transplant (move) your plants out of once they are big enough. 6-packs are a good size for home growers, placed in 1020 trays. This will ensure adequate moisture levels, but may require you to transplant again into larger 4″ pots once the plants mature.
If you just want less hassle, you can seed straight into 4″ pots as long as you make sure to water them well. The seeds will have lots of room to grow and can be transplanted directly from here to the garden/greenhouse.
Peat Pellets are also a good option especially for plants that dislike transplanting, like squashes and peppers. The seed can be placed directly inside and the pellets can be planted as they are without any tinkering.
The important factor for soil here is good drainage!
Water logging is one of the most common growing mistakes that affect seedlings.
Any bag labelled “potting mix” will be suitable. If you think you have a suitable homemade potting mix, make sure it is sterilized to avoid soil-borne problems. You can do this by baking it in the oven before planting.
If you are a new gardener, there is no way in hell you are going to remember which seeds you planted where without labels. I have made the mistake many-a-time.
All you need are simple popsicle sticks and a sharpie – write down the variety listed on the seed packet. That way, if you end up loving the taste of that “Sweet Million” tomato, you know what kind of seed to buy again when you run out.
Keep in mind…
The warmer the environment, the faster a seed will sprout.
Some vegetables – like hot peppers actually will not sprout at all without bottom warmth. Heating mats are great for this, or just place the trays near a heat source like your radiator.
Be patient with your little ones!
It is always wise to mark your seeding date on the calendar so you can accurately track progress. You don’t want to double seed just to find that your initial seed finally emerged 2 days later.
For the MOST part…
Our average last frost date in Calgary ranges from May 11th to May 20th.
You can calculate for yourself when to seed, using the directions on your seed packets.
If you are unsure, use the chart below as a guide.
Courtesy of USeeds
It is wise to pre-moisten your soil before sowing. Make the consistency of a crumbly brownie mix.
Pack your soil into your selected containers.
Just a light pressure , as if you were checking your banana bread in the oven.
Remember – keep that proper drainage!
Using a pencil, make small craters marking where you will drop your seeds.
DO NOT PLANT TOO DEEP.
This is a common mistake that affects germination.
The hole only needs to be twice the width of the seed.
Teeny seeds (i.e. carrots, tomatoes) = 3 seeds per cell/pot.
Normal, small seeds (i.e. beets, broccoli) = 2 seeds per cell/pot.
Larger seeds (i.e. squashes) =1 seed per cell/pot.
Lightly cover your seeds with the surrounding soil.
Water them in.
The best way to do this if you have holding trays is to fill the trays with a half inch of water and then set your planting trays/pots inside these trays. Make sure each cell gets saturated.
If watering from the top, use a very gentle device like a spray bottle.
Cover them with your transparent cover and leave them be for a couple days.
Caring for your Seedlings
Always have the essentials:
MOISTURE WARMTH LIGHT TIME
Hardening & Transplanting
Okay, so your babes have made it to the pre-pubescent stage,
they’re tall, they’re strong, they’re looking good.
Perhaps they are outgrowing their homes.
Carefully remove your plants from their old homes and place them in new pots.
See an example below.
Harden Them Off
You’ve given your plants the perfect, safe, comfortable environment up until this point.
If they are to stand a chance in the great outdoors, they need a transition period.
This will take about a week. Choose one that is frost-free, storm-free, and relatively overcast.
The goal is to get your seedlings accustomed to the elements.
Any extremes could hinder their growth.
If there is still frost at night, you may need to bring plants inside overnight until it is gone for good.