From Scratch: Gardening from Seed
Got that early spring itch? Now's a great time to get your green thumb back in shape by starting seeds! If you like to grow plants, we can assure you that starting seeds can be very rewarding - it's gardening done from scratch!
Our average frost-free date is around April 20th. You will generally need six weeks to sow, germinate and harden off your new plants. Counting six weeks backwards from April 20th means early March is the perfect time to start your spring seed selections. (For best result, of course, consult individual seed packets for the number of weeks you will need and use the method above to calculate your sowing date).
To sow your seeds, you can use sterilized pots, Styrofoam cups, rinsed out milk cartons, egg cartons or the recommended seed starter peat pots. Make sure there are drainage holes at the bottom. Fill the pots with a soilless mix, such as Espoma's Seed Starter Mix, which is light and sterile, giving your seeds the healthiest start. Do not use soil from the garden as it becomes too compacted and has organisms that could infect your seedlings.
Moisten the soilless mix before you add it to the pots. Stir in water as if you were mixing a cake batter. This method prevents initial over or under watering as it ensures absorption. Then fill your containers with the moistened soilless mix. Now you are ready to plant!
Small seeds need only a thin covering of soil; larger seeds need to be planted more deeply. Consult individual seed packets for proper sowing depth. Label your pots as you sow, using plant markets or tape to create labels. Then place your pots in a container to make watering and transportation easier (a tray with sides or a cookie sheet works well). Next, give your seeds a little bit of water (not too much as you already moistened your soil) cover them with a tent of clear plastic wrap. Think of the plastic as a mini greenhouse - the plastic will seal in the moisture your seeds need to germinate.
As soon as sprouts appear, remove the plastic and move your plants to a bright light source. Without adequate light, your plants will become weak and spindly. A windowsill with a southern exposure works well. (You can also use a florescent tube placed 1-2 inches above seedlings left on for 14 hours a day.) If near a window, rotate pots everyday to insure your plants get light from all sides.
As your plants grow you may need to repot them to keep stems stout and strong. Tomato plants will benefit greatly from this practice. Repot these plants so the soil comes up to the 1st set of leaves. Roots will develop along the stem under the soil making your plants sturdy and strong. Continue watering your seedlings and feed them once a week with a 5-10-5 fertilizer diluted to half strength.
About 2 weeks before planting outside, you'll need to harden off your tender plants; in other words, you need to acclimate them to the stresses of outside conditions. This is a very important step if you want to be a successful. To harden off your plants, add an extra day or two between watering and stop feeding. Don't let your plants dry out so much that they wilt. Next, start moving your plants outside during the day, making sure they are shielded from strong afternoon sun. Don't forget to water. Bring your plants inside at night. Expose your seedlings to more light and temperature changes each day. Do this for about 2 weeks and by the time of your planting date your seedlings will be ready to go into the garden. Happy planting!!