The beginning of March is a good time to start seeds inside if you plan to plant them around May 1st. While there are many ways to do this, here’s the method which seems to work well for me.
1. I start with a heavy duty plant tray on the bottom. You can use these trays every year and they will never leak. You don’t absolutely need this, but it makes everything easier to work with and a lot safer. These are hard to find and I usually buy these from Park Seed.
2. I then use a standard black plastic tray which fits inside the heavy duty tray. These trays are flimsy and will leak and break over time.
3. I prefer to use inserts which are a bit larger – usually 36 will fit in a tray. I usually take off one cell in one tray so that I can easily add water to the tray – so I am left with 35 cells. This way your plants will have more root space and be heartier when you plant them. I don’t use the Jiffy pre-made pots as they are a bit expensive and you will need to buy them every year.
4. You will need a good potting mix. Don’t use soil, but you want to get something like Pro-Mix- Potting Mix and add just a bit of Osmocote.
5. If the mix is VERY dry, you will need to wet it down first. I usually put some in a large plastic container, add water and mix it all up until it feels moist. If the mix does have some moisture, I just add it to the inserts and fill it to the top.
6. I then take the inserts over to the sink, thoroughly soak the mixture and let it drip for a while.
7. I then add the seed to the top of the soil – two or three seeds per section.
8. Most seeds like to be covered up a bit and I like to use Vermiculite for this step. (Milkweed does best without covering.) Vermiculite holds water and keeps the seed moist. Look at the directions on the seed packet as to how much to cover the seed. Some seeds don’t need or like covering so read the packet or do your research.
9. Since the vermiculite is dry, I spray it down with water.
10. I also add some more water to the bottom of the dry to make sure the soil mix stays moist. The water will be wicked up by the soil. After the first day or so you can get rid of the excess water.
11. I now put the plastic dome over everything and make sure it fits tightly. Note – there are some cheap versions of these – don’t buy them. Buy the sturdier domes.
12. Most seeds like a warmer soil to germinate so I use a shop light with regular bulbs and set it down over everything. There are some seeds which like a cooler soil to germinate so again read the instructions. The shop light will warm the soil and provide light which helps many seeds in their germination. I also use an electric heating mat for some seeds.
A heat mat with thermostat also helps keeps the tray warm. Shaw Nature Reserve uses a temperature of 70 degrees which seems a bit chilly to me.
13. In a week or two or three your seeds will germinate and you can take off the plastic top.
14. You may notice the chains on the shop light and these are what I use to hang the lights from my basement ceiling. If you use a rope, you can make it adjustable. You want the lights as close to the plants as possible. I have also used a standard metal type book shelves to create a garden area. You can put one or two lights under each shelf and create quite a large growing area. Obviously you don’t want water dripping on the electrical fixtures, so use the heavy-duty trays and water from the bottom – put the water in the trays and let the plant roots pick up the water.
Lately I have started to use 4-bulb shop lights from Home Depot. They are a bit more expensive, but are heavy duty and can daisy chain together.
15. At this point you can also connect the lights to a timer. I would just turn off the lights about four hours per night. The plants are not getting much light from the shop light and need all the light they can get.
16. When the seeds germinate and are doing well, snip off all but one – the strongest.If you don’t want to do this, you can break take out the extras and replant them. I’ve found it best to put them in a covered dome for a few days to allow them to regain their strength.