“Everyone who enjoys thinks that the principal thing to the tree is the fruit, but in point of fact the principal thing to it is the seed. — Herein lies the difference between them that create and them that enjoy.” – Friedrich Nietzsche
Seedstarting. Not too long ago it was only for hardcore gardeners with casual gardeners usually purchasing seedlings ready to plant from big garden centers. But the rebirth of vegetable gardening, especially urban gardens, has caused a huge surge in seed sales & folks trying their hand at seedstarting.
Locally Mother Earth Gardens has offered seminars on seedstarting for years but in the past two the free seminars have reached capacity for reservations as soon as they are announced. Their beginning seminars are full of people who are just starting their gardens as well as those who have never started their garden from seed before. The seminars were so successful the neighborhood garden store added an advanced seminar.
During the advanced seminar we shared stories about how long we’ve been gardening, the best gardening books, and most of the time was spent sharing each gardener’s tips for everything on fruit trees, pruning raspberries and of course pest control.
Seedstarting is simple once you have the right tools. The most common mistake is hoping that sunlight in Minnesota is sufficient for good germination & plant growth. The spring sun locally is not good enough and must be supplemented with grow lights. There are many more options this season than ever before for setting up the best light system for your seeds. I purchased hanging lamps and just use a wire rack shelf from Target for all the trays but if you would rather have a ready-made system there are many options available, though they tend to be a bit expensive.
The other key to good seedstarting is heat. I keep my seeds in the utility room next to the water heater & furnace so it gets very warm in there. But there are many heat mats available as well to help you maintain that warmth.
Humidity control is also important for good germination of your seeds, so making sure you have the plastic greenhouse lids on your trays until they are big enough for thinning out is key. Different shapes available from large domes for bigger plants & short ones to greenhouse shaped units.
Moisture is the final key to good seedstarting. The plastic domes will help you maintain good water levels in your soil but you need to maintain tht with proper watering, not too wet (seedlings will rot & be suceptible to damp off) and not too dry. Watering from above is okay as long as the spout on your watering can disperses the water without disturbing the soil. Or you can water from below in the trays, just make sure you only water enough for the plugs to absorb & they aren’t sitting in standing water.
The biggest advantage to seedstarting yourself is the increased selection of plants you can choose. There are so many heirloom varieties and unique hybrids to choose from when using seeds that would never be available at your farmer’s market or garden store. I usually purchase some seeds in stores in my neighborhood like Minnehaha Falls Nursery or Mother Earth & supplement those with ordering from garden catalogs. The best part of February is pouring over my seed catalogs to choose what I will grow this year.
This year I am adding some new lettuce varieties as well as a melon, interesting cabbage & brussels sprouts & filet beans to my garden, things that would only be affordable and even found through seed catalogs.
It is a bit late for starting some veggies from seed, like onions & leeks, which I started in late February. But in the right conditions you should be able to still get your seeds started on most all other vegetables now and early April. The University of Minnesota Extension service has a great guide for a good seedstarting schedule.
Because of our early warm weather you can get a jump start on direct sowing on things like peas, lettuce, radish, spinach and carrots. You can just put those directly in your pots or raised beds, or in the ground if it is in a sunny location and has warmed up enough. It is best to wait just a bit longer on things like squash & beans because as we all know in Minnesota there is always a chance for more cold, including a hard frost or snow.
So if you have never grown your plants from seeds, it is very easy & affordable with a few tricks & tips. There will always be crop failures, it happens to nurseries too. But you can still be successful & have the great satisfaction of growing your own food from seed to table and have a fantastic variety of flowers too! So what are you growing from seed this year?