How Green Was My Garden: Let’s get it started in here

“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. 

Advanced Seedstarting Seminar from Mother Earth Garden

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. 

Seeds at Mother Earth

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. 

Some good choices for organic seed catalogs include  Minnesota’s own Peter’s Seeds, TomatoFest, Botanical Interests, John Scheepers, Seeds of Change, and Seedsavers

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?

4 Comments so far

  1. kat (unregistered) on March 25th, 2010 @ 11:00 am

    This is our second year starting from seeds. We are doing three kinds of peppers, two kinds of tomatoes, broccoli, kale, peas, beans, spinach, leaf lettuce, brussels sprouts, zucchini & cucumber. Of course some of that starts from seed right in the garden. we get so much out of our 4 little 4″ x 4″ beds

  2. locally (unregistered) on March 26th, 2010 @ 4:30 pm

    “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.”

    I’m sorry, but the above is completely false. For the past ten years i have been starting my plants from seed in the west facing window of my second floor apartment without grow lights, just simply covered with some plastic wrap propped up with toothpicks until sprouts show. I’ve successfully started: tomatoes, peppers, basils, eggplant, rosemary, sage, lavendar, zinnias, snap dragons, sunflowers, rudbeckia, calendula, marigold, pansies, lemon verbena,lemon balm, cilantro, parsley, cosmos, sweet peas, i could go on and on.

    Gardeners: don’t let the lack of lights or heat mats fancy equipment stop you! the spring sun in Minnesota is perfectly fine!

  3. Fiona (quick13) on March 28th, 2010 @ 4:51 pm

    Every Master Gardener, the U of MN Extension Service and more will tell you that supplemental light is necessary for proper germination & healthy seedling growth in Minnesota, especially when starting seeds prior to May. The sun is simply not sufficient for the healthiest plants, they become leggy with weak stem walls & are more suceptible to disease & crop failure, especially when hardening off. It is possible to germinate seeds without grow lights but it is not ideal for the best possible plants.

  4. locally (unregistered) on April 2nd, 2010 @ 11:00 am

    i respect what master gardeners and the u of mn have to say, but will stand by my own experience: it is totally possible to germinate seeds without grow lights and yield strong healthy plants. my crops have never suffered from not using grow lights or a heat mat. again–don’t think you need any special equipment to have a great garden.

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