The Backyard

The Backyard

Friday, March 25, 2016

Seed Starting 101 - Under Lights

A topic near and dear to my heart, yet I never wrote about.  This will get you started with seed starting under lights.  Why start your own?  Variety, variety, variety.  Once you taste a Cherokee Purple heirloom tomato you'll never eat another and that's not a tomato you find at the local grocer.   I also start my own to assure 1) organic seed (in most cases) and 2) non-GMO seeds and boycotting of Monsanto (did you know Monsanto controls many seed companies?  Here’s the list of who to avoid and who to buy from.  Fedco and Baker Heirloom are my two favorites)   3) disease-free.  One year I lost a dozen or so tomatoes and a dozen or so pepper plants to late blight and I’m fairly certain it was from diseased pepper seedlings from a local nursery.   The following year I started ALL my own plants and they grew beautifully with nary a blighted plant in sight.     Variety selection can be mind boggling.  When choosing your seeds, start with what others recommend or by the descriptions which are pretty true in the Fedco Catalog.  Eventually, you’ll find a variety you go back to every year such as Arcadia broccoli.  The Burpee choices at your local Walmart aren’t too shabby either.    I’ll save choice varieties for the next post.  

      Lights.  Low and behold, this too has already been written about and I found one site that is nearly identical to my set-up and process.  Simple, Green Frugal Co-op has a step-by-step process with all the details here.   Summarizing:  
  • Cheapest lights to use are 4 ft fluorescent shop lights.  (Short on time to build one?  Most larger nurseries have seed starting lights already to go.  Here’s an example in the Burpee Catalog  
  • You can either hang on chains, or set-up a nice stand with chains.  Below is a picture of my husband’s handy-work that served me well over the years.  Chains are a must.
  • The chain needs to be adjustable to keep the lights close to the plants as they grow.
  • Start the seeds in a warm room (70-degree range or above) or use a heating mat.  You can purchase a seed tray and dome and seed starting formula from your local nursery.  Don’t use potting soil… it must be seed starting formula which contains a little more organic matter.
  • Once sprouted, get the cover off and put under lights.  The seed pack will tell you the timeframe for sprouting.  No need to put under lights until they sprout.
  • Keep in a warm, dry room.  If the room is damp (like a cool basement), the soil may form mold on top of it.  This will damage the seedling at the base and eventually kill it.  No room for aesthetics here.... just set the lights up where the temperature is best.  Mine sets in the middle of my living room right now.
  • Keep the lights virtually on top of the plants and on for the same amount of time as daylight.
  • Bottom water is best, or use a spray bottle on the soil.  The tender seedlings are easy to flood with water.  Be gentle.
  • Keep under lights until about 3 days before planting outside.  At this time you’ll “harden off” the seedlings by setting them outside in a protected area (still in the tray for ease) to get accustomed to the out-of-doors.  You’ll know they are ready to go in the ground when you see roots growing out of the holes in the bottom of containers.
  • Electric costs:  About $10 a month for two 4-ft fluorescent lights going the entire month. 
My light stand built by my hubby. Usually sets in a warm bedroom.
Simple, Green Frugal Co-op has all the detail you need to get this started and as mentioned, their set-up mimics mine.    It's a little late to start your own early crops such as broccoli, cabbage, and cauliflower; but, the timing is perfect to start your late spring (planting between May 1 and May 30 depending on your last frost) plants such as tomatoes and peppers.   A good time frame for starting is about 6 weeks before your last frost date.  Here in outskirts of Gratz, I seldom plant tender annuals before May 15 or May 30 because we've had frost on Memorial day.   If the forecast looks promising, I'll gamble and plant prior to Memorial day.   Watch the evening temps like a hawk to assure no frost.

It's super-rewarding to start your own seeds.  If you have kids, they love watching the sprouting process too.   It's even more rewarding to pick that first tomato you grew from a tiny seed and having the satisfaction you know exactly where that seed came from and the purity of it.  Have fun!

No comments: