Health Article

Seed Starting Time

When I lived in Nevada I started seeds under my grow lights 8-10 months of the year. Now, here in the mid-west It’s just now seed starting time and I’m so excited the snow is melting, summer is on its way. Seed starting is best 6-8 weeks before you are going to transplant seedlings in the garden, depending on the type of seed. You need to take into consideration how long the seed needs to germinate, grow up a bit, and allow a week or two for hardening off before moving the seedlings to the garden or outdoor containers.

How I start my seeds

Seed Starting Soil
Seed Starting Soil
    1. I start with a moist seed starting soil or potting soil. I like to put the new soil into a bucket and squeeze to make sure it feels like a damp sponge. If it’s dry I add warm water and stir it well to make sure my soil is evenly moist.
    1. Then I fill my cardboard egg cartons or starting pots with the moist soil. Adding 2-3 seeds per spot. (When using fresh seeds 1-2 seeds per spot, add 1 seed for each year old the seeds are. My seeds are 1 and 2 years old so I am putting 3 or 4 seeds in each spot. No more than 6 seeds per spot. I do this to ensure I have a germinated seed in each spot.)
    1. The seeds must stay moist to germinate. I recycle clear plastic grocery bags, plastic wrap, or press-n-seal bags to cover the egg trays this allows me to keep the soil moist without watching it every day.
Plastic Bag Green House
Plastic Bag Green House
    1. The heat will speed up germination. In the past, I would use a grow light and set my trays on top of it till the seeds germinate then move the trays under the light about 3-4 inches from the light. Or set the trays on warming mats to slightly heat the soil and stimulate germination. This year I’m using a west facing sunny window. Keeping it simple.
    1. Once the seeds germinate, remove the plastic cover. The seedlings need the air to move around them to create a strong stem and the sun allows them to photosynthesize and grow into healthy plants.
    1. When using seed starting soil (is sterile) it’s important to feed the seedlings about a week after they germinate. Give the plastic greenhouse a little vent (slit or open) and apply a diluted 1:10 water: fertilizer. Continue applying very diluted fertilizer every week.
    1. I use egg cartons or disposable plastic to-go food containers to start my plants, once the plants germinate I will transplant my starts into small 3 inches pots. If more than one seed germinates in each cell, you can carefully separate the plants and put each in its own pot, snip the weakest one(s) at the soil line, or transplant them all together.
  1. When the weather is warm enough and it’s time to transplant outside. Don’t forget to harden-off the seedlings! I know I’m not the only one who gets excited to get into the garden and think I can skip this step but don’t. It makes all the difference in how successfully plants survive once transplanted into the garden or outdoor containers.

Hardening-off is done by placing the seedlings outside in the shade for 2 days for 2-3 hours and bringing them in at night. The next 2 days moving them outside into a partly shade/sun area for 2-3 hours and bringing them in at night. The next 2 days leaving them out 4-6 hours. The last 2 days gradually getting them into full sun. As they are moved into the sun watch them closely and be sure the soil is moist. If you see the seedlings struggle i.e. wilting, drooping, shriveling move them back to the shade. When the seedlings can stay outside all day without wilting or dropping it’s time to transplant. This is not an exact schedule, depending on how strong your seedlings are it may take longer. Just be sure the seedlings are ready, there is no rush, and the stronger the seedlings the more productive they will be over there lifetime.

I like to keep track of my successes and failures. Then I can pull my worksheet out year after year to reference when to get started. Most herbs can be direct seeded in the garden after the last frost. I grow most of my herbs in pots and enjoy getting them started indoors 6-10 weeks before I plan to move them outside. Plus seeds are so much cheaper than seedlings and I don’t feel as bad if my plants don’t make it.

Herb Transplant Harden-Off Date Start Seed Seed Start Date Notes
Basil 1 week after frost 6 weeks before
Calendula 2 weeks after frost 6-8 weeks before
Chives 1 week after frost 8 weeks before
Dill 1 week after frost 6 weeks before
Lemon balm 3 weeks before frost 8 weeks before
Oregano 2 weeks after frost 6-10 weeks before
Parsley 3 weeks before frost 9-10 weeks before
Sage 1 week before frost 8 weeks before
Thyme 2 weeks before frost 8-10 weeks before

This is so much fun to do with kids and seniors so even if you don’t have a garden I hope to encourage you to start a container garden this year. My focus is primarily on growing herbs and lettuces all in containers. I get such joy walking out my kitchen door and picking fresh herbs to use in preparing meals. Fresh herbs offer the added nutritional benefits and a wonderfully fresh taste to the spring and summer menu.

See You in the Garden….Lisa