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Friday, February 5, 2016

Make It From Scratch: Preparing to Start Seeds Indoors

Hi guys! It's the dead of winter, but we're here to talk about our gardens. It may seem like there's nothing to do now, but that's not true! First, look through your seed catalogs and daydream about your perfect garden. I usually fold down the corners of about half the pages, choosing enough seeds for a small farm.

Then make a shorter, realistic list and order your seeds. My favorite online sellers can be found here

If you have cold winters, I don't recommend trying to do outdoor work now. The ground might be frozen (it is at my house - under several inches of snow). Even if the ground is soft, it's probably pretty cold, which is no fun for your hands. Also, rest periods are part of the cycle of plantlife and soil. So let the garden rest for now. There will be plenty of time for digging in the spring. 

We can do several things inside to prepare for our gardens. First, find your sunniest window, a place where you can set up some seed trays to grow. I know the best seed-growing place in my house is the big window in my loft. Actually, the windows in my living room would also be great for growing seeds, but I'd have to move the couch to the middle of the room and I don't think my husband would enjoy that arrangement. So I'm setting up my loft for seed sprouting. I brought up a big plastic table and put it right in front of the window. I also gathered up all my trays from last year, small pots, seed starting soil, plant food, a watering can, a spray bottle, and all my seeds. See what you've already got to work with and then you can decide what to make or buy.

The supplies that we need are:

Seed starting trays. These often have little compartments so lots of plants can grow in one tray without their roots getting tangled together. 

I like the ones that have three parts: a solid tray on the bottom to catch the water, the compartmentalized tray for the soil and seeds, and a clear lid that keeps moisture and warmth inside to encourage germination.

Seed starting pellets. These little discs can be placed in each compartment. When you add water, they expand into a planting medium for starting seeds. 


Seed starting soil. I like to get this type of soil because it's made up of small bits that work best for growing seedlings. When tiny seeds make their first roots, they need to touch the soil so they can get moisture and nutrients from it. Regular potting soil sometimes has pieces too large to be a great growing medium for tiny seeds and their little roots. The littlest plants can get lost in bigger potting mix and dry out. You can make your own by combining compost, perlite, and vermiculite. Just make sure it's fairly fine.

Fertilizer. We'll be using these plants for food, drinks, and skincare, so use a fertilizer that you're comfortable with and feel is safe. 

Watering can and spray bottle. We'll need to keep the seeds moist to get them to germinate and grow. But when watering small seeds, they can easily be washed away if you use too much water at one time. For the tiniest seeds, you may want to mist them with a spray bottle until the plants have roots to hold them in place. Misting is a great assignment for kids, if they want to help you with your garden!

If you have trays that you've used in the past, now's the time to clean them. You can use water mixed with a little bleach or vinegar to disinfect them. We want to kill any mold or plant diseases that might have grown there last year. Once they're dry, they'll be ready to be used again.

Now you can figure out when to start everything inside. Figure out your gardening zone and look up your last frost date. You may find a few different answers, but you just need a general idea. We can refine our exact planting dates in the spring, when we see what the weather and temperature are like.

Each seed packet will say how early to start the seeds indoors. They might say something like "plant indoors 6-8 weeks before the last frost date." I'm in Zone 5, so here it predicts that our last frost date will be April 30th.  I will count backwards from that date to find out when to start my seeds indoors. 

I've sorted my seeds like this:
*The ones I'll plant directly in the garden. Some plants do not like to be transplanted. Peas, pumpkins, radishes, corn, sunflowers, and others should be planted directly in the garden. Each seed packet will tell you if this is the case. I set these aside for now.

*The ones that should be started indoors, sorted by the length of indoor growing time recommended. Some of mine need as little as 4 weeks inside, while others need 12 weeks. I wrote the number of weeks on the front of each seed packet, so I don't have to keep reading the small print on the backs of them. You could write the date to plant indoors instead - whatever seems easier to you. 

*The ones that I want to grow indoors in pots. I'd like to have basil year-round, so I plan to start some in a medium-sized pot to keep inside. I also want to plant some kale inside; the aphids always attack it in my garden. And it would be nice to have super-fresh spinach this winter, too. I already have a mint plant growing inside and it's so nice to have fresh mint all year long (it's fantastic in smoothies), without paying the high prices at the grocery store.

I'm also going to grow catnip and catmint inside, for this guy, who doesn't like to be left out of anything! He is already sleeping on top of my seed trays and trying to steal seed packets to bat around. 

Next time we'll be doing some actual planting. See you then!

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