|Growing plants from seed is rewarding, fun and not nearly as tough as you think!|
So - where to begin? First off, if you're not down with the whole 'growing from seed' thing, that's ok. You can still play along this season, you just have to sit out the first couple of rounds! I love growing my plants from seed for a few reasons. Mostly, it's because something happens to me around seed sales, swaps and catalogue listings... I lose control of myself and end up impulsively collecting varieties for the sheer thrill of it. That said, growing from seed gives me the satisfaction of having been in control of the growing process from the very beginning, which to me, adds extra pride and bragging rights! But it also allows me to grow a wider range of varieties, many of which are rare, obscure or hard to find. If you choose to buy your plants as babies (or 'starts') you can still enjoy all of the rush and joy of growing food at home, without the extra steps of seeding and coddling the little ones.
For those with a bit more cavalier spirit, this week I'll walk you through the steps that you need to take to grow plants successfully from seed. We'll sow and grow together, and if you're in my climate zone, you can just monkey-see-monkey-do your way through this thing. Good deal!
If you're been into any sort of garden center lately, you'll have found that there is no shortage of equipment, accessories and supplies that can help to make seed-starting easier. With such a wide range of options available, it's easy to find a system that will work for your space and your budget... but it's also easy to get carried away. There are a few really basic things that you will need to grow from seed, and everything else is optional. Here's what I use at home:
Trays, Pots or Containers
Naturally, you're going to need something to physically grow your plants in. I prefer a biodegradable tray system (similar to the one pictured left) that consists of a plastic undertray, clear plastic dome lid and coir cells that can be filled with whatever growing medium I choose. This is a personal preference, and one that I've found works well for me. You can use a traditional cell-pack tray, small pots, toilet rolls, yogurt containers.... really anything will do as long as it's not too deep and will hold soil, but allow water to drain freely. The item shown, which has 72 cells, runs for about $9-10 retail, and you can find other sizes and styles from $4 and up.
You don't grow plants in dirt! I start my seeds in a 'propagation' mix that's ready-to-use right out of the bag. It's light and airy, and is specifically mixed to provide the right amount of water retention and aeration that will allow seeds to thrive. Some people choose to make their own mix out of peat, coir, sand... there are lots of options. I recommend starting simple with a mix that is made for growing seeds or cuttings for the best results. Once you gain confidence and experience, you can start customizing your system to work best for you! (Please note - While I've chosen an image from Miracle Gro and that is what I bought this season, I'm not endorsing any specific brand here... just providing what I feel is a good visual example.)
Getting enough light is easily the biggest challenge to a home seed-starter. While a bright, south-facing window CAN do the trick, I've never had abundant success at growing healthy plants without a bit of supplemental light. If you're growing a few pots or a single tray, consider a small fluorescent strip light, counter light or lamp. They're usually easy to find in box stores and are quite inexpensive, and will save the hassle and worry of dealing with leggy, stretched-out plants! Last year, I built a little 'grow op' in my kitchen that consisted of a metal shelf unit, 2 4' ballasts and 4 T-12 bulbs - this setup cost a total of about $80 (ouch!) but I expect that it will serve me well for several years. To me, this was a worthwhile investment. Here's a glimpse of the Mo Farm grow op for this season...
I'll provide instructions for creating your own grow op in a future post... stay tuned if this is of interest to you!
Naturally, the last essential ingredients are the seeds themselves. If you're looking for free tomatoes, I'm your source! If you'd like me to send you some, please just e-mail your address and a small description of your growing area (garden, pots, balcony, etc) to my at firstname.lastname@example.org.
These are the basic, nitty-gritty must-haves. There are a few accessories that can help to make growing easier, and I'll detail them when we start the growing process. In my next post, I'll detail the ins and outs of sowing and growing your seeds as I start my tomatoes. Are you still hesitant? C'mon... what are you waiting for? Let's grow together this season! I'll coach you every step of the way!