Sow & Grow! (How to Grow Plants From Seed)

Teeny, perfect tomato seeds, full of promise and ready for planting.

My tomatoes are germinating!

That's right - as previously mentioned, mid-March is optimal tomato-seeding time, and I did just that.  Now the results are popping up from the soil surface, and my garden is beginning to become a reality before my eyes.  Are you in on this awesome action?  Well, this post will show you how to get it done.  Don't worry if you haven't started yet - it's not too late!  Follow along in the steps below, and feel free to drop me a line if ever you have questions.  Plus, the FREE SEEDS offer still stands.  If you need some seeds to get you growin, just send me an e-mail and I'll mail them to you right away!  Ready?  Let's grow!

1) Gear Up!  
As listed in my last post, get yourself outfitted with some basic essentials, including a tray or some pots, a growing medium like seed-starting soil, seeds, and a source of light.

2) Get organized.

Your own notes make a helpful tool.
This step is crucial, and it's fun if you're a little bit obsessive-compulsive like me! I like to arm myself with a notebook, as I feel it's important to keep records of what I planted, when I planted it, and how well it germinated.  I'll use that notebook all season long to make notes about the garden and it's progress, as well as when I harvest and any problems I encounter.  

Seed packages are full of useful info.
Gather together ALL of the seeds that you plan to plant, and take a look at the packages.  Seed packages are a wealth of information, but for now, the most important info will be how long your plants need to grow indoors before setting out at 'last frost'.  In southern Ontario, last frost usually occurs in early May... but that, of course, can vary!  A helpful chart is located here.  Tomatoes require 6-8 weeks of growing indoors before planting out, so mid-March puts you right on the money.  That said, you're better late than never, and you can generally sow right into the middle of April and still manage to get loads of fresh, ripe tomatoes this summer.

Group 'like' plants together, and don't forget to label!
Plan to sow all of the seeds with 'like' growing requirements together.  For instance, all of my tomatoes and sweet peppers need 6-8 weeks indoors, so they are all planted at the same time.  In a few more weeks, my squash and watermelon, which only need 2-4 weeks, will also be sown together.  Makes sense, yes?  When you've gathered your seeds, determine how many of each plant you want to grow, and make sure that you have enough space to grow them.  I plan this out in my notebook, recording the number of plants in each variety I plan to grow, and account for the number of cells that I have in my tray.  I want it FULL FULL FULL!  Finally, I always prepare labels for each variety in advance so that I can easily keep my seeds straight once I get going.

3) Fill your containers with soil.

I'm using biodegradable trays and commercially-prepared seed-starting mix.  In order to give my seeds a little bit of an extra boost, I've also mixed in some worm castings at a ratio of about 1:3.  Worm castings boast some serious benefits - they offer nutrition to young seedlings, making them an ideal natural fertilizer, but they also are touted to help protect seedlings from fungal diseases and have even been credited with aiding in faster seed germination.  They're purely optional, and this will actually be my first time mixing them in with my seed-starting medium.  

I use a small plastic bin for mixing, and I think it's best to slightly moisten the soil as you mix.  Try to gently break up any clumps or bumps, and simply drop handfuls into your pot or tray.  Fill it up to the top, and tap the tray on the floor or table to encourage the mix to settle in and close up big gaps.  Top off the surface so that it's relatively level, and gently smooth with your hand.  Ta da!! You're ready to start sowin'!

4) Sow your seeds!
Sow multiple seeds per cell to help ensure a viable plant.
Plant one variety at a time, making sure not to mix everything up!  Again, refer to your seed package - it will tell you how deep to plant each variety.  A bit deep is ok, but too shallow can result in your little seedlings getting washed up when you water, and that's heartbreaking!  I begin by making small divots into the soil surface of each cell.  Then drop 1-3 seeds in each cell.  I always sow several seeds in each cell, which will allow for any germination troubles, and can easily be thinned out later... ultimately, you want a single plant per cell or pot.  When you've seeded a single variety, cover over the seeds with a bit of soil and make sure to label.  Then repeat the process with each variety until you're done!

Planted, labeled and ready to grow!

5) Water them in - carefully! 
Water is crucial to the successful germination of your seeds.  When your planting is complete, you want to water the soil so that it's damp, but not wet.  The seeds will need to stay consistently moist and warm in order for their little coats to break open and for their internal mechanisms to trigger growth.  I water my newly-planted seeds with warm water, gently delivered with a watering can that has small holes.  Other options include using a spray bottle, or carefully pouring from a cup or jar.  Just don't wash your little babies away!  Many growers advocate for bottom-watering - add water to a tray or dish beneath the seedlings, allowing the water to be drawn up through osmosis, which avoids disturbing the soil on the surface.  I opt to water them gently from above at first, then switch to bottom-watering once the plants are established.  The choice is yours!

6) Cover up!
When your seeds are planted and watered, you can hurry them along and help to keep them toasty and moist by covering them with a clear plastic dome.  Mine came included with my tray kit, but you can also substitute with a clear baking tray or plastic wrap.  You'll keep the tray on until the seeds germinate.

7) Lights and action!
Supplemental light from fluorescent fixtures is helpful.
 Light is very important to your little plants, and supplemental light from an artificial source is highly recommended.  My set-up is pretty simple - I put my trays on a table in my laundry room, where it stays quite warm.  I then ran cheap curtain rods along the ceiling and from them hung 2 fluorescent 'shop light' fixtures that are 4' in length from adjustable chains with S-hooks.  These fixtures are the most economical option, and are widely available at hardware and box stores.  Regular fluorescent tube lights work just fine, but I've upgraded my bulbs to the 'plant and aquarium' bulbs that offer a wider spectrum of light.  Keep the light source very close to the soil surface, and maintain that space as the plants germinate and grow, raising the light as the seedlings get taller.  This sounds intimidating, I know... but this set-up is something that I arrived at after several years.  It's easy to start with a tray of seeds on a stack of magazines under a small desk lamp.  Don't sweat the small stuff - plants want to grow!  We just try to facilitate the process and attempt not to thwart their mighty efforts.

So... ready to try it??  Please drop in and let me know how your growing is going, and stay tuned for updates on this season's crop as I go from seed, to garden, to harvest.  I can't wait to share another season of Mo Farm adventures with you!  Happy sowing! 

1 comment:

  1. Kris, looks like you are well on your way to having a successful garden this year. I am planning to start plants next year. This year I will just buy my plants from the local nursery which isn't all that much for my garden size.

    Have a great spring seed starting day.