I mentioned earlier that one of our gardening goals is to keep our garden going all year. In keeping with full disclosure let me say that we have never been able to eat from the garden exclusively for a year, but we have that goal. Some years we do pretty good and some years we don’t do so good, part of that depends on where we are living and the condition of the soil. But a bigger part is knowing when to start seeds and keeping it watered.
Because there is such a cost difference between buying transplants and buying seeds, we rarely buy transplants. But I’m also impatient and don’t want to direct seed everything in the garden. So I start some seeds on my front porch at various times of the year.
There’s a couple of things to keep in mind when you start your seeds. First, you probably need to start them earlier than you think. And you absolutely have to keep the soil moist so that the seeds will germinate. The weather where we live is really crazy, our winters are very mild then we’ll get arctic cold fronts in February, we have short springs and autumns and very long, hot summers. If I wait until it feels like spring to start seeds, it’s too late and I have to start the seeds in the garden or buy transplants.
I have tried various methods over the years of starting seeds, this year I’m using a couple of frugal ideas. I have gotten several plastic containers (the kind that salad and spinach are sold in) and we’ve been saving empty toilet paper rolls. I cut the rolls in half and filled them with seed starting soil and put them in the containers. We plant several varieties of tomatoes so I wrote on the side of the roll what variety was planted. I was concerned that it might wash off as I watered them, but it didn’t. I watered the seeds really well and put the lid on the container. This creates a mini green house. When the plant touches the lid, remove the lid so that the leaves don’t get soggy. When I plant these in the garden, I can plant the whole roll and it will compost down.
Roma tomato seedlings
When we ran out of toilet paper rolls, I used old transplant packs from some cabbage and brussels sprouts that I bought this past fall. First, I washed them out with dish soap and a little bleach. Then filled them with seed starting soil and put the seeds in, one per compartment. I watered them well and put clear plastic wrap (saran wrap) over them and secured it with a large rubber band. This will keep the soil very moist so that the seed will germinate but when the first leaves appear and touch the plastic, the plastic needs to come off.
I’ve learned over the years to always write on the container what I planted, you’ll see it written on the plastic wrap, but I also have it written on the seed starting container. That way when the plastic comes off, I still know what was planted in the container. It’s amazing how similar broccoli and brussels sprout plants look when they are small.
Since I am able to start my seeds on the front porch instead of under grow lights, I don’t need to let my plants “harden off”. If you do start yours indoors, you will need to put them out on warm days for a few hours and bring them back in at night until the nights are warm enough for them. I’ve never had to do this so I really don’t know what I’m talking about, but apparently, if you live north of us…which is about 95% of the US… you probably want to learn more about this.