Saturday, March 5, 2011

Starting Your Own Vegetable Seeds

I wrote an article similar to the following, and it was published by Anna of Flowergardengirl in her new online magazine Toil the Soil.

Starting Your Own Vegetable Seeds

Many gardeners are well seasoned when it comes to starting their own vegetable seeds, but there are those of you who have thought about doing it but are convinced it is too difficult and not worth the effort and/or too expensive to begin the process. I'm here to dispel both of those. It is simple to do, can be done inexpensively and with much of what you have on hand; and I believe there is nothing quite so satisfying as placing a tiny seed into soil and from that springs a beautiful vegetable that can feed your family. Truly phenomenal!

Growing your own vegetables saves you money and most important for us is knowing that what we eat is healthy and safe for our family. We begin with organic heirloom seeds that have been saved from the previous years garden; we know what is in our soil and that our food has not been sprayed with any chemicals.

Everyone has their own method of starting seeds and some have purchased very expensive equipment, but the following is what I use when starting our vegetables, all cost effective materials:

- An old plastic prescription bottle made into a seed block maker (free);
- Sterile soil-free seed starting mix (prices will vary, but an 8 qt bag should cost between $3 and $4.00 dollars);
- Plastic shoe box with cover purchased at one of the dollar stores ($1.00);
- (Reuse clean) plastic cells from plants you may have purchased from a nursery in prior years or enlist those egg cartons, yogurt cups, cottage cheese containers... ;
- Clear plastic wrap or zipper bags (plastic cover) for the cell flats to keep the soil at a constant moisture level, that greenhouse effect;
- Old heating pad you have stored away, although not necessary;
- Seeds can be purchased from many companies that have organic heirloom seeds (prices generally range from a sale price of $1.50 to $3.00), but there are many gardeners/bloggers who are willing to share their seeds to get you started. I have done so with many.
- Plastic markers (to identify your plants) cut out from a plastic notebook ($1.00)
- Light: if you don't have a nice warm sunny window, use a fluorescent lamp/shop light and with a bulb that offers daylight conditions.

If someone has given you seeds, expenditures thus far total less than $6.00. So who said starting seeds was too expensive?

In order to give our seeds a jump start, I always presoak them overnight in water in order to soften the seed and allow it to absorb the moisture it needs for the root to begin its journey. I then place them immediately into the damp seed blocks at the specified depth; label, cover and place them on the heating pad in an out of the way place or somewhere they can be kept warm. Did you know that the smaller seeds germinate in 2-3 days? How exciting is that? Just be sure you check on them often after the first full day, and upon germination place them immediately under the light. Note: Keep in mind that you want your seeds and seedlings in moist (never wet) soil; and when they need water, I prefer doing so from the bottom and allow it to be absorbed upward.

The beginning of February I began the process for our first cold-tolerant plants: mesclun, butterhead lettuce, wild kale, spinach, broccoli, carrots, early cabbage... and then moved them out into our hoop house. Now I'm in the midst of starting onions, basil, cilantro, a few tomatoes, peppers... and they too will eventually join the other vegetables.

Should you have any questions along the way, there are many university sources of information on the internet which can help guide you through each step, and many local resources are available in your communities, i.e. extensions services and master gardeners. If there are any doubts, simply ask. Here is an instructional video provided by Territorial Seed of Oregon. And if I can help in any way, please let me know.

Happy vegetable gardening!