Starting seeds indoors during the winter is a great way for gardening enthusiasts to keep their sanity during the winter. It is also a perfect means for getting a jump start on the spring growing season. Seeds cost significantly less than seedlings and offer a much greater variety. Besides, what gardener wouldn’t enjoy spending a chilly afternoon browsing seed catalogs and dreaming about springtime? Here is a step-by-step tutorial for getting started.
Selecting and Buying Seeds
Many sources for seeds today are just a mouse click away, but many gardeners prefer to obtain their seeds from a local garden center or seed exchange. These sources will offer the varieties that are most appropriate for your climate and growing zone. Don’t purchase many more than you can use, though, because even if you can use them successfully next year, seeds do not remain viable much longer than a year or two. Plan to use two or three seeds per individual container. Store your leftover seeds (in resealable freezer storage bags) in the refrigerator or other cool location. Your seed packets should suggest a planting schedule, but most recommend planting one to three months prior to the average date of the last frost, depending on the plant species.
Choosing the Right Container and Growing Medium
Experts recommend using cell flats for sprouting seeds. These plastic sheets of individual containers (“cells”) are ideal because they provide a foolproof way to sprout multiple seedlings in a single container. You can also use small individual pots or commercially available sprouting discs or peat cups. Select a growing medium specifically designed for starting seeds, rather than potting soil. These typically consist of peat and perlite or vermiculite. Many garden centers sell complete seed-starting kits that will provide everything you need, except the seeds of course. Follow the directions for your seed medium, but generally you wet the medium thoroughly (not to the point of being waterlogged), make a tiny depression in the center of each cell, drop the seeds in and cover to a depth of three times the seed’s thickness. In other words, do not plant the seeds deeply. Finally, mist the tops with water. Be sure to label your containers because eight weeks from now you may be hard-pressed to remember what was what.
Caring for Your Seedlings
Place the containers in a warm location where they will not be disturbed. You can try to find a place with natural light, but many experts recommend using a fluorescent lighting source with “cool white” bulbs (less expensive than grow lights). Mist the tops lightly on a regular basis, never letting the grow medium become too dry or too wet. Although not strictly necessary, you may want to apply fertilizer mixed to one-quarter strength once a week after the seeds have sprouted.
Onions, leeks and chives need the largest head start (12-14 weeks), so you may want to start some seeds as early as mid-January. Visit your local garden center for all your supplies and a healthy dose of good advice on starting seeds indoors this year.