Best Tips for Starting Seeds Indoors

Save money on vegetable seedlings and grow superior varieties of vegetables by starting seeds indoors.


| December 2012/January 2013


I began growing my own vegetable seedlings more than 30 years ago, and I still remember my sad first attempts. Many seedlings keeled over and died, and some seeds never germinated at all. Experience has taught me how to prevent these problems, and every year I deepen my garden’s diversity, save money and share favorite varieties with friends by starting seeds indoors. Thousands of superior crop varieties are rarely available as seedlings in garden centers, and the same goes for wonderful culinary crops, such as red celery and seed-sown shallots. If your gardening goal is to fill your table and pantry with an array of homegrown organic food, then starting plants from seed can help you achieve that goal. Starting seeds indoors under controlled conditions, with no aggravation from weeds or weather, allows you to get a prompt start on the season, whether you are sowing onions in late winter, squash in summer or lettuce in early fall. And where growing seasons are short, some crops require an indoor head start to later reach maturity.

The Germination Process

All seeds contain specialized cells that mobilize and grow when the germination process is triggered by moisture, temperature and sometimes light. Moisture and stored nutrients energize the embryo, which contains the latent structures for a plant’s root, stem and leaves. Most vegetable seeds that germinate quickly (such as cabbage and tomatoes) enter their dormant state with mature, fully formed embryos. The carrot family is at a disadvantage, however, because most Umbelliferae seeds (think parsley, fennel and dill) need time for their underdeveloped ovaries to grow before they can sprout. Other slow sprouters — spinach, for example — have compounds that inhibit germination in their seed coats. These compounds have to break down in the soil before the root and sprout can burst forth into the world.

Oxygen is vital to the germination process. Until seedlings have leaves to enable them to use solar energy, they rely on the food reserves in the seed combined with oxygen found in the soil to grow new cells. This is why you should always use a light-textured potting medium to start seeds, and why over-watering can cause seeds to rot instead of grow.

Appreciating the hard work that seeds must do during the germination process will likely enhance your seed-starting experience. You can watch time-lapse videos online of fast-growing bean seeds germinating, but watching them in person is even more amazing. The seeds that impress me most are squash. By the time the seedling leaves shed the seed coat, the little plant is already supported by a small mountain of roots.

Seed-Starting Mixtures

From the day they germinate, vegetable seedlings face challenges from fungi and bacteria in water, soil and air. The fewer troublemakers they face, the better they can grow, which is why using fresh seed-starting mix each winter is so crucial. Quality seed-starting mixes are formulated to discourage common soilborne pathogens that cause seedlings to rot, and to retain both water and air with ease.

You can make your own seed-starting mix by using either peat moss or coir as a base, and then blending it with compost that has been heated to 150 degrees Fahrenheit to kill any pathogens and weed seeds. Small amounts of vermicompost can be a beneficial addition when added to a seed-starting mix, but use no more than 10 percent by volume.

EcoStewards
12/29/2017 9:40:02 AM

I have always grown my veggies and most of my perennial flowers from seed with great success. However, last year, I thought I would try to get the jump on spring and tried starting my carrot and root parsley seeds indoors. The seeds sprouted well and I had lots of seedlings to plant out. However, they only grew as deep as the hole that I had poked with my finger and were all short, fat and badly deformed, which made them impossible to clean or peel and they all ended up in the compost bin.


EcoStewards
12/29/2017 9:40:01 AM

I grow most of my veggies from seed, but last year, I thought I would get the jump on spring and tried starting carrots, and root celery indoors. They were a dismal failure, as they grew only as deep as the hole I had poked with my finger. They were all fat, short and very deformed, which made in impossible to clean or peel them. They all ended up in the compost bin.


mjr1007
11/11/2017 9:56:41 AM

Any info on LED lighting?






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