Follow these easy steps to watch your seeds grow into flourishing plants even amongst the hustle and bustle of daily life. With organic gardening expert Barbara Pleasant’s simple, easy-to-follow guidelines, any seed starter can become a gardening pro in no time. Her book Starter Vegetable Gardens offers 24 plans for small organic gardens. Throughout the book she offers great ideas and tips to cut down on cost and make vegetable gardening efficient right from your own home! So what are you waiting for? Get out there and start planting!
1 small bag of fresh seed-starting mix or potting soil
1 package small disposable paper cups (4- or 6-ounce “bathroom” cups are perfect)
2 8-inch-diameter square or round baking pans
1/2-by-2-inch strips of rigid plastic (cut from discarded food container)
Seeds for planting
1 large clear or translucent produce bag
1 desk lamp with 75-watt equivalent fluorescent bulb
Large bowl or small pail
Large measuring cup
Large, long-handled spoon
Pump spray bottle
Tweezers or small scissors
1. Moisten the mix. Place about 4 cups of seed-starting mix or potting soil in a bowl or pail and sprinkle generously with lukewarm water. If the seed-starting mix is very dry, you will need to add 2 cups or more of water to make it evenly moist; already-moist potting soil will require much less, perhaps only a few tablespoons. Use the spoon to stir the water into the potting mix. Allow the moistened planting medium to rest while you prepare the cups and labels.
2. Poke holes. Use the pencil to poke about five small drainage holes in the bottom of each planting cup.
3. Prepare labels. Select the seeds you want to plant. Make labels by using the marker to write the plant or variety name and the date on a plastic strip. You’ll need one label for each cup. When the seedlings are set out in the garden, the labels can go with them.
4. Fill containers. Stir the potting mix again, and add more water (or dry potting mix) until it is light and fluffy yet thoroughly moist. Fill the cups to the rim with moist planting mix. Tamp several times to eliminate air pockets. Fill as many cups as the number of plants you want to grow.
5. Sow and label. Sow 2 to 3 seeds per cup by using the pencil tip to poke holes about three times as deep as the diameter of the seeds. With very tiny seeds like lettuce, place them on the surface, barely cover them with more moist potting mix, and press them in place with your finger. Plant larger seeds like chard and pepper about 1/4 inch deep. As you plant, insert the labels inside the edges of the cups.
6. Bag ’em up. Place the planted cups in the baking pan and thoroughly moisten with several sprays of water. Enclose the pan and cups loosely in the plastic bag. You can close the bag with a twist tie, or simply tuck under the edges. Set the enclosed planted cups in a warm place that gets some natural light.
7. Check for sprouting. After three days or so, open the bag and check for signs of germination. Remove any cups that show sprouting activity and place them in the second pan or some other small waterproof container that will keep them from tipping over. Position them beneath the light, using a stack of old newspapers, magazines, or an old phone book to raise the level of the seedlings to within 2 inches of the light.
8. Thin as needed. Use tweezers or small scissors to thin the seedlings in the cups until each cup contains no more than two seedlings.
9. Monitor needs. As the seedlings grow, mist them daily if the indoor air is very dry, but do most of your watering from the bottom by flooding the pan with half an inch of lukewarm water every few days. Also adjust their height as needed to keep the topmost leaves 1 to 2 inches from the light.
Disposable plastic food containers with clear domed tops are great for starting seeds (fast food restaurants and supermarket delis are easy sources). The domes retain extra humidity, which helps the seeds germinate quickly.
Excerpted from Starter Vegetable Gardens by Barbara Pleasant.
Contributing editor Barbara Pleasant gardens in southwest Virginia, where she grows vegetables, herbs, fruits, flowers and a few lucky chickens. Contact Barbara by visiting her website or finding her on Google+.