(Originally posted 2/25/2012)

It has been over a year and a half since my last post!  The wedding planning, wedding, honeymoon, and settling back in to a “normal” life, and school starting back up again took over our lives.  But, we are married now (woohoo!) and getting back into the groove of things.

Our wedding was the best day ever and our honeymoon was a trip of a lifetime.  I hope someday soon to do a wedding post and honeymoon post.

But, for now, we are looking forward to the Spring!!  I can’t wait to get my hands and feet in the soil again and feel the sun on my face and back.

I want to do a series of posts to help everyone get their seeds started correctly and successfully.  You might think starting seeds is easy:  put some seeds in some soil, give them some water and you’re all set…but there is MUCH more to it than that, especially if you want to start a lot of different seeds for your garden.  Here are some basic tips, tricks, and information to help you get started, there will be more to come in future posts!


Why Start Your Own Seeds?

There are a few different reasons to start seeds yourself.  I believe a few of them are especially important.

The first is that it can really save you a lot of money.  Seeds are much cheaper to buy than seedlings.  You can order seeds with a friend or neighbor and share packets to cut down on your costs.  Also, most seeds will last more than 1 year (2-3 is the average), so if you don’t need the whole package the first year, just store them for the next year (in an airtight container in the refrigerator is best).  If you do this, it is a good idea to test the viability of the seeds before you plant them the next year (if you have enough to do this).  Just put them in a moist paper towel in an open plastic bag, keep moist in a warm place until germination and see what the rate of germination is so you know how many to sow (50% germination means you should sow 2 seeds in every cell to hopefully get close to 100% of your cells filled with seedlings).  You can always sow more than that and thin them out later, it just depends on your preference and how many seeds you have.

The second reason to start your own seeds is that you have an unlimited number of varieties to choose from.  There are so many amazing different varieties of every plant out there, why limit yourself to what the local nursery decides to offer that year?  (Obviously supporting your local nursery is a wonderful thing to do – NEVER buy your plants from a “big box” store –  but I like to save my nursery purchases for supplies and woody trees and shrubs as they are harder to start from seed – but most are easy to propagate yourself, however, that is for a future post.)

The third important reason is that you have much more control over your plants.  You will be 100% sure they are grown organically.  Also, if you do it correctly, your plants will be a lot stronger and able to adjust to changes in the environment.  Plants grown for nurseries and big box stores are either “babied” or neglected.  They are grown either under ideal conditions for lush vegetative growth – max light, perfect temp, and lots of fertilizers, so when you are looking at them to buy them, they look amazing.  However, they can often be leggy or weak or so used to these conditions that they aren’t strong enough to handle the non-ideal conditions in your garden.  So, while they will probably live just fine, they will take much longer to recover from transplanting and acclimating to your environment.  The other side of seedlings, usually the ones grown for big box stores, are fed so much fertilizer to overcome the less than ideal conditions they are grown in, the same thing happens when you transplant them into your own garden.  You want your seedlings to have some stress so they grow strong!  They need to dry out between waterings (not for too long though!).  They don’t need fertilizers as much until they have a few sets of true leaves.  If you give them too much fertilizer (especially nitrogen), the plant is going to put so much energy into growing vegetative tissue (stems and leaves) that the roots will not grow like they should and will not be able to support the top of your plant.  You want an extensive root system so that you plant has the support it needs as well as the ability to take up as much water and nutrients as it can (high surface area).

The last reason is because it’s FUN!  You will feel much more accomplished and have a better relationship with your plants.  Plus, you will learn a lot each year.

Where to Begin?

The first place you want to start is buying your seeds and planning your garden.  Hopefully, by this time of the year, you have already done this.  I’m not going to get into the details of planning a garden, but will give you some tips for picking seeds.

There are a few different types of seeds that you can get…organic, non organic/conventional, F1 hybrids, heirlooms, rootstock, etc….

First – organic – the meaning of organic varies depending on the certifying agency.  Generally though, organic seeds are grown organically for at least 3 years before they are certified organic.  One of the biggest misconceptions about organic food/seeds/plants is that they are pesticide and chemical free.  However, organic growers can use approved pesticides and chemicals, just not synthetic ones.  One of the best parts about organic seeds is that they are guaranteed to not be GMO/GEO (genetically modified/engineered organisms).  Also, in general, the farms growing organic plants (for seed or otherwise) are more environmentally responsible which has many, many benefits…again, some of this is for a later post as it is quite complicated, but organic seeds ROCK!  Another misconception is that if you use seeds that are not organic,  your garden is no longer “organic”…if there is no option to buy a variety organically (such as my favorite Sun Gold tomatoes), organic growers can still grow these plants and it does not change their organic status.

F1 hybrids are the first generation of crossing two parent plants.  They show “hybrid vigor” which means that, in general, they are stronger, grow faster, produce more flowers/fruits, and are just “better” overall than non F1 hybrids. (I put better in quotes because this can be argued with: see heirlooms, below).  This also makes them more expensive.  In general, I think it’s worth the extra money for some varieties that I love, though I don’t think your garden should be all F1’s.  You cannot save seed from F1’s because they will not hold true to type 50% of the time.  So you have to buy the seeds for these each year.

Heirlooms are open pollinated plants (sometimes referred to as landrace).  They are old varieties that have been grown for so long that they produce true to type from collected seed.  There are a lot of local heirlooms that have grown in an area for so long that they do especially well there.  You can collect and save seed from these plants without worry:  you will get the same plant year after year and each year your plants will be stronger and better than the last because they are becoming more and more acclimated to your environment in your garden.  I love heirlooms and think they should have a prominent place in every garden.

Rootstock seeds are for grafting (tomatoes, eggplants, melons, etc..) and are generally strong, wild varieties that improve the qualities of your commonly grown and loved varieties when grafted together.  These are only used for grafting.

Dates – When to Start Indoors and When to Plant Out

 So once you have your seeds and supplies (growing media is going to be my next post, so watch for that soon, maybe tomorrow!  I will also address lighting at some point soon too) you  need to figure out when to start them.  Johnny’s Selected Seeds has this amazing tool that I use every year to help me with this, check it out here!  This takes out all of the math of figuring out when to start your seeds, which can save a lot of time if you grow a million different plants like I do.  You just need to know your frost free date, which you can find out from your local Cooperative Extension if you don’t know it.  I always use the last weekend in May as my date.  There is only a 10% chance of a frost at this point.  Some seeds and seedlings can be planted before this date and some need to be planted later depending on if it is a cool-season crop (such as peas) or warm-season crop (such as tomatoes).

Once I enter my frost free date into the Johnny’s tool page, I use the dates on the chart to separate my seeds into planting groups.  First, I separate out my direct sowing seeds, the ones that I will sow directing into the garden and will not start inside.  Many plants don’t need to be started inside (lettuce, spinach, beets, kale, etc…), and some really hate being transplanted, their roots hate to be disturbed, and really must be started outside (such as cucumbers, beans, squash, corn, etc…).

Next, I use big plastic bags with the dates labeled on them (you can reuse these every year) to separate my seeds into groups of what needs to be planted when.  This makes it very easy to know what I need to plant each weekend throughout the season.

Also listed on the chart from Johnny’s is the date to plant them outside.  Which can be weeks before your last frost free dates, right around it, or weeks after.  This is very important information as many plants can not tolerate any frost at all.  I write this date on my plant tag that I use to label my seedlings so I know when they should be planted out.  Obviously you want to harden them off before transplanting, but that will be something I address in a future post when it gets closer to that time.

What We Are Planting This Weekend!

It’s already time to start planting!!  This weekend I am starting:  Onions (Ruby Ring, Redwing, Purplette, and Cortland), Lavender Vera, Creeping Thyme, German Winter Thyme, some Spinach for an early crop, Bandit Leeks, Dark Green Italian Parsley, Giant of Italy Parsley, and Greek Oregano.

What are you planting now??

Is there anything you’d like me to cover in the future?  Any questions?

Happy planting!