Last year we had a lot going on in our garden. It was the first time that I had a backyard to call my own so I was rather ambitious and overly excited. I bought so many seeds, it quickly became overwhelming starting all of them. Although I was diligent about taking care of my indoor seeds there were a lot of small mistakes that I learned the hard way that I wanted to reflect on and share. That way I can start this season with a clear view of what went wrong and what to try this year. I think these 6 tips will better ensure healthier seeds and a abundant garden. And I cannot wait to get started.
1. Soil Blocking vs. Plastic Containers
If you want healthy indoor seeds then there are a lot of pros to soil blocking. I am currently considering making the switch for many different reasons this year. First, I can eliminate using more plastic year after year. But the biggest reason to make the switch if the health of the roots significantly impacts the health of the plant. In a container the roots naturally spiral around the container. With the soil block the air safely prunes the roots and encourages a healthier root structure. Which helps the plant establish itself 3x faster in the garden. It really seems like a no brainer to make the switch if you are prioritizing growing the healthiest plants possible. The only downside is that it is much more labor intensive than plug trays.
2. Choosing The Right Soil
Choosing the right seed starting mix can save you a lot of effort when you buy one that has enough nutrients. This helps to sustain the life of the seedlings until they can be transplanted in the garden. It may be necessary to use fertilizer only after the seedling develops its first set of true leaves. Good organic indoor seed starting mix generally is made of compost with perlite, pearlite, vermiculite, peat moss, and coconut husks. I personally love this Colorado local company Paonia Soil Co. but Johnny’s Seeds also has great soil that you can buy online.
3. Plant Seeds At The Right Time
Seed starting can be a great way to get a jump start on your garden but it is really easy to get to excited and start your seeds too early. This can cause a few different problems. Make sure you read your seed packets carefully and plan out which seeds to start when. If you have a lot of different seeds to start I highly suggest using an excel spread sheet to organize which seeds need to be planted each week. Starting as soon as January sometimes. There are some seeds where you need to start the cold stratification process in the winter. So make sure you are reading your labels so nothing falls through the cracks. Remember some seeds only take a couple weeks to grow before they are ready to go outside and you don’t want to leave them inside any longer than necessary. Otherwise your seedlings will become more susceptible to diseases and stunted root growth.
4. Know How To Care for Your Seedlings (Lighting, Water, Food, Etc.)
Lighting is a important factor when growing healthy indoor seeds and unfortunately it normally requires a bit of a investment when you are starting seeds inside. Window light does not give your seeds enough direct light which causes leggy seedlings. You will need a grow light that is full spectrum and that is close enough to the seeds that they wont want to try and stretch out. They are tricky little buggers.
Watering is simple, just don’t drench them and don’t let them dry out. The soil should be like a well rung out sponge at all times. How do you achieve that you might ask? It is a meticulous task to do it by hand. But an automatic mister really helps make your life easier. You can also nest your seedlings on a leak proof tray which helps make sure that each cell is sufficiently water from the bottom up. Keep in mind that top watering can cause algae and fungus to grow. If this happens try spraying with cinnamon water.
Fertilizing isn’t necessary until the seedling emerges. You may not need to fertilize at all. Especially if you choose a seed starting soil that has the necessary nutrients your seeds needs until it is moved to the garden. Typically after 6-8 weeks. Also each seed has the necessary nutrients to help a seed start growing wherever it is planted. They are magically built with everything they need that is how plant life can be so resilient and start growing out of sidewalk cracks and kitchen sink drains. Truly amazing! But if they are growing slowly, look stunted, or are turning yellow you can use a organic kelp or fish fertilizer to help them bounce back.
5. How to Avoid Common Indoor Pests
Aphids and soil fungus gnats can be a serious problem. Hopefully one you wont have to deal with. But with the first sign of these pest you will want to act fast. Try spraying them off, or try neem oil, purchase live ladybugs for aphids. For fungus gnats, these are best avoided if you don’t over water. But if they pop up that means they are laying larvae in the soil that eat the roots off your baby seedlings. To take care of this problem you will need to try buying nematodes to add to your water this should take care of them with in 10 days.
6. Hardening Off The Right Way
Seedlings need to be gradually acclimated to the outdoor world. This step, called hardening off, is essential. You don’t want all your hard work to go to waste by skipping this step. Because you will surely see many of your indoor seeds not make it. When the seeds are ready to go outside you will need to slowly harden them off outside for 7 days. The first three days start with a shady spot for 3-5 hours. Make sure to set a timer so you don’t forget about them. Day 4-5 place them in a bit more sun for 5-6 hours. Day 6-7 put them in a full sun spot for 6-7 hours. Then they should be ready to plant in the garden. See it wasn’t that bad. Just remember these 6 essential ways to grow healthy indoor seeds and I guarantee you will have a abundant garden.
For more seed starting tips check out 5 Seed Hardening Hacks You Need to Know.
I would love to know more about your seed starting journey. If you are just getting started or a seasoned seed starter that has more knowledge to share. It is always more fun to learn about gardening within a like minded community.