Whether you are an avid gardener, interested in propagating your own plants, seeking a healthy & affordable way of feeding your family, or “survival enthusiast”, preparing for the coming apocalypse, seed-starting is a fun & rewarding way of living sustainably & becoming more self-sufficient!
Just follow my step-by-step, handy-dandy hopeful harvest how-to helper guide, below, and I guarantee you will love the results!!
AVERAGE FROST DATES for PACIFIC NORTHWEST HARDINESS ZONES 7 – 9
- 1st FROST DATE: mid-November
- FINAL FROST DATE: mid- March
HANDY-DANDY HOPEFUL HARVESTIN’ HOW-TO HELPER
That’s right, “Hearth & Home Herald-eers”!! This handy, harvest helpin’, “who’s?, how’s? & huh’s?” handout is the hippest, happenin’-est, how-to handout in human history, and happy to have it!! Here’s the how’s…
WHAT YOU WILL NEED:
- seeds (recommended)
- seed-start pods, with bottom tray & dome (or other cover)
- 3-4 inch containers (equal to number of pods)
- plant identifier markers
- fluorescent or LED grow lights
- adjustable length chains (other) for hanging lights
- timer for grow lights (optional)
- heat pads
- small fan
- mini-indoor greenhouse (or some kind of rack, shelf)
- small watering-can with fine spray spout nozzle
- large mixing bowl & large stir spoon (sanitized)
- Organic indoor seed-starting soil mix
BEFORE YOU “START”
Always use a sterile, light-weight, speciality seed-starting soil mix. Seed-starting mixes contain special ingredients (coconut coir, peat moss, vermiculite, perlite, etc., and no actual soil) that allow for a specific level of moisture retention & drainage, nutrient content, and such.
Never use soil, from the garden. Soil from the garden is way too heavy, dense for indoor seed-starting, doesn’t drain as well as required, and may contain insect eggs, disease, etc.
And be sure to always use clean, sanitized bowls, trays, containers & utensils, each time you prepare seed-starts.
PREPARING CONTAINERS & SOIL
- Pre-mix water into the soil mix, until holds together slightly, damp like rung out damp sponge.
- Fill the your seed pods with the soil mix.
- Lightly, but firmly tamp down the soil in your newly filled trays by dropping the tray bottom down onto your table-top a few times, from a height no more than 6” or so, in order to help eliminate any air-pockets. Then top off your seed pods with a little more soil, pressing down lightly.
*Do not over-compact the soil. This will diminish aeration, impede proper drainage, thus increasing favorable conditions for disease, as well as make it harder for new roots to establish deeply.
SOWING & GERMINATING SEEDS
- Sow seeds according to directions, for each plant.
- Sprinkle a light cover of soil mix over your seeds.
- With a watering-can, fit with a fine spray spout nozzle attachment (or comparable method), lightly wet the surface of the soil, evenly, throughout the tray. Two quick passes over the tray should be plenty.
- Remove enough seed pods out of your bottom tray, to allow you to pour in water.
- Pour water into the bottom tray, approximately 1” inch, or so, deep.
- Allow soil in the pods to wick up water for 20-30 minutes.
- Remove pods & pour off any excess water, from bottom of the tray.
- Place dome cover onto your tray, and set out on your heat-pad.
- Check in every 2-3 days. Once trays are, at least, around 2/3 of the way germinated, remove the dome, and turn on your grow lights.
LIGHT & HEAT SOURCES
For best results, heat pads are used & maintained, at an even temperature, from first sow to final planting.
Lights are not necessary through the germination process, but the extra heat doesn’t hurt. Just be sure to keep the lights a safe enough distance from the top over your dome (other type of cover), so as not to melt it.
- Set your lights’ timer for 12-16 hrs a day.
- Maintain lights at 3” above plant canopies, adjusting height of lights, as needed. In most cases, approximately, 2 weeks.
- For best results, regularly timed, full & even light coverage is essential. Even sunny window sills are not able to provide sufficient light & heat exposure needed, causing seedlings to become leggy and weak, following the brief and indirect, passing light.
*If you are trying to make the most of space (and lights), with a mixed tray, in order to ensure even light coverage of all the various seedlings, be sure to keep to plants with similar germination times, growth rates, habits, etc. It’s a hassle to shuffle pods around, between trays, after the fact, when half the tray has just germinated, and the other half is already 3“ inches tall
When seeds have started germinating & you are ready to remove the seed-pod tray cover, check the moisture level of your soil. The ideal level will feel slightly damp, like a wrung out sponge. If you are ready to water again,
- Pour 1-2” inches of water into the bottom of the tray.
- Allow soil to wick up water for 20 -30 minutes.
- Remove pods & pour off any excess water, from bottom of the tray.
- Return pods to the tray, place back on heat mats, & reset your lights 3“ inches above the tops of your seedlings.
- Let top of the soil to dry out between watering. This helps 1.) to minimize favorable conditions for & thus reduce risk of several common diseases, fungus, and infestations. and 2.) encourage deeper root growth. Roots follow the water. This will lead to more sturdy, healthy, drought & disease resistant plants.
- Check to make sure your indoor greenhouse doors or flaps are fully closed, in order to maintain moisture and heat levels, within the greenhouse.
- Check every 2-3 days. Repeat as needed.
The time to be especially vigilant is from the point of your seeds have germinating, formed their early cotyledon leaves, and have started to develop, at least, a few sets of “true leaves”. This is when they are most vulnerable to disease, infestation, damage, drying out, poor or stunted growth, and failure.
Check in every 2-3 days. Water, as needed. If seedlings are developing poorly or growing in leggy;
- Check to make sure your trays are receiving full, even coverage of the proper level & duration of light. Uneven and insufficient light can cause seedlings to work harder to reach towards lights, causing them to develop poorly, become weaker, and less upright & sturdy. Adjust lights & heat pads accordingly.
- Limp, sagging and leggy seedlings can also be a sign of “damping-off disease”. This is caused soil-borne fungi. The seedling’s will collapse, appear wilted, thin, with soft, mushy, browned & decaying leaves, “pinched off” & decaying, at the stem. You may also see the appearance of gray, black or white mold.
”Damping-off Disease” generally, impacts newly germinated seedlings, still dependent on it’s first cotyledon leaves, which are far more vulnerable to the disease. As your seedlings begin to develop several sets of “true leaves”, the become less susceptible to the disease. Until then, be on guard.
Plants suffering from “damping -off disease” cannot be saved, and should be disposed of, to help minimize the spread. The best way to avoid inviting the disease is by reducing the favorable condition upon which the it thrives;
- overly damp soil,
- poor airflow,
- poor and insufficient light & heat
- using contaminated soil, trays and other utensils, in preparing seed trays.
What you can do to help prevent “damping-off disease”:
- Never use soil, right from the garden, to prepare seed trays. Only use ”sterile” soils, specially mixed and prepared, for indoor seed-starting.
- Thoroughly clean all trays, pods, mixing, bowls, utensils with
- mild dish detergent & water,
- rinse thoroughly.
- spray with equal parts vinegar & water solution, and let sit for 10 minutes (a solution of 3% concentration peroxide & water can also be used, for this step.)
- rinse thoroughly.
- let air dry, before reusing.
- Running a small fan a few hours a day, near your trays, will help reduce the risk of fungal growth getting a foothold. The light breeze also provides just enough resistance to help strengthen plant roots and stems, leading to stronger, healthier plants.
- Follow watering directions thoroughly & consistently.
- Follow lighting directions thoroughly & consistently.
- Remove infected seedlings and soil.
- Where multiple seedlings emerge, in the same pod, thin out the weaker, less developed ones. Overcrowded planted can help disease get established and spread.
Once seedlings begin to develop around 2-3 sets of “true leaves”, and more full and sturdy root system, they are ready to REPOT into a larger container.
This allows the new plants the additional room it will need to expand it’s root system and foliage, without becoming overcrowded, until it is ready to plant.
BEFORE YOU PLANT
For best results, “hardening off” new plants, before finally transplanting them in the garden, is another essential step.
This involves slowly introducing your new little plants to the outdoor elements, by degree. Over the next week or so, progressively increase the duration of time & level of direct sunlight & open air exposure, starting from
- a more shaded and sheltered location, for 3hrs.
- Increase the amount of time, over the next few days, until they have…
- spent the whole day outdoors. Then…
- move to a full sun & open air location for 3hrs., and…
- repeat the same progression, increasing the duration of outdoor time, each day, until they have…
- spent the full daytime outside.
*Do not leave new plants out overnight, until they have fully gone through the hardening off process.
Hooray!! Hooray!! Graduation Day!!!
You are now ready to plant or gift your new plants!!
A great way to improve future outcomes & plan ahead for your family, is to
- Read carefully, instructions for each individual seed you are looking to grow. They may have different sowing needs, season, germination time, etc.
- Use the PRINTABLE PAGES below, to help organize plant info, plan out sow & harvest calendars, keep a log of progress & maintenance schedules, and more!!
*Each image is a formatted as an 8.5″ x 11″ page, and provided in “jpg” file form, for ease of use, compatibility, file size, etc. Just…
- CLICK on the PAGES you want,
- SAVE them to your computer, and
- PRINT as needed!!!
OTHER TOOLS & INFO
*(Free for personal use only. Attached images are property of Eddie Strange.)