Tips for the 'seed challenged'

doucanoeJanuary 22, 2009

Those of you who know me already know I don't have a green thumb when it comes to starting plants from seed.

However, I do have some heirloom tomato seeds that I picked up for a song last year at a local gardening event that I would at least like to TRY to grow.

When should I start them? I know it's best to grow under lights and with a fan, etc. But any helpful advice you can give me would be appreciated. I am determined to overcome my seed-starting disability!

The biggest problem I have had with starting seeds is that the seedlings either get moldy, or if I water less they dry out and die, or they get leggy and fall over and die, or they just die for no (apparent to me) reason.

I do so much better with established plants! LOL



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ok for tams, I would start about the end of feb. What type of light do you use? 4 ft flourasants work the best. If you keep them close to your seedlings, they can't get leggy.
You want to keep the soil moist, but not soaked. If you end up having a problem with mold,a solution of 3% hydrogen peroxide to a gallon of water will kill it and not the seeds. Hopefully somemore growers will chime in, These are great questions!

    Bookmark   January 22, 2009 at 8:53AM
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peggy_hosta(z4 neSD)

Joe, where did you learn to spell?!
But anyway, it's tempting to start seeds too early and they don't seem to continue growing like they should. I'd wait like Joe said. Watch your watering and humidity. If your house is dry, put your seed trays in plastic bags with the end of the bag open (adjust opening according to moisture accumulating in the bag)

    Bookmark   January 22, 2009 at 12:53PM
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Wow, that was pretty harsh Peggy.

    Bookmark   January 22, 2009 at 5:06PM
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jel48(Z4 Michigan)

Hi Linda.

I peek into the MN forum and catch up with the posts ever so often, even though I don't live there any more. How are you doing?

I always kept a fan going in the room with the seedlings. The moving air makes the plants stronger (sturdier stems) and helps prevent damping off (or moulding). Keep your lights low, no more than 4-5 inches above the tops of the seedlings and raise the lights as needed. Check to see if they need watered every morning and every evening. As they grow, repot in bigger pots (I use styrofoam cups). Be sure to poke holes in the bottom of the cups for drainage. When you repot, strip all the leaves off the seedling except for the top two and pot deep so that soil covers all of the stem. The existing stem will grow roots all the way up and down it.

I plant tomato seeds about mid-March and they are usually ready to be repotted (the first time) about two weeks later. You might want to repot them a couple of times before it's time to plant them in the garden.


    Bookmark   January 22, 2009 at 6:27PM
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Yes, but not as much as I would like to do it. I put a sail of sorts on mine last year and it was a breeze.

As for lights, last year I rigged up a row of lights above a shelf. I used an old movie bar light (remember the 8mm movie camera light bar?) and some extra sockets. I had like 6 of them in a row on a shelf about 4' long. I screwed in the spiral florescent bulbs and had a timer for them. A small fan circulated air and a curtain over the shelf area kept in moisture.

Most of what I started that way survived but I did start too early (Beg of Feb) and will not start this year till about Mar. They went out to the garden May 15 or so.

I am going to put out a bunch of containers for winter sowing soon. that is another way to go.

    Bookmark   January 23, 2009 at 5:11AM
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selkie_b(z4 MN)

I'm a mid-Marcher myself - though as you know I plant mine in Earth Boxes due to lack of light and space - and find that really, for me, planting directly into the EB's seems to get the tomatoes ready just as fast as when I replant from inside. So this year, that's what I'm going to do - plant directly at the start of May into the nice heat-absorbent Earth Boxes and see what happens. More exciting than watching my transplants stall out for two or three weeks waiting for their "ideal" weather.

I don't recommend this if you are planting into the ground obviously! :) But I figured you'd find my input at least sort of interesting.


    Bookmark   January 23, 2009 at 10:38AM
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Hey Linda - long time no see. Hope to see you at one of the garden get togethers this year.

Great advise everyone.

I use 4ft fluorescent shop light fixtures which each holds two lamps. I use a cool lamp and a white lamp in each fixture. The fixtures hang on chains from the rafters (setup is in basement storage area) so they can be raised as the plants grow. As others have stated, I have a small fan that circulates back and forth. Water from beneath and dont saturate the soil. Lights are on a timer and are on for 16 hours.

I am guilty for starting early every year with my tomatoes, peppers, and annual flowers. I tell myself not to, but the sowing bug gets the best of me and off I go like a crazed woman.

I start with hot peppers about now. Yes guilty  started some this week! They seem to take the longest to grow of anything I start, so those seeds are the first into the soil (heat mat at 80º). The middle of February or so I will start sweet peppers and then about the first of March the tomato seeds along with the annual flowers get started.

Perennials are being started indoors and outdoors (winter sowing) now. I have 45 jugs out on the back patio at the moment and hope to double that this weekend. Will start some special perennial seeds I want to coddle indoors this weekend too.

Marie - I like how you do yours. I might have to give that a shot this year and put direct into one of the earth boxes and see how that box does compared to others.

Happy sowing everyone!

    Bookmark   January 23, 2009 at 8:28PM
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Allright, you all have convinced me to give it another go. But I'll wait another 5-6 weeks.

Joe, I think Peggy was only teasing you. Thanks for all the great advice.

Joyce, I am so glad you still pop in here every so often. It's really good to hear from you. Hope you are loving your new home in Michigan!

Wiley, thanks for your input. Looks like it's unanymous!

Marie, I really want to try those earth boxes....maybe this year, we'll see.

Hi, Sandy! Wow, you must have a lot of space (and patience) to start that many plants indoors! heehee
I tried winter sowing....once. "Nuff said! LOL

Thanks all! I will try your advice and if I have any issues you know you will be the first to hear about them, right?


    Bookmark   January 23, 2009 at 10:40PM
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So what's an Earth Box?



    Bookmark   January 24, 2009 at 6:58PM
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julie_mn(z4 MN Henn)

Hi there y'all-
Glad to hear you are going to give it another try Linda! Your best bet would be to try to find a committed space for your seedlings- in a warmish space in the house. Even a workbench in the laundry area can work well-
Then, fix up at least 1 hanging fluorescent box with 2 light fixture on small chains that can hang from sturdy, long eye hooks secured into the framing above.
The fluorescent fixture(s) can be purchased cheaply from the home improvement store, and fixed up with a plug in cord instead of the "inline" wiring they come with. Ask the guys there and I am sure they can show you how pretty quickly.
I plug my light into a timer for at least 12 to 16 hours a day. Keep the seedlings REAL CLOSE to the lights. The seedlings can actually grow into the lights without hurting the plants as the bulbs are cool to the touch.
To protect from damp off, I dip the pots into a very weak bleach solution and let air dry. I always start my pots with miracle grow with HOT water poured through to help it absorb the moisture quickly and thoroughly. After they drain and cool a bit- I put the pots into trays- aluminium baking pans are my current favorite- then the seeds on top- and cover with fine clean construction sand found in the cement aisle at the home improvement store. This sand helps keep the seed in contact with the soil, the moisture in the growing medium and keep molds and damp off from having a place to form at the surface of the soil.
I will cover the tray with cling wrap and set in a warm space till germination occurs. Bottom warmth is best if you can find it. Sometimes a heating pad on low is ok- or- if it is still too warm. place a few pencils between the pan of seeds and the pad. As soon as you see germination- pop that covered tray under the lights as close to the lights as possible. As the leaves touch the cling wrap- I will try to prop up the cover for a while until it wont go much higher. The humidity the cover keeps in greatly benefits the seedlings. When the cover comes off, then you will need to watch daily for moisture till you get the feel of it. This is also when I will set a small fan blowing across or near the seedlings- but not right on or into them. The slight breeze will strengthen the young plants.
The sand on the top will turn white when dry. As will the seedlings droop and wither when they dry out. When you water, pour cool to luke warm water into the pan NOT the pots- to about 1/2". You can watch as the sand on top turns beige. After an hour or so- if there is standing water in the pan- it is best to carefully pour it out.
I start my toms and peppers 8 weeks before frost date. I do this because I do not have enough space under lights to start earlier.
Toms and peppers THRIVE on heat. They can take cooler evenings, but the day temps really do need to be warm, even as seedlings. Just like the coleus I start in the basement- they will absolutely sit there as tiny little things and not budge into growth till it warms up some.
I too have had whole trays of seedlings die for no apparent reason- only to find the tiny little black fungus fly has let it's underground "children" eat up the tiny root hairs of my delicate seedlings. I have not had much success with controlling them effectively. Fly paper- moisture monitoring and sand have all helped a bit.
I know- it all sounds like a lot of work- but once you are set up, it is really a breeze- and so well worth the effort!
You know- there are those out there who actually wintersow their tomatoes.....

    Bookmark   January 25, 2009 at 2:51AM
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leftwood(z4a MN)

As an addendum to Julie's "note", the shoplight fixtures can be bought with plugs already attached, although you can buy hard wired ones too.

    Bookmark   January 25, 2009 at 4:19PM
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This is really helpful advice. I never know when to start things so these are great pointers.

One thing people haven't mentioned--probably because its so obvious--but the planting mix is also important. The biggest reason for damping off (when the tiny seedlings fall over and die for no apparent reason) is a fungus in the planting mix.

It pays to get a high quality soil-less planting mix. Peat pellets also work. Never plant seeds in regular soil from the garden.

    Bookmark   January 25, 2009 at 4:20PM
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mnwsgal 4 MN(4)

Bachman's publishes a guide of when to sow seeds in MN. Expect that other nurseries do a well.

    Bookmark   January 25, 2009 at 6:49PM
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selkie_b(z4 MN)

Earth Boxes - you can buy them right from the company or Linder's is selling them now too. OR if you browse around on the web there are a few plans out there for making your own.

See the only place in my yard I can grow veggies is right in my driveway! We line these up along the edges to get the sun they need.

    Bookmark   January 26, 2009 at 10:21AM
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