Best seed starting method?

draej(7b)February 24, 2012

Soil blocks? Plastic cells in trays? Old Sonic cups? Peat pots? Rain gutters? I would like to learn from others' experiences, rather than make all the mistakes myself. :)

I can start seeds under a grow light indoors or in a greenhouse. I would appreciate learning more about what has worked for others.


Donna who has spring fever and is garden obsessed

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Okiedawn OK Zone 7

Donna, All the listed methods work. It is more about the skill of the gardener than the method used.

As long as you use a sterile, soil-less, seed-starting mix, provide appropriate lighting and warmth or cooling as needed, and provide adequate moisture (but not too much because it contributes to damping-off), then you will have success starting from seed.

Have you ever started seeds indoors before? And, have you started seeds in a greenhouse? If the greenhouse doesn't have some method of shade during the day and adequate venting to prevent an excess build-up of heat, I wouldn't start seeds in it. If the greenhouse isn't heated at night, I wouldn't start seeds in it yet, except maybe for the most cold-hardy plants, because the nights are still pretty cold.

If you could list whichever kinds of seeds you're starting, whether they are for veggies, herbs, flowers or whatever (trees? shrubs? etc.), then people can tell your their favorite seed-starting methods for whatever is on your list.


    Bookmark   February 24, 2012 at 3:01PM
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Thanks, Dawn. I am primarily interested in starting vegetable seeds. I have started seeds indoors but I've never been happy with the plants. I have been reading, and I think I see some things I can change. I have grow lights and heat mats so I think I'm okay there. The greenhouse has ventilation during the day and heat at night. We grow other things in it and I know it will work for seed starting.

This year I am putting in a larger veg garden, and I am planting very standard stuff: tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, lettuce, onions, kale, chard, watermelon, corn, cantaloupe, beans, peas, etc. I am pretty sure which ones to start indoors and which ones to direct seed, I am just procrastinating about starting the indoor plants because I have done so unsuccessfully in the past. I think I had the light too far from the seeds (they got leggy), wasn't as diligent about watering as I should have been, didn't germinate under plastic, and didn't have enough humidity for the plants in our furnace heated house. I know now how to correct all those things, so I think I'll get better results.

I am leaning toward the soil block maker. I have watched a few youtube videos and think it sounds like what would work for me. I found the soil block thread after my OP, and read through that, which was interesting.

Thanks for taking the time to reply to me. I want this garden to be a success so I'll have lots of veggies to can, dehydrate, and freeze -- I am turning into my Grandma. :)


PS What are you going to do with 500 tomato plants?!

    Bookmark   February 24, 2012 at 3:15PM
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This year I started my seeds in an unheated greenhouse on germination benches with soil heating cables providing bottom heat in sand. The benches are made so they can be covered with plastic at night. I did wait until after that very cold weekend of Feb 11&12. Started my seeds on the 14th. Our greenhouse has operable windows on all four sides so it vents very well, but obviously has to be monitered every morning and evening. One of my benches gets warmer than the other although the sizes are almost identical as are the tapes. But one of the tapes gets warmer than the other. Like Dawn said, the container isn't as important as the starting mix. I like Jiffy Mix but wasn't able to find it this year. I have used Miracle Gro potting mix in the past but it has too many chunks of bark in it to work well for seed starting. I bought another brand of seedstarting mix at Lowe's this year but I'm at the computer and it's in the greenhouse. I'll look and come back later.

    Bookmark   February 24, 2012 at 3:20PM
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Okiedawn OK Zone 7

Donna, Since you have the option of starting seeds both indoors and out in the greenhouse, why not start half inside the house under lights and the other half out in the greenhouse. Then you can compare notes and see which way works best for you or makes you happiest or whatever. I have used lots of experimentation like that over the years to find the methods that work best for me or that I like the most.

With lights, if you put the lights so close to the seed flats that they almost but not quite touch the plants, that alone will help eliminate most of the legginess. It also is important to grow on the seedlings at 60-65 degrees after they sprout because hotter temps will make them grow more quickly and get leggy. Running a fan so they have good air flow will thicken up their main stems and make them stronger too.

Of all the veggies you listed that you want to grow, only the tomatoes, peppers and eggplants "have to" be started inside under lights in order to get the maximum performance from your plants. With all the others, starting indoors is an option and you may or may not find it to be a worthwhile one. It already is warm enough to direct-sow lettuce, kale and onion seed into the ground if your soil is well-draining. Swiss chard can be direct-sown but I prefer to start it indoors. Each Swiss chard seed actually is a fruit containing several seeds, so I find it easier to let them sprout in flats and then separate them and pot them up in separate containers once they have a couple of leaves. If you choose to direct-sow Swiss chard, you can thin them by pulling up the excess ones or by cutting them off with scissors at the soil once the plants are up and growing.

Corn is more typically direct-sown when air temps and soil temps are in the right range. If you choose to start it inside or in the greenhouse, start it in plantable pots and transplant it while it is still very small--just an inch or two tall. It really isn't crazy about being transplanted, but usually will tolerate it as long as you plant before it gets too big.

Watermelon and cantaloupe can be either direct-sown or raised as seedlings and transplanted using plantable pots. They also are not crazy about being transplanted. Most people who start them inside start them too early and then the plants are getting too big to stay indoors and have to be put into the ground while it is still too early for them, so don't get in a big hurry for these two because they need warm soil. Peas and beans can be started inside, but also do just fine when direct-sown. With both of them, you can presprout them using the baggie/coffee filter method and put the sprouts right into the ground, or you can raise them in plantable pots. I start peas inside but put them into the ground while they still are very small.

As for all those tomato plants....I probably will put only 150 plants or so into the ground, and a lot of those will be paste tomatoes for salsa-making. I raise plenty of extra ones and have them for back-up in the early weeks in case of wicked weather. When it is time for the Spring Fling, I take my extras and back-ups to the fling and give them away. I also give plants to friends, neighbors, family members, etc. People generally do not turn down an offer of free tomato plants. We can a lot. I hope to make 100-120 jars of Annie's Salsa this year and that takes a lot of tomatoes. We eat a lot, preserve a lot and give away a lot.

Dorothy, I hope to have a heated germination bench by next year. This year I have started everything indoors so far, but now that the greenhouse is finished and operational, I'd likely start the next round of seeds out there. I hope to move the tomato plants from the light shelf to the greenhouse on Sunday after we get through the next two cold nights.

We are having fun with the greenhouse, which the cats happen to think is a cat resort/spa where they can curl up and sleep all nice and warm and protected from the wind. The only drawback so far is that once I'm in the nice, warm greenhouse, it is hard for me to force myself to go back outside into the cold wind.


    Bookmark   February 24, 2012 at 7:12PM
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