It's Time to Start Seedlings Indoors Again

SUBJECT: Starting Seedlings Indoors (updated)

It’s Time to Start Seeding Indoors for Plants that Need more than 110 Days to Mature.

We live in a Hardiness Zone 3b area. Our growing days are officially 110 per year. Of course with a greenhouse or taking other measures to create micro climates those days can be extended. But most of us around here don't have greenhouses ... so we need to follow our 3b hardiness zone seasons to guide our gardening efforts. Here are some steps to take when setting up an indoor seeding system.

Step 1 - Use the Right Seeding Medium

Seeds require both both oxygen and moisture. Potting soil provides both. Regular soil saturates easily cutting needed oxygen from seedlings.

Step 2 - Be Creative When Choosing Seeding Pots

Buy seeding trays. Some repurpose paper products like egg cartons by drilling one or more 3mm holes in the bottom. I find egg cartons a bit shallow for seedlings and they only last one season of seeding. I prefer to repurpose containers such as single serving yogurt containers. They are made of food grade plastic and are durable through a few seasons of seeding. Again drill holes in the bottom of the cup to allow for optimal aeration and moisture.

Step 3 - Provide Enough Light

Until the seedlings push their way up through the planting mix, they really don’t need much light. But when they appear, lights that are hung close to the potting mix surface provide adequate light. If the light is too far away, the new shoots will tend to be tall and spindly. Lights placed closer to the shoots will grow thicker more lush seedlings. A grow light does wonders to start and maintain fast growth but can be hard on electric bills. Home Depot and other stores carry full-spectrum fluorescent bulbs that run at an affordable 30 watt range. One or two of these bulbs hung within a 1/2 meter or preferably closer distance to the new seedings provide all the light they need to get plants ready for transplanting later.

Step 4 - Provide Enough Heat

Grow lights provide a certain amount of heat for seeds. But there are other ways to bring adequate heat to indoor planted seeds. Seedling heating mats provide that extra heat when starting seeds indoors. Especially herbs and hot peppers will start up quickly in warm conditions. Also, watering the plants from the top of the container with warm water (70 degrees F or 21 C) increases your success of especially herb germination.

Step 5 - Provide Adequate Moisture

A medium that is waterlogged keeps oxygen below optimum levels. Whereas many plants can handle being watered from below using water filled trays, 3 daily mistings from above may prove better overall. This becomes difficult when growers are at work during the day leaving only early morning and evening mistings possible. Bottom watered systems work better when the seeding pots are medium to large size. Very small seeding trays tend to waterlog easily. Sometimes it is good to just let the water trays dry out a bit instead of keeping them full. Your goal is to keep the seeding containers moist but not soaked.

Step 6 - Provide Some Air Movement

When grown indoors, new plants can grow quickly and spindly, especially if they are not strengthened by air movement. To avoid weak plants blow a gentle breeze on them using a fan. Oscillate the fan on its most gentle speed to "harden" the seedlings. Hardening them indoors will their transition to the outdoors a lot easier.

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