Mark Anderson, owner, Anderson’s Seed and Garden
ONE OF THE most rewarding things that I do with my children is start our own seedlings indoors for spring planting outside. They love to help, and it is a lot of fun to watch together as the plants progress throughout the growing process: sow seeds, germinate, emerge as seedlings, transplant, plant outside, grow to maturity, and harvest. It might be a little early to start most vegetable seeds indoors, but if you plan ahead, it gives you the advantage of trying varieties that you might not find anywhere else. Our family has some specific favorites that no local greenhouses grow, so we grow our own plants instead. Growing your own seedlings indoors satisfies the desire to garden while the weather is less cooperative and provides a fun, rewarding way to interact with your children too. Let me share how:
I start the process with a mini greenhouse called a NanoDome. It includes a 10-by-20-inch nursery tray (heavy duty for years of reusing), a seven-inch greenhouse dome with vents that perfectly fit the tray, and an 18-inch full-spectrum light bulb fixture with reflector for a mini sun. To get some seeds to germinate quicker, I also use a single-tray heat mat to warm up the soil, which helps when sprouting difficult or heat-sensitive seeds like tomatoes and peppers. You can choose either a high-quality seed-starting soil mix like Ferti-lome Seedling and Cutting mix, peat pellets, or expanded coco coir for a growing medium (soil). And, of course, you get to pick the vegetable seeds that you want to grow. I’m a fan of starting specialty peppers, tomatoes, melons, and squashes. We get samples of unique varieties to try from some of our seed producers each year, so we get to sample new vegetables before they are available to the public. Just be aware that each vegetable has its own germination and growing needs, so some may not be practical to grow in the same tray together. For example, peppers take two-to-three weeks to germinate and like warm, drier soils when growing and tomatoes will sprout in five-to-seven days and could mature to transplant size before the peppers even sprout.
If you decide to use the seed-starting soil, fill your tray with about a half-to-one-inch of the seed-starting mix. If you want to try multiple varieties of tomatoes, for example, then it might help to segregate your tray into two-to four different zones to help keep the plants organized. Make sure to tag everything, because those seedlings all look alike! Sprinkle your seeds on the surface, and then cover them with a very thin layer of soil.
I mix 1 Tablespoon (half an ounce) of Seed Starter from Baicor (made locally in Logan) and one teaspoon of EZ Wet soil penetrant in one quart of water and then mist the seeds thoroughly, applying enough water to soak the seeds as well as saturate the soil about a half-inch deep. The soil penetrant will allow the seed and soil to absorb the water much more quickly than normal and will help saturate the soil — otherwise it takes a long time for the soil to absorb the water that the seed will need to germinate. Once the soil is moist, cover the seed and soil with the greenhouse dome (making sure the vents are closed), plug in your heating mat, and turn on the amazing miniature sun (full spectrum light bulb — they are available in fluorescent and LED).
If you decide to use the peat/coco pellets to start your seeds, then hydrate the pellets first with the same mixture of water, fertilizer, and soil penetrant described above. When the pellets are fully hydrated, then carefully place one or two seeds in each pellet and gently cover the seeds with the excess soil on the surface of the pellet. Place the pellets in the tray, and cover them with the dome.
I put my mini greenhouse in the pantry, where the sun never hits it, and I can control its environment better. The artificial light will give your seedlings all the light they need, so there is no need to keep them near a window (it can also get very cold near the window during winter, which will drastically slow the germination and growth of your plants). The dome will help collect and retain the initial moisture so you may not need to water again until the seeds start to sprout. If necessary, mist the soil or pellets again with the water/fertilizer mix until germination occurs. Wait until most or all of the seeds have germinated, then open the vents on the dome, and water every two or three days with the Seed Starter Mixture. At about a week old, I use a root enhancer called Kangaroots on the seedlings that encourages root development and allows them to pick up and utilize moisture and nutrients better. Give the seedlings a minimum of 12 to 14 hours of light each day, regularly fertilize and water, and in no time you will have seedlings ready to transplant into a larger container.
The process is so easy and quick (with squashes, they will germinate in just a few days) that you can start multiple crops throughout the winter and spring months. The only drawback is that as the plants start to get bigger, they need more light and, obviously, more space. You may run out of countertop or shelf space and indoor lighting. This is where you have to plan and budget your space and light sources efficiently or you will have weak plants for transplanting when the time comes.
Here is a quick timeline for starting your seeds: Start broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, and other early crops in late January or early February. Peppers do best when started in late February or early March. Tomatoes, eggplant, and okra start in mid to late March. Squashes, melons, and pumpkins should start about two weeks before
you want to plant them outside.
Give it a try. Growing seedlings indoors has never been easier. You can enjoy the success of growing indoors as well as sharing the experience with your family — not to mention the best part of all: tasting the best flavors and eating and reaping the health benefits. Enjoy!