In the last post, I went through all of the supplies I use to germinate my own vegetable seedlings indoors. Now that everything is gathered together, it’s time to pick out some seeds and plant. I will be growing several varieties of tomato and pepper seedlings. Tomatoes and peppers take a long time to go from seed to harvest, so they are a perfect choice to germiante indoors, especially if you live in colder northern growing zones which have a much shorter growing season. Here in Alabama we have a crazy long growing season, but I still like getting the head start by growing my own seedlings, just so I can have those delicious tomatoes a bit earlier.
Prepare the Seed Starting Mix
Seed starting mix can be found at nurseries, big box stores, and even some grocery stores. Usually it is composed of things such as peat moss, coir, and perilite which provides a growing medium that has great drainage as well as excellent water retention. This year I have chosen an all natural organic mix from Jiffy.
The first thing to do is to take as much seed starting mix as you think you’ll need to fill the seedling cell trays and pour it into a separate watertight tray or bucket. Next pour in water (a little at a time) and work it into the mix until it’s just moist, but not overly wet. Just like mixing up batter to the proper consistency.
Now, take the moist seed starting mix and fill up all of the individual cells of the seedling trays. If you added too much water in the previous step, you can squeeze out any excess (just like a sponge) before adding the mix to the trays, just make sure to crumble the soil as you put it in to prevent it from being too compacted. By getting the proper moisture in the soil before adding it to the trays, you will eliminate the need for watering after the seeds have been planted. This can be a huge benefit due to how much watering from the top (such as with a watering can) can disturb the delicate soil around newly planted seeds.
Planting the Seeds
Once all of the cell trays are filled with moist seed starting mix, place all of them inside a watertight tray. Make sure to separate different types of seeds into their own cells. The cell trays can be easily cut to whatever size is needed. Six cells per section is common, and is what I use. It’s important to keep seeds with different germination times separate, allowing for movement to under the grow lights immediately after sprouting. Now it’s time to plant the seeds.
First, with the an unsharpened pencil or other similar object, create two small holes in the seed starting mix near the center of each cell. You can refer to the seed packet for how deep of a hole you will need for each type of seed. Many types recommend a 1/4 inch depth, and that is the case with the ones I’m planting this year. Planting depth doesn’t have to be exact but should be somewhere close to maximize germination rates. Drop in one seed for each hole (2 seeds per cell), and then lightly cover them back up with the soil. Having two seeds per cell will greatly reduce the chances of having an empty cell if one of the seeds doesn’t germinate. Having the seeds all in their own separate holes will prevent the seedlings from getting tangled as they germinate and grow.
Don’t Forget to Label!
After planting make sure to label each variety of seeds so they don’t get mixed up. Many plants look exactly the same and it’s easy to forget which is which. I just took some plastic labels and taped them to the front of each set of seedling cell trays. I don’t like to put the labels in the soil because it can disturb the seeds, and it also makes it tough to get the grow lights as close as I need, if the labels are standing up.
Alternative Planting Method-Peat Pellets
Peat pellets are compressed peat moss that come in the form of small discs. Many people use them, and they are very easy to work with. I don’t use them personally for a couple of reasons. I actually enjoy getting my hands dirty when gardening, and maybe these peat pellets are just too easy for my liking. Another big reason is that the netting covering the peat pellets seems like it might impede root growth. I can’t prove this, but I’ll still just stick with good ol’ soil and trays. I’ll do a few this year just so I can show how they work and maybe do a side-by-side comparison of seedlings in the peat pellets against seedling trays.
To use the peat pellets just take the discs and place them in a tray full of warm water. The compressed peat moss will absorb the water and rise to 3 or 4 times it’s original size. It takes about five minutes or so. Once the pellets have expanded, pull apart the netting slightly at the top, poke a couple of holes in the center with the blunt end of a pencil, and put one seed in each hole. Cover the seeds up with the peat moss, and place each peat pellet in a watertight tray. They’ll need labels so they don’t get mixed up, and you should be able to slide one in between the netting on the sides.
Keep Those Germinated Seeds Comfy
After all the seeds have been planted, it’s time to move the freshly sown trays indoors where they can keep warm. I set all of mine up on a plastic folding table in our basement along with the grow lights and other supplies. Just make sure that the spot you choose doesn’t get below 55 to 60 degrees. Place the humidity dome on top of the trays, and make sure they are snapped down properly. Plug in the seedling heat mat, and make sure it is centered under the bottom of the seedling trays. The heat mat will provide the proper temps for germination, while the humidity dome will keep that warmth and moisture from escaping. This provides the perfect environment for seed sprouting.
Germination times vary based on the variety of the seeds, soil temperature, moisture levels, and the age of the seeds. You’ll need to check on your seeds once or twice a day to make sure they are not drying out, and also to check for signs of germination. The humidity dome helps out tremendously with keeping the soil moist, and most times I won’t have to water until after all the seeds have sprouted. If you know the approximate germination time for the variety of seeds you have, you’ll have a good idea of when to check in on them.
When you see the first signs of germination, take that set of seedling trays away from the humidity dome and heat mat, then place them under the grow lights immediately. You’re now well on your way to delicious homegrown veggies. In the next post I will explain how to care for your new seedlings after germination.