Because our growing season in Toronto is fairly short, many of our favourite vegetables such as tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, onions, and leeks, need an early start. It is easy to start seeds in your own home and many Maloca members have had success with little or no experience.
The following post highlights the basic steps for starting seeds indoors.
The spring is fast approaching, which means that it is time to start planning for the upcoming growing season. Here are a few tips for starting vegetable and herb seeds indoors. By starting your own seedlings you can save money and be sure that your plants are raised without pesticides or chemical fertilizers. And most importantly, you can get a head start on the joys of gardening while there is still snow on the ground!
When to Start Seedlings
Timing is one of the most important considerations when starting seeds indoors. This is often based on the last expected date of frost. In Toronto this is May 9th.
Some plants, like onions, leeks, cauliflower, broccoli and cabbages can be started inside as early as February. Others plants, like tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants, should be started by the end of March or early April. Finally, there are a number of plants that do well in our short growing season, like beans, peas, beets, and greens, which can be planted directly into the ground once the snow melts and temperatures rise.
What you will need:
– A potting soil mix
– A south facing window (or a “grow-light”)
– Newspapers (for easy clean up)
– Labels (to remember what you planted)
– A bit of time
Simple Steps to Starting Seeds:
1. Prepare the seeds if necessary (for example some may require pre-soaking – check the specific information for the type of plants you are growing before you start)
2. Gather the equipment (containers, soil, newspapers, labels, markers)
3. Prepare the work space (make sure you have room and spread newspapers to gather the dirt for easy clean up)
4. Review seeds and prepare labels for each to prevent later confusion
5. Prepare the containers by putting a layer of newspaper on the bottom if the drainage holes are large; this will prevent soil loss from the bottom of the container
6. Moisten the soil in a separate container – do not water log the soil since this may promote mold growth or cause the seeds to rot
7. Fill the containers loosely with the moist soil – do not pack the soil tightly
8. Plant the seeds: first spread them on the soil the appropriate distance apart and then cover the seeds with the appropriate depth of soil (this will vary according to plant type)
9. Cover the container – it does not have to be airtight and seeds do not need light to germinate (but watch for mold, which can be remedied with greater ventilation).
10. Place the seeds in a warm place to await germination.
Basically this is the sprouting phase for the seeds which can be anywhere from a couple of days to a couple of weeks. Factors that influence germination include:
– The condition of the seeds and the type of plant
– The presence of water (keep moist but careful of drowning and if possible water by filling a tray underneath the container with water rather than pouring water on top)
– Sufficient air (which is why seeds need to be planting shallowly and the soil should not be packed too tightly)
– Temperature (germination requires warmth, usually 24-32oC)
– Light usually doesn’t matter for vegetable seeds but may for flowers
– Soil conditions (do not need much if any fertilization because it may slow germination)
What you should do:
– Check the seeds containers at least once a day
– Ensure that the soil is moist by not soggy
– Provide regular intervals of air (i.e. uncover the containers for a couple of hours especially if mould develops)
What Seedlings Need:
Once the seedlings start to appear their requirements start to change.
– Light – as soon as they germinate they will require light, either artificial or natural (6 hours minimum)
– Temperature – they do not need to be as warm as they did for germination, often slightly cooler than room temperature is ideal
– Space – soon after the leaves unfold the seedlings will require more space (so that they are not competing for light, moisture, or nutrients) and it is at this point some seedlings will be thinned out by cutting them off with scissors (uprooting them may damage the roots of the remaining seedlings).
– Soil – the seedling will quickly use up the nutrients in the container, which is one of the reasons that seedlings grown indoors often need to be transplanted to a larger container with more nutrient rich soil