When you are new to gardening it’s easy to become overwhelmed with how-to information but, rather than reading yourself into inaction, adopt the mantra shared by a growing number of gardeners You Can Grow That! An easy way to get started is to jump in with both hands and get growing with seeds.
Many seed catalogs and seed packages offer planting advice. Some of my favorite catalogs include Kitchen Garden Seeds, Botanical Interests, Renee’s Garden, Select Seeds, Seeds of Change, Hudson Valley Seed Library (though at the time of this posting their website was down), and Pinetree Garden Seeds. Each company has it’s own unique personality; just pick the one or two you like best.
Winter is a great time to sow quick-growing greens indoors and hone your seed-starting skills.
Seeds have basic needs: soil and water. Light comes into play once seeds sprout and new leaves show. Each gardener develops their own routine for seed starting. Here’s mine:
- The container: black plastic flats saved from prior nursery purchases. Paper cups, repurposed rectangular plastic vegetable containers, small pots, and just about any container that will hold a couple of inches of soil and has drainage will work.
- The prep: fill containers with light weight potting mix, gently packed down so the soil gives a little … like a sponge. Small, cut-to-size newsprint will keep soil from escaping through drainage holes.
- The planting: I plant seeds into dry potting mix. Scatter small seeds, such as lettuce and radish, in rows or over the entire flat, then sprinkle with a light coating of soil. Larger seeds are inserted a bit deeper into the soil. Plant according to the directions on the seed packet.
- The watering: place flats into a larger, leak-proof tray containing about an inch of water. The soil absorbs water through the drainage holes in the bottom of each flat. Moisten the top of the soil with a gentle spray from a sink sprayer or a clean spray bottle. Thoroughly moisten the soil initially, then keep the soil moist – not soggy. Cover the flats with clear plastic to maintain even moisture until seeds sprout.
- The lighting: Most seeds don’t need light until after they sprout – there are some exceptions but the seed packets should explain this. Once sprouted, provide indoor seedlings with as much sunlight as possible.
- The continued care: Unless grown under grow lights (a subject that warrants a separate post), seedlings will reach for light and become leggy. Winter sun does not shine with summer’s intensity or long hours. Rotate flats to encourage even growth. Water when the top half of the soil is dry. Watering from the bottom, as explained above, is best, but do not leave flats sitting in standing water once soil is saturated – this will cause rot.
There’s no need to thin micro green seedlings since harvesting involves cutting greens off just above the soil level. One small flat of micro greens will not provide much food – you’ll need to plant quite a few pots to get enough for a salad – but the process of sowing and watering, finding adequate light, and observing growth will give new seed-sowers valuable experience.
Don’t be discouraged if your first attempt does not work. Learn from your miss-steps and try again. If your seedlings did not sprout, or wilted after sprouting, you probably kept the flats too wet or too dry. Soil should be just moist to the touch. If unsure of the cause of any failures, seek advice from a seasoned gardener or the well-versed plant experts at your local garden center and … by all means … try again.
Here’s a few additional tips to help you grow and keep track of your efforts:
- Use permanent markers or an old-fashioned grease pencil to label all flats/pots. Repurpose saved plant tags from previous purchases, create labels attached to toothpicks to insert into each flat, attach sticky labels to the outside of each flat, or cut used, clean plastic containers (think milk jugs) into plant labels.
- Use a calendar, journal or some sort of plant diary to keep track of your methods, planting dates, successes and failures. This will be a valuable resource for future plantings. I note the sowing date and number of flats sowed onto each seed packet.
- Most seeds are viable for more than one year. If unsure, test plant just a few older seeds to see what happens.
- When growing salad greens, don’t throw out the flat after cutting your first harvest. The young plants often resprout giving you a second, albeit less robust, harvest.
Gardening is an experiment. Get that first You Can Grow That! experience under your belt, then expand into new territory. Gardening is about living and learning and experimenting and growing … and sharing it all with others. Read what other gardeners have shared at the You Can Grow That! website and, if you have seed starting suggestions, please share them in a comment below.