Do you have a serious need to get gardening in spite of cold winter wind and snow blowing outside your windows? Then scratch that gardening itch, start seeds indoors.
If you are new to indoor seed starting, start with something really easy. Stop by your favorite local garden center and, while enjoying the warmth of their greenhouse, look through their seed selection for a packet of micro greens. If they don’t have micro greens substitute a couple different types of lettuce or a blend of salad greens.
Micro greens seeds sprout in 5 to 10 days and are ready for cutting in another 5 to 10 days. There’s no need to thin micro green seedlings since harvesting involves cutting greens off just above the soil level. Return the harvested flat to it’s light source and continue watering to get a second, albeit less robust, harvest from the re-growth.
One small flat of micro greens will not provide much food – you’ll need to plant quite a few flats 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.
If your first attempt does not work, 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.
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. My method is outlined below. It works for any seeds, not just salad greens.
- 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, has drainage, and will not leach toxic chemicals into the soil 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 but the general sowing depth rule is to cover seeds to a depth equal to the seed diameter.
- 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. Once sprouted, water from the bottom if possible, once the top half of the soil is dry, but do not let flats sit in standing water for days on end. Too much water will drown your plants.
- 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 or artificial light as possible. Grow lights are preferred in northern climates. To prevent seedlings from becoming leggy, either the lights or the seedlings must be adjusted so the leaves and the lights are within one or two inches of each other. If grown on a window sill, rotate flats daily to encourage even growth (seedlings will lean toward the sunlight each day), and expect seedlings to become leggy, which is not a serious problem when growing micro greens.
Here’s a few additional tips:
- Label all flats/pots. I save plant markers from nursery purchases for reuse, or cut plant marker strips from clean plastic milk jugs. Mark labels with permanent markers or an old-fashioned grease pencil.
- Keep track of the sowing date – I mark the date and number of flats sowed on each seed packet. Use a calendar, journal or plant diary to record your methods, planting dates, successes and failures. Journals can be a valuable resource for future plantings.