How to Start Seeds
Once again it’s Earth Day, which means the time has come to celebrate this wonderful planet and its people by living healthy and caring for the world around us. In New York, this entire week has been declared “Earth Week,” and Friday (the 24th of April) is Arbor Day (go plant a tree or at least spend some time in a park if you can). So, perhaps you’d like to start some plants of your own in celebration? Maybe you feel it’s time to plant your own garden or start up one of the space saving hydroponics gardens we've discussed before? Either way, that means starting from the beginning, and the beginning usually means seeds.
How Do I Start?
Where to start? A brief overview of how seeds work is probably best. A seed is a very tight kit, packed with almost everything needed to start a brand new plant. The seed itself contains the initial nutrients needed for a plant to grow out life-sustaining leaves and roots during the early stages of life. All that’s needed is a warm and damp place for the new plant to begin its life. Germination requires just a little water (typically provided by damp soil). The outer shell of a seed is a hard surface designed to protect the future plant, but it is typically water permeable. Some seeds aren't, and need the typical freeze/thaw cycle of winter to crack the shell open for water to enter. However it happens, water needs to, and will, enter the seed to trigger germination of the plant.
Because nutritious soil is unnecessary at this stage (the plant feeds on the nutrients within the seed), it doesn't matter what medium you’re growing your seeds in. You just need to ensure that the soil or grow medium stays moist as the seedling grows. Regular soil, rockwool, a peat-coco mix, or a vermiculite soil-less potting soil are all great examples of mediums with high water retention that make great seed starters.
Planting seeds is very simple:
- Wet the soil or grow medium, making it damp but not saturated with water.
- Place two to three seeds in each pot or plug. Planting multiple seeds helps to ensure that at least one plant will germinate.
- Place the seedlings into an incubator. This can be either a humidity dome, or you can place the individual plants into small plastic bags (just be sure to leave a small vent at the top of the bag.
- Monitor humidity and make sure the medium is kept moist while the seeds sprout.
- Once leaves develop, transplant to actual pots or a hydroponics planter.
Humidity will accumulate quickly within your incubator, leaving an unfortunate opportunity for mildew or fungus to grow. If you start to see white or green fungus on the grow medium (or the plants), you can try removing the plants from the incubator to dry out the fungus, or spray them down with a seedling safe fungicide.
What Else Can I Do?
Seeds aren't the only means of starting new plants. The simplest way to start a garden is to buy mature plants and transplant them into your garden. Another alternative is to make cuttings of existing plants to create new ones. Erik Biksa has an excellent article at Grozine explaining how to clone a plant with a cutting. In the end, any of these methods will be a great way to start a new garden. Once the plant is strong enough, you can move it to a small-space hydroponics rig for growing vegetables or herbs in your own home.
Speaking of small-space gardens, I’ve started growing a set of herbs right here at my desk, just to show how simple it is. We’ll be giving a full walk-through of the process later, but for now, I’ve just started the seedlings (which you can see in the progress shot below) and I’m looking forward to watching them grow. You can follow the progress by joining us on social media at Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus, LinkedIn, Pinterest, or Instagram. Or you can keep checking back here. If you have any other germination questions, please comment below. We’d also love to see any new projects you’re starting for Earth Day this year!