Mike Roger’s 20 tips for starting seeds

via Traced Elements, the website dedicated to unearthing Pemberton’s food culture and encouraging people to roll up their sleeves and get their hands in the earth. What better way to start than trying to grow some seed starts? Mike Roger shares his expertise and encouragement with these tips and tricks.

by Mike Roger

With the promise of spring just around the corner, starting seeds initiates the growing season. Nothing conveys more optimism and hope for the future for a gardener.  Seeds are amazing, wonderful little specks of embryonic life.They are relatively easy to start, but these few guidelines can increase success.

1- Store seeds properly in a cool dark place. It sounds detrimental but apparently the deep-freeze is best. That’s how the seed banks preserve them.

2- Read the package for info, or better yet Google it. This will tell you timing, depth and whether they need light (sprinkle on top) or darkness (cover with newspaper). Some seeds have special requirements such as pre-soaking.

3- Check the date packaged and find out how long they are viable for. If you’re not sure you can pre-germinate them in wet paper towel.

4- Make sure you have the appropriate-sized container with drainage holes. Generally bigger plants and seeds will need bigger containers.

5- If you are recycling containers, always wash and disinfect them with diluted bleach or hydrogen peroxide to kill moulds, bacteria, diseases, critters and their eggs.

6- Always use a fine sterilized potting mix (peat moss, perlite and vermiculite) or peat pucks. Never use dirt from outside or recycled mix. All it takes is a few eggs or spores to create an infestation indoors. If you do encounter bugs, isolate immediately, discard or treat with insecticidal soap.

7- Use a tray without drainage holes to capture excess water and to encourage roots to go down to get it.

8- Line the bottom of the tray with perlite to provide aeration and somewhere for the roots to thrive should they outgrow their container. This is especially useful when using peat pellets.

9-Grow more than you will require, there will usually be casualties and you can always trade or gift them. A staggered seeding schedule can increases your odds and provide a varied harvest in the future.

10- Cover with washed sand to fill in the nooks and crannies. Newly sprouted seeds will easily push through this layer. When the sand dries on the surface they need water. Never overfill the container as the water will run off instead of soaking in.

11- Label and date them. It’s easy to forget what you started if you have many trays going. Be patient. Some seeds take weeks to sprout but most are 5-7 days.

12- Place somewhere with bottom heat until germinated. A heat mat or on top of the fridge works great.

13- Cover with a dome or plastic film to retain humidity and heat.

14- Use a spray bottle to keep starts misted and let water percolate to the bottom of the tray. A watering can will probably be too much for the sprouts.  The larger the plant and container the more water it will need.Never let the soil dry out, but also don’t over water.

15- Place in a bright spot but out of direct sunlight. Place a fluorescent light a few inches above. This prevents stretching. A timer on 18hrs will promote more growth and give them a few hours to rest.

16- The starts will eventually need ventilation, opening a window is good but an oscillating fan on low will help stiffen the stalks and prevent mould and damping off (a condition where the plants rot and fall over at the base from cold, damp soil and stagnant air).

17- Tall plants may need staking – wooden skewers and tape work great. Pinching the tops can also promote a shorter bushy habit.

17- Up-pot or transplant as soon as they outgrow their containers.Make sure there is no risk of frost before putting outside.

18- Acclimatize them by slowly increasing light and decreasing temperature.
Harden them off before planting by putting them out in the day (weather permitting) a week before slowly increasing duration.

19- Feed them every second or third watering. Liquid seaweed is great – it has all the micro and macro nutrients they need at first. Start with 1/4 strength and slowly increase dosage. Remember, potting soil has zero nutrients.They can only survive so long on their own stored energy.

20- Treat them like helpless, fragile babies, after all thats exactly what they are.

Good luck and happy gardening!

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