INDOOR SEED-STARTING TIME IS UNDER WAY, so what better time for a simple how-to slideshow, with all the details? As you can see from the photos below, I got a new light rig (my old one, circa 1989, if just too big for me now), and I’m trying some other experiments with sowing seeds in general, and tomatoes in particular. Ready for some how-to tips?
First I had to solve a technical problem: How could I show you the step-by-step for seed-starting all by myself? Wash my hands between every step to avoid filling my Nikon with peat and perlite? And even at that, I only have two hands, so whose would be in the demo?
Aha! Enter Andrew Beckman, garden editor at my former employer Martha Stewart Living, who’s also my weekend neighbor and gardening buddy. (And he didn’t even charge me talent fees, though he’s modeling in the current J. Crew catalog ad campaign.) Andrew’s partner in Loomis Creek Nursery, Bob Hyland, is my partner in gardening workshops, as you may recall from the 2010 schedule. (Are you signed up for one yet?)
Normally, Andrew and I don’t start tomatoes until April 15 here in Zone 5B, but this year we’re trying something new, which requires a little headstart. The slides show Phase 1–starting the seeds–of our grafted-tomato experiment (aimed, as you may recall if you read my wintertime post about grafting, at giving heirloom types more vigor and better yields). But you can use the same how-to for starting most any seed; it’s a great basic step-by-step, logical and simple.
One difference: You won’t need the size-XL pots we used for sowing our tomato-grafting rootstock; 2-inch cells or even smaller for some crops like salad (traditional 6-packs, for instance) are fine. Again: the process is the same for sowing other vegetable crops, even if the pot size isn’t.
I had other help, too (being useless with most carpentry tools). My neighbor, Tom Foley, built my new crazy seed-starting rig (above) in about five minutes, with a matching one for his wife, a gardening friend. Kudos, Tom, for a job extremely well done. The key to a good seed rig is being able to adjust the lights upward as your seedlings grow; at any time, you only want them a couple of inches away from the babies. When I asked Tom, “How’d you get the rope you strung the hood from to be adjustable?” he started talking carpenter, and I glazed over. And then he translated:
“It’s like the ‘keeper’ on the hem of your ski jacket, that keeps the wind out,” he said, and then I got it right away. Wow. Smart. If the “buttons” with which I adjust the ropes are beyond your carpentry skills, use hook eyes and S hooks and chain, as I explain in my old seed-starting rig post.
If you need lights, as I did, consider the newer, more efficient ones (I got T-5 tubes and an aluminum hood from a hydroponic supply place online). The approximately 13-by-27-inch hood, which was $118, delivers twice the lumens of regular fluorescent hoods, and is extremely lightweight. Using the APS system of flats and cells, I can get about 60 2-by-2-wide seedlings beneath it at any given time. The only part you don’t see: a simple timer, to automatically turn the lights on 14 hours a day (and then off).
More seed-starting help:
- Want to know how to succeed with tomatoes, seed to harvest? (Want to know how to graft tomatoes?)
- Want to know about basic seed-starting, whatever the crop?
- Want to read every last thing I’ve posted here about tomato-growing, for better or for worse?
- Worried about the diseases (like late blight) that beset many areas last summer?
- We’ll be back with a how-to tomato-grafting slideshow next month, once our seedlings shape up; stay tuned. Wish us luck, meanwhile.
To start the slideshow, click on the first thumbnail, then move from slide to slide using the arrows next to each caption. Enjoy!