starting to think about starting seeds

beansinsnowEVEN IF I WERE STARTING LEEKS AND ONIONS indoors from seed, two of the earliest things one might sow, it isn’t time yet here in Zone 5B. But if you live in a slightly warmer zone, or want to do a mental dress-rehearsal, I’ve assembled some of the seed-starting tips and tricks from around A Way to Garden, for easier reference. More to come as the time gets closer.

  • Seed-Starting Basics: This one is what it sounds like, the basic countdown and gear and all the rest. A good place to start if you’re a newcomer to seed-starting, or feeling rusty.
  • Growing Spinach: I know, it sounds crazy, but if it weren’t for the snow cover I’d run out and scratch in some spinach one sunny day before too long. (Not the ‘Scarlet Runner’ seeds sitting on top of the snow in the photo, above.) You can’t be early enough with spinach. This post explains.
  • Tomato Tips: Everyone loves homegrown tomatoes, and success starts with timing. Biggest mistake: sowing too early. In my area, Sometime between St. Patrick’s Day and April Fool’s is the window of ideal opportunity. Learn more.
  • Salad-Green Success: Salad stuff can be sown indoors or direct-sown. This post outlines the possibilities of what to do with all those varieties that arrived with your seed order (so much for restraint, huh?).
  • Test Leftover Seeds Yet? Don’t skip this step.

As for the additional suggestions offered below: Alas, they’re all or mostly duplicates. The normally helpful “related posts” WordPress plug-in does the best it can when I go listing things myself as I just did. Poor thing’s gotten all mixed up; my fault entirely.

Categoriesfrom seed
  1. Brian G. says:

    Concerning seed starting with APS, being a weekender, I loved the idea. Last winter/early spring I set up my lights (hung from chains attached to the underside of the kitchen table) wetted the growing medium, filled the cells, planted seeds, etc. While some did well (mostly annual flowers), I did encounter one problem…rotted seeds from too wet a growing medium. Tomatoes and herbs suffered most. The capillary pads seem to do their job too well. Any fix for this?

  2. Johanna says:

    Not that I’m not already charting the schedule of seed starting around here, but WHERE’S ANDRE’S DOODLE? Just got in the habit of checking on Thursday and I’m missing it!


    1. margaret says:

      Uh-oh, Johanna, I literally had to go to the calendar in a panic just now after your comment to find it was THURSDAY. Eek! I will hurry and post Andre now.

      Getting snowed and sleeted on all day yesterday and trying to dig my way out of the glacial conditions today I think I went into time warp. And the dumbest part: I just emailed Andre saying, “I’m thinking of the doodle called Xxxx for tomorrow, does that sound right?”

      Thank you for rescuing this lost soul.

  3. Johanna says:

    Margaret, Margaret, it’s just all this winter befuddling our brains. All week I’ve had to look at the calendar to figure out where I was, and where I was supposed to be.

    Glad it was nothing more than the calendar-flu!


  4. Tammy says:

    I’m actually glad you forgot, since we received two postings! Just what we need in this wintry weather. (we even had ice here in Texas). Thank you, thank you for the seed starting tips.

    1. margaret says:

      @Tammy: I could lend you my new long-handled ice-chopper. :) Let me know what else you want to know about seeds…I need prodding to focus myself for some new words on the subject. Suggestions welcome.

  5. Bobster says:

    Hi Margaret, thanks for spelling out explicitly that it might be too early to start certain things by seed yet!

    Seed starting has always been a mixed bag for me and now I know why…well mostly why maybe. I always figured that if 45 days before frost is good…then 60 or more must be better! All excited in the middle of winter, hopped up on stacks of seed catalogs and juicy garden magazines and can’t wait to get everything started.

    Hmm restraint in ordering and also in planting.

    1. margaret says:

      Thanks, Bobster, for writing the kicker to the seed-starting series: “Hmm restraint in ordering and also in planting.” Perfectly said, and exactly, right. Bigger is not better in transplants (and all you usually end up with is stretch-out, exhausted things that never recover).

  6. Rick from Cherty Rock Farmer says:

    Didn’t we read this in the comments on your post “My Seed-Catalog Shopping Rules”:

    margaret on January 11th, 2009 8:25 am (wrote)

    Frankly, I think the commenters sometimes give the best advice of all on A Way to Garden. I need to post about seed-starting rigs…gave mine to my sister, Marion, and need to build another.

    Time for that post on the seed-starting rigs, wouldn’t you say? Hum?

    Anxiously awaiting…

    1. margaret says:

      Nailed. Thanks for reminding me, Rick. I just dug out the old diagram of the design from my long-ago archives and will see if it can be reproduced. Seed-starting rig coming up. (And I will be careful what I promise hereafter, with memories like yours to watch me.)

  7. Gin says:

    When I retired I also downsized, so I have absolutely no room to start seed indoors. Have you ever heard of “Wintersowing” seed? It has worked for me especially for the ones that need stratification. I’ve had great success with Columbines – one of the flowers that failed time after time under lights. I make mini greenhouses with either recyclable plastic containers or 4″ pots, sow seeds, place outside, and let Mother Nature do her work. Check out the website http://www.wintersown.org for more info.

    1. margaret says:

      Welcome, Gin, and thank you for the link. I have the best luck with various poppies, larkspur, spinach and many other things by just tossing them outside as if they’d sown themselves, yes. I had never seen the database that Wintersown is creating with its members, however. Sounds like a whole other post that I will have that I will have to research!

  8. radish says:

    Margaret, Please tell me you are wrong about starting seeds on a window sill. I now have $25 dollars in tomato seed, including some of the very short season and also Russian. I can not believe that everyone in Russia has grow lights. My bathroom has a southern exposure.

    I am glad that you started your blog. I bought your book when it came out and clutched it to my breast for a year. I was so glad to find you again. I like it best when you discuss kitchen gardening, but realize that I must share you with people with other interests.

    1. margaret says:

      @Radish: Yes, you can start seeds on a very bright (southern) windowsill. You must turn them regularly so they get even growth, and the light must be unobstructed (no curtains/shrubbery outside/etc.). But you also need to give them warmth so I’d still suggest some kind of cover or dome (like the APS System comes with but you can improvise). So yes, you can…not ideal, but yes, possible. I would grow them a maximum of 6 weeks this way so they don’t get too leggy in the one-sided light.

  9. christine foley says:

    Margaret, I’m finally joining the post! I’m supposed to be doing bookkeeping but can’t stop thinking about the garden. The seed starting, spinach, lettuce, asparagus, etc, info you have shared is fantastic!! Now I finally know why I haven’t been able to successfully start seeds indoors here. Maybe I can get Tom to build something small. The sun is out and the snow is melting. Thank goodness! I think I’m heading to the local nurseries now..

    1. margaret says:

      Welcome, Christine, from just up the road apiece. I am feeling optimism (dare we?) at the sign of the first patches of green grass as the ice recedes. Can’t wait. Let me know if you have any more questions about seed-starting or any of it. Happy to help.

    1. Margaret says:

      Welcome, Ken. Blackmore & Langdon begonias are the most amazing of all; I didn’t ever think about growing them from seed. Did you get them from Thompson and Morgan or ??? I know the seed is fine as dust and I have never tried it myself. See you soon again with news of the progress, I hope.

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