Growing Food: Starting Seeds Indoors Part 2

Growing Food: Starting Seeds Indoors Part 2I’m continuing my journey and sharing more of what I’ve learned about starting seeds indoors. With way too many seeds in hand and a rudimentary schedule I created, I’m almost ready to plant. But I still have a few things to take care of — picking my containers, filling them with the right kind of soil, and setting up my indoor growing environment.

Related Posts: Getting Your 2015 Urban Farm Off the Ground

Starting Seeds Indoors Part 1Starting Seeds Indoors Part 3

Picking Your Containers

So many choices! Each with advantages and disadvantages.

1. Commercial plastic seed-starting systems. I bought one of these a few years ago, but I wouldn’t buy it again. There are cheaper options that can provide the same (hopefully better!) results. But I’m using it this year — it’s here, ready-to-go, and my easiest option. My biggest complaint: Mine has two trays, each with 36 small cells to start seedlings. But I’m planting a variety of seeds with differing germination rates which means different light and location requirements as they grow. So if you plan to use this type of system, plant seeds with similar germination rates together. The materials are also pretty flimsy, the plastic cover doesn’t fit well, and the trays have warped over time. We’ll see how it goes.

2. Peat pots. The selling point of peat pots is your ability to plant the pots directly into the ground because the pot decomposes in the soil. My experience? They don’t decompose as quickly as you’d like. And many believe that peat is a renewable resource, making it an earth-friendly choice. I’ve learned that’s not true. Its regrowth rate is only 1 millimeter a year, which is much less than is being extracted. Also (and this shocked me), the carbon dioxide emission intensity of peat is higher than that of coal and natural gas. In fact, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) classifies peat as a fossil fuel. So I’m stepping away from the peat pots.

3. DIY newspaper pots. The good news? (Pun intended. Haha.) Newspaper is cheap and plentiful. You can create them without fancy tools. And since newspaper will decompose in the soil, you can plant them with the seedlings, meaning less shock for those babies. But each pot takes a few minutes to make — depending on the number of seeds you’re starting, this could be a time sink. Also, I’m not sure I want newspaper ink in my soil, but I’ll probably try a few of these.

4. Toilet paper and paper towel rolls. A nifty use for what would normally become waste! You can easily turn used rolls into plant pots with scissors and a little time. And — like newspaper pots — you can plant them with your seedlings. Are they organic? I have no idea and Mr. Google didn’t help, so if you know, please comment below.

5. Small paper cups. I learned this from a recent Grit magazine article, and the author (Barbara Pleasant) says it’s her go-to container for starting seeds indoors. You can plant them with the seedlings, they’re cheap, and they happen to be just the right size. Poke a hole in the bottom of the cup for drainage, write the plant’s name on the cup, and go to town. I can’t wait to try this.

6. Food scraps. This is fun. Instead of tossing food scraps, why not use them to grow more food? A post on our sister site, Crafting a Green World, tells you how you can repurpose egg shells, citrus peels, pumpkin shells, avocado peels, and coconut shells into festive, natural seed-starting pots. I’ve done this with egg shells before, and while unsuccessful (my fault, not the containers’), those sprouting eggs were so dang cute!

Selecting Your Seed-Starting Soil

I’m just learning about soil options for starting seeds indoors — you’re not supposed to use any old potting soil. Seedlings need a lighter mix of soil for their tiny, hairlike roots to move through. You can buy bags of commercial seed-starting mixes at your local garden store. Many will have organic and non-organic options. And — as with all commercial products — quality will vary, so buy a reputable brand. (One of our writers discovered Beautiful Land Products’ organic growing medium and raves about it.)

You can also blend your own seed-starting mix, but after researching this, I decided to buy versus DIY this year. I don’t need much, so it didn’t seem worth the time and effort involved. And I’m chagrined to admit I didn’t buy organic. I’m behind schedule, went to my garden center, and picked up the only brand they had. There’s always next year.

Setting Up Your Seed-Starting Environment

You have several factors to consider when deciding where to start your seeds indoors:

1. Light. You may be tempted to rely on light coming in from a window, but veggies need intense overhead light. Many successful growers use simple, inexpensive fluorescent light fixtures, often attached to heavy duty shelving units. I don’t have room for that and don’t plan to grow more than one tray of seedlings. So I’ve set up my growing environment near a window with a Verilux desk lamp I picked up on sale awhile back. Verilux makes natural spectrum lights that provide daylight indoors. Their products are pricey, but they make great desk lamps. I have another bright daylight desk lamp hitting the trays from the other side.

2. Moisture. My seed starting container is self-watering. It has a tray and a wicking mat that sucks up water and provides it to the soil from the bottom. I’ve found it to be good but not perfect. Some cells dried out last year, so I had to monitor the color of the soil and supplement with water from above. You have to be careful, however — over-watering can lead to a white mold growing on top of the soil. This year, I came up with what I hope is a good solution. I’ve repurposed a squeeze bottle (like the ones chefs use for olive oil and such). I’ve got it standing by, filled with water, so I can water more precisely from above than I can with a typical watering can. (I’m planning to use it to apply fertilizer too.) You can find these squeeze bottles at kitchen shops, grocery stores, and online.

One more note about moisture: You need a transparent cover to trap humidity for your seedlings before they germinate. My seed-starting get-up came with one. You can also fashion one out of plastic wrap.

3. Temperature. Seedlings need a relatively warm environment to germinate. If your environment is at least 65° to 70°, you should be fine, but if it’s cooler than that, place the seedlings on top of a heating pad. They make heating pads specifically for starting seeds indoors, but I’ve read you can use the one you likely have in your bathroom cabinet. I don’t have to worry about this living in Texas. We’ve got plenty of heat to go around.

Please stay in touch. I’ll be writing about the planting soon! And this newish urban farmer welcomes any advice or feedback you have, so feel free to leave a comment below. Time to grow!

Related Posts: Getting Your 2015 Urban Farm Off the Ground

Starting Seeds Indoors Part 1Starting Seeds Indoors Part 3

Image Credit: Starting Seeds Indoors via Shutterstock

Written by Mary Gerush

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