Indoor Seed Starting: a tutorial

I want to personally thank each and every one of you that attended last night's Indoor Seed Starting workshop.  It was a great turnout - we had about 40 people!

As promised, the power point presentation is uploaded.

    A few of the pointers we discussed during the class:
  • Remember to wash your hands before handling soil, seeds, and plants, especially if you are a smoker!  Cigarettes can transmit tobacco mosaic virus, which can infect tomatoes and other plants.  Healthy plants start with hygiene!
  • Always sterilize cell packs/trays when reusing.  Simply wash in a mild bleach solution.  Letting them soak for about 30 minutes will ensure all pathogens are destroyed.
  • Use a soilless potting mix for best results.  NEVER use garden soil, unless you sterilize in the oven (and really, who wants to bake dirt?).
  • Water with potable water.  Do not use rainwater, pond water, etc. 
  • If plants are placed in a window, turn them at least twice a day.

And of course, the biggest secret of all to healthy, not-leggy, indoor seedlings is to brush the tops of the plants, gently, at least twice a day.

A few of the questions and comments that came up during the workshop:

  • Is it too early to start seeds?
    • For some seeds, yes, melons and squash, for instance.  It is not too early for things that can go out before first frost, and it is not too early for peppers, tomatoes, and eggplant, because those take a while.  You want big, healthy plants to transplant into your garden.  They are more likely to survive hardening off and transplanting if they have a well-established root system.
  • Won't they be too big?
    • If you are growing plants to sell at market, the bigger the better!
    • Simply transplant into larger pots as they grow.  If you need pots, or even buckets, drop me an email ( or leave a comment and I'll see what I can find for you.  We often get donations that we gladly pass on to local gardeners.
  • What are those gnat-type bugs around my seedlings?
    • When I worked in a wholesale greenhouse, we called them Bark Mulch Gnats.  They are actually called Fungus Gnats.  Adults are a nuisance but the larvae can bother your seedlings.  Even though we use sterilized soil, somehow they still show up.  Here's a handy link to dealing with them.  Personally, for the adults, I use the vacuum cleaner to suck them up as they fly, then empty the vacuum outside.  I've also never suffered seedling loss due to the gnat larvae, so don't fret too much about them.  Just be careful not to over-water, as they like the wet soil.
  • Tell me more about growing in black plastic.
    • We'll do an example at the Blust Avenue Teaching Garden, and even hold a workshop, and soon I'll do an entire post on the subject.
  • The chicken tractor method looks neat!
    • If you'd like to use the chicken tractor method yourself and are a Mansfield resident, be sure to check out the Mansfield Backyard Chickens Facebook page, and let your councilperson know you support backyard hens!
  • The soil thermometer pictured in the slide show is the exact same thing as a meat thermometer. In fact, the soil thermometer we ordered online arrived and the package said it was a grill thermometer.  You can find them at your local household goods aisle for about $5, which is a great investment.

Here's a handy germination chart:

And here's a link to a succession planting chart and a link for indoor lighting tips.

If you have more questions or need more info, please leave a comment.  

Happy gardening! 




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