For those of us in the Midwest with the itch to get in our gardens, we can scratch that itch by digging in some dirt now.
Our growing season is so short that it’s nearly imperative to either get a jump start from a nursery that has done the work for us, or start some seeds indoors. I have space in my basement, but use any space you have. You’ll need to be able to keep the seed temperature between 70 and 85 degrees. The cooler it is, the slower the germination.
Now, I’ve been around online and have found that “seed starting kits” have a wide price range. And frankly, most cost more than I want to spend. You really only need a few things.
Supplies you’ll need: Seeds | Trays | Lights | Nutrient-rich Soil | Water | Timer (optional)
Seeds: Check out your local garden centers, big-box home improvement stores, or supercenters/grocery stores. There is a small selection available now.
Trays: Visit your local garden center and see if they have a couple of extra seed trays you can purchase. Heck, they might even give them to you. Or you may even have some from last year. Just be sure to wash them out with a bleach water solution and let them dry thoroughly before using. I use my old cookie sheets to set the seed trays on. That way I can water from the bottom and they also keep the mess contained.
Lights: Here’s the thing…I don’t use any fancy lights designated as “grow lights”. I simply use an old shop light (fluorescent) and hang it above my plant table. You’ll want to have it approximately 8-12 inches above your seeds. You may need to raise it once the plants grow taller. I’ve hung mine with large link chain and a hook so I can easily adjust the height. Keep the lights on 12-16 hours a day. You can eliminate artificial lighting if you get enough natural light.
Soil and Water: A potting mix works because it has properties that allow it to retain water and drain well. But it’s not actually soil and doesn’t have many nutrients. It will work fine for germinating. Once the seedlings start to appear, add a liquid fertilizer like MiracleGro™ to your water.
Timer: If you have a timer, you don’t have to remember to turn the light on and off. 🙂 Your local hardware store or supercenter should have these for approximately $10-15.
Here is a sampling of seeds you can start indoors now:
Plants: coleus, dahlia, heliotrope, petunias, rudbeckia, snapdragons, verbena, vinca/periwinkle, marigolds, stock, dusty miller
Vegetables: broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, chard, head lettuce, tomatoes, peppers, eggplant,
Herbs: basil, oregano, parsley, thyme, sage, rosemary, cilantro
Once you’ve coddled these tender plants, don’t be in a rush to get them outside come spring. You know how fickle our spring weather can be. The farther north you are, the longer you will need to wait. If you’re in Minnesota like me, I’ve learned the hard way not to put seedlings in the outdoor garden too early. You’ve worked hard preparing these fragile plants for outdoor life; give them the best chance and don’t put them in the ground until June 1.
Want more information on starting seeds? Check out the Birds and Blooms’ site for Seed Starting 101
Don’t forget! Check your community or extension office calendar for spring events. Many garden classes and plant sales are held this time of year.