Starting Seeds

We’ve a had a couple of very bright warm days this week. There is no snow, no frozen ground, not even any morning frost. I am actually shocked to see some local Forsythia starting to bloom and it is only middle of January. When Dave and I were married on Vancouver Island April 5, 1985 Forsythia was in the background of our wedding photos. That means the yellow flowering shrubs are blooming almost 3 months ahead of when they did 30 years ago.

 

I am thinking of following nature’s early lead, and am tempted to start planting some cold-tolerant vegetable seeds in the garden. There is something so exciting about getting a jump-start on the season! Oh, how much food I could grow if I could start this early!

 

However, this year I am going to hold off (the sensible choice) and wait for a few more weeks to pass before breaking ground. I’ve done early plantings before, which invariably turnedout to be “too early” and were nothing but work to keep the seedlings warm and not water-logged in heavy spring rains. Last year for example, the peas that I planted super early, were surpassed in growing height, and pod yields, by a second round of pea seeding that I planted at a later date.

 

The next logical question is, should I start some seeds indoors to get my own seedlings ready for transplanting? There are great benefits to starting my own seeds. One, I can select from a huge variety of options from BC seed catalogs. There will always be a larger array of vegetables in seed catalogs, than will be available as plants at the local nursery.

 

Secondly, it is initially cheaper to buy seeds than it is to buy flats of plants. Starting my own seeds also makes me a more self-sufficient gardener. Additionally, if I select heirloom and open-pollinated seeds then I can allow some vegetable plants to mature and save their seeds for future planting, making us even more self-reliant.

 

Unfortunately, I have not had great results starting my own seeds. Just for you, I will take some time to explain why I have been so unsuccessful 🙁 Lack of light. That’s it, lack of light.

 

Year after year, I was convinced that my south-facing kitchen window, or dining room glass doors, would provide enough sunlight to get my seeds off to a rocking start. I spent hours preparing flats of soil, or swelling up little peatmoss discs with water, delicately adding individual seeds with tweezers, labelling popsicle sticks with variety type and date planted, nurturing and feeding; only to end up composting the entire results 6 weeks later. Seeds will germinate and seedlings will grow, but without adequate light, they will become very long, spindly and weak.

 

So my only (and very necessary) advice for starting your own seeds is get yourself a lighting system set up. There are a lot of great options available that range from ready-made, to make-it-yourself ideas. Key information that you will come across is, “place the light fixture no more than 4″ above the growing plants.”  What that does, is prevent the plant from reaching up long and tall towards the light. Instead, a low hovering light source encourages seedlings to stay short and stocky, therefore they become stronger. Most articles agree that 14-16 hours of light and 8-10 hours of darkness is ideal for starting seedlings or growing salad greens.

This is not my image.

This is not my image … but this would be my ideal seed growing set up! I am going to put it on my hubby’s honeydew list!!  🙂  Nah … I’ll just go get the supplies and do it myself because it looks easy to assemble. I have seen these metal shelving units and the plug-in fluorescent light fixtures at the local hardware store. I’ll purchase full-spectrum fluorescent bulbs which will give the vegetable seedlings the best quality of light. Each fixture hangs from chains so that they can be adjusted up and down to maintain a 4″ head space above the plants as they grow. The metal shelving will make it easy to hook the chains in place.

 

I like how this person has used cardboard to soak up any leaking moisture from the seedling trays. It can easily be replaced and then recycled or put in your compost bin. Re-using the grocery store baby greens containers is also a cool idea. They are cute mini-greenhouses! If I try those containers for starting seeds, I will kept a sharp eye out for molds that would love such a moist, warm environment.

 

Now, for a bit of information about which seeds need to be planted indoors to get a good start on the growing season. Onion and Leek seeds are at the top of my list for starting February 1st. They take the longest to get established and become tough enough to survive the transplanting process. In my opinion, it is well worth growing your own, or purchasing starts, for your garden onion varieties, instead of putting in onion sets. Onion sets are great to use as green onions, but for me they tend to bolt early then go to seed instead of bulbing up into useable onions.

These little white puffy flowers are onion sets that are already going to seed, before bulbing up.

Onion starts ready to separate and plant into the garden.

These are the onion starts that were planted in April, and were ready to start eating in June.

Walla Walla Sweet Onions are our summer favourite 🙂

The last of the Walla Walla Onions that I harvested. I kept them stored by hanging them in a completely shady and breezy area of our carport until they were all consumed.

Leeks have fabulous flavor and survive in our garden all year-long. I start the seeds early (or purchase starts) and then plant them about 10cm apart in rows around my Brassica crops. I do believe that the Allium scent helps confuse the cabbage moth from finding broccoli, cabbage, kale and cauliflower .

This is a picture of our last 5 leeks that overwintered, which were then over a year old. You can see the seed pod that is starting to form at the top. The day that I took this picture, I also planted a new crop of purchased leek seedlings into the garden.

A short time later, the leek flowers burst open in bloom (look at the gorgeous pink core!) which provided much needed early spring food for bees and other insects. I saved these seeds and am about to start them (on February 1) to grow our 2016 crop of leeks.

I’ll write another blog post about the seeds that are next in line to start indoors. At that time, I’ll show off my new seed starting shelf with grow lights and give you details on how I got everything going. Until then, start planning which vegetables you want to grow this year, how your garden is going to expand and then get your seeds ordered!

Lush gardens are in our near future 🙂

Our small lot vegetable garden harvest in Pitt Meadows, BC 2009

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2 thoughts on “Starting Seeds

  1. Hi Lynda, you might want to investigate LED lights, you can get white, blue and red, which apparently covers the spectrum of sunlight, you use way more white then colours. Saves a bunch on electrical costs.

    • Hi Trevor, Thank you for the information. I need to investigate this further for sure. I had some very conflicting opinions at the local building supply store when trying to purchase the correct lighting to grow plants. I settled on full spectrum bulbs for plug-in fluoresent fixtures but only purchased enough to grow 4 flats for now. Do you think Lee Valley would carry the colored LED’s? I will have a look. Cheers, Lynda

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