Editors Note: Another timely contribution from Cat Murphy to The Prepper Journal.
Spring may seem like its eons away, but it will be here before you know it. Starting your seeds indoors is a great way to get a jump start on your growing season — and to keep your green thumb busy. It’s also a fantastic gardening alternative for starting plants when you have limited space and are restricted to your patio or balcony. Consider these tips as you begin seeding indoors now for your spring garden.
Pick the Right Containers
You can start your seeds in just about any kind of container. It needs to be about two to three inches deep and have proper drainage. If you’re looking for an inexpensive option, you can use empty yogurt cups or milk cartons. Make sure you poke holes in the bottom to allow water to escape. If you prefer a more formal approach, you can also buy seed starting trays.
More important than the type of container, is the potting soil you use. It should be designed for growing seedlings. Soil from your garden or reuse potting soil from houseplants can spread diseases to your seedlings. Because many potting soils do not contain nutrients, you may need to add fertilizer once your seeds have germinated.
Chose the Perfect Plants
Starting seeds indoors is a great way to extend your growing season. It allows plants that need warm soil and even warmer temperatures, like tomatoes, peppers, and most herbs, to mature into seedlings before transferring them outdoors.
Although starting most plants from seed is an affordable, viable option, some plants do not transplant well. For example, leafy greens like spinach and lettuce, as well as most root vegetables, are not good candidates for indoor seed starting. These crops can usually handle lower soil temperatures, so you can sow them outdoors once the danger of frost has passed.
Keep Things Nice and Toasty
Place your seedlings in a south-facing window that will provide your plants with at least six hours of direct sunlight every day. Your seeds need temperatures of around 70 to 75 degrees to germinate. Usually, the indoor temperature of a room is warm enough. If not, you can always use a heat mat or grow light to provide extra warmth. Most plants will germinate in a week or two.
To help your containers retain heat — and to encourage your seeds to germinate more quickly — you can cover them with a layer of plastic wrap. This will create a miniature greenhouse effect inside the containers, producing seedlings in half the time required otherwise.
Take Care of Your Fragile Seedlings
Water your containers every day, spritzing lightly with a spray bottle. Using a spray bottle instead of a watering can will make sure you’re hydrating your plants instead of drowning them in the soil.
Once your seedlings have grown two sets of leaves, you’re safe to transplant them into pots. This will provide them with more room to grow without becoming root bound. Fill small pots with soil and then gently remove the seedling from its starter container. Whatever you do, don’t damage the stem. Place the seedling in the soil and press down lightly before placing your seedlings back in a sunny location.
Get Ready to Transplant
Although you can technically transplant your seedlings as soon as all danger of a frost has passed, you should wait to do so until you have appropriately hardened them off. This is the process of moving plants outdoors for portions of the day (increasing gradually over time) so they are acclimated to the conditions of the outside world. You need to give your plants plenty of time to adjust to the wind, direct sunlight, and fluctuating temperatures.
Start your plants off on the right foot by putting them outside for just a couple of hours a day. Make sure they’re in a sheltered location and increase their exposure to the outdoors by an hour or two every day.
Ideally, you should plan ahead with your seedlings, so they’re ready to go outside as soon as the weather is favorable. You can determine the best time to start your seeds by looking at your seed packets and counting backward. Often, the packets will tell you when to start seeds inside — no intensive arithmetic required.
Cat Murphy is a gardening and landscaping writer, and outdoor extraordinaire. She enjoys cooking for family and friends and going on long hikes anywhere and everywhere in nature.
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