Starting your own seeds is a satisfying and inexpensive way to get a jump start on your garden. Evan Loewy of Other Brother Olive Oil (http://www.theotherbrothercompany.com) took some time to show me that with simple prep, smart seed choices, and a little TLC, anyone can grow seedlings and bring out the farmer within!
Step 1: Seed Starting Supplies
Starting with all the right stuff will go a long way to making the planting and growing process straight forward and successful. Here's what you'll need:
- The right seeds for your geographical zone: For growing edibles, www.seedsnow.com has a great selection of organic non-GMO seeds and make choosing by zone super easy. Proper zoning won't make a difference for seed starting, but it would be a shame to spend energy growing seedlings that might not survive once moved outside into the 'your part of the world' garden. NOTE: seeds that do the best as starters are non-root plants like lettuce, tomatoes, basil, broccoli, peppers, and peas. Root veggie seeds are best planted right in the garden medium at their recommended planting time.
- Nursery flats or several small containers with holes in the bottom: I recommend investing in flats if you plan on doing a lot of seed starting as they are easier to move than many small containers. It's also important if you're reusing any container that you protect against plant disease by thoroughly cleaning it with hot soapy water and rinsing it with a diluted solution of water and a small amount of household bleach. Let air dry.
- Sterile Growing medium: Most nurseries or hardware stores will sell pre-mixed seed starter mix. Finding organic medium may take a bit of sleuthing, but due to the growing popularity of organic gardening, is easier to find than ever. You can also make your own medium by blending equal parts perlite, vermiculite, and peat moss with 1/4 tsp of lime to each gallon of mix. (The lime neutralizes the acidity of the peat)
- A clear cover for your tray or containers: Again if you are planning on doing much seed starting, I'd recommend investing in the nursery tray covers, available at most nurseries. (see example in step 6) If you'd prefer to hold off on making that purchase, you can also place a piece of clear glass or plastic over the tray. What you want to do is create a moist and warm environment (think terrarium). This will give the seeds the best chance at survival.
- A Warm and bright location: A greenhouse is the ideal place to grow your tiny plant babies, as you have all the natural light you need and you don't have to worry about getting medium or water on the floor. (I have a big crush on the one Evan built in his back yard out of windows, reclaimed wood and old skateboard decks! See step 7.) But the seedlings will do just as well if grown indoors with adequate light and heat. More on this in step 6.
- Water: A hose with a fine mist nozzle or a watering can and spray can.
- TLC: Your seedlings will need a lot of attention and care for the first 4-6 weeks so make sure you will be home to provide for them and that you have a true interest in helping them thrive!
Step 2: Sowing Your Seeds
Fill your nursery flat or small containers almost all the way to the top with lightly moistened medium. Leave about 3/4" - 1/2" unfilled. (as pictured)
Place your seeds on top of the medium, giving each seed room to grow. In these pictures Evan is planting tomato seeds and because they will grow quite large, is only putting two seeds per section. If you're growing things with smaller roots like lettuce, you can plant more of the seeds a bit closer together.
Step 3: Top Them Off
Once you've placed your seeds, fill the flats to the rim with medium.
Step 4: Make It Rain
Using your sprinkle nozzle or watering can to thoroughly water your plantings.
Let the water soak in until you see medium above the water and then water it one more time.
You want the medium to be wet all the way through. Water coming out the holes in the bottom of the containers is a good indicator that you've achieved this.
If you're doing this indoors, please make sure that your containers are on a waterproof tray before making it rain.
Step 5: Place & Cover
Put your tray of plantings in a bright sunny (aka warm) spot and cover them with an official tray cover or a piece of glass, plexi, or plastic wrap to trap the heat and moisture, creating a mini greenhouse. Make sure to leave the holes open or a bit of space between the container top and glass as it's best to have fresh air introduced to the environment so it doesn't get stagnant and potentially moldy.
If you don't have good strong light in your house you may also want to consider getting a grow light to suspend above your container.
Step 6: Welcome Seedlings!
The length of the germination process will vary from seed to seed. Keep a daily eye on them and once sprouting occurs, uncover your container and if indoors, increase the amount of light to 12-16 hours a day. Try and keep the light source close to the little guys (2-4") so the seedlings don't have to reach for the light, which can make them weak and spindly.
Once the seedlings get their first true leaves (the leaves that emerge after the original little round cotyledon ones), it's time to start fertilizing the medium every week until they're ready to move outside (about 3-4 weeks or as high as Evan's hand in the second photo). Mix some liquid fish or seaweed fertilizer right into the water you use to feed the plants or add some to a spray can with water and apply it that way.
Step 7: Blowing in the Wind
In a natural outdoor environment seedlings would be subject to much more movement than they are in a greenhouse or indoors. That movement the wind and rain can cause is an important ingredient in helping them grow stocky and strong. In order to replicate that for your seedlings, brush them with the tips of your fingers once or twice a day or set up a small oscillating fan to blow on them gently throughout the day.
Until they are ready to make the move outside, continue watering them enough to keep the medium moist, but not wet (seedlings don't need as much water at germinating seeds do).
Once they are almost 'garden ready' size, take a week to help them get ready for the shock of becoming an outdoor plant. Gardeners call this 'hardening off'. It involves moving the container(s) outside to a shaded and protected area for a few hours a day, gradually increasing the plants exposure to sun and wind. Once you've done this for a week, leave the container out overnight and plant them in the garden the following day.
Thanks again to Evan for inviting me into his greenhouse and dropping some knowledge! His company, Other Brother is a San Francisco Bay Area-based Artisan Food company he founded in 2012 with his brother Ben. Their organic goods (olive oil and spices) are delicious --and all ingredients are grown by them in California or are sourced from sustainable organic farmers friends. Check out their good goods at: www.theotherbrothercompany.com