Seed Starting…tips and techniques for great results
I attended the Idaho Spring horticultural symposium here in Boise a couple of weeks ago and was particularly inspired by Willi Galloway of digginfood.com. She gave a presentation on seed starting and it prompted me to remember the seed starting equipment I have packed away in a box in the garage. I was really involved with starting seeds when I was gardening in Portland, OR . However, with our move to Pennsylvania and two little kids to keep up with I gave it up. But now… I thought (although I still have kids to keep up with)… shall I try to pull out the equipment that has made two trips cross-country to see if it still works? If it did, I knew I would be on my way to starting seeds again. I got excited about the unique varieties I could grow and hoped it would be interesting and fun to my children too. So, I searched through the boxes, found everything, plugged it in… and as luck would have it everything still worked perfectly!
I’ll say upfront that I am not an expert at seed starting but I have quite a bit of experience with it and am super excited to do it again. I hope this series of posts provides good solid guidance for anyone that is interested in this aspect of gardening. Let’s get started….
Seed Selection: If you are considering starting seeds, March is a great time to start! Put some thought into what you should start depending on where you are located and your climate zone. Research your zone a bit to find the last typical frost date and average daily temperatures now and in the upcoming weeks. This information will help you figure out what to start indoors and when it will be safe to plant your starts outside.
In my USDA Zone 6 (Sunset 2b/3a) it is an ideal time to get cool season vegetables going. Many cool season crops only take about three to five weeks to germinate and grow enough to be planted outside. Be sure to read the seed packet of your choices to see if it recommends ‘planting outside only’ meaning transplanting may be difficult. Certain ‘green goods’ do not transplant well and will not recover from being moved from their original location. I have decided not to start bread poppies inside for this very reason.
The next thing to consider is time. Starting seeds is fun, relatively inexpensive and very inspirational as you watch them progress BUT they take time. It is easy to get carried away planting many trays of different things and not realize the time that will be required to be successful. Your seeds will require a little time every day once they are planted and when they get going strong it won’t be long until they either need to be planted outside or ‘planted up’ (to a larger container). My recommendation is start small so you don’t get overwhelmed, enjoy the process and get great results. I am keeping myself limited to one large tray! Here are some suggestions of ‘green goods’ that I have found relatively easy to start indoors.
Cool Season Vegetables: lettuce, kale, spinach, arugula
Warm Season Vegetables: tomatoes and peppers
Herbs: basil, parsley, oregano
Flowers: zinnias, snapdragons, coleus, petunias
This year for my cool season crops I am going with spinach, kale and lettuce. For herbs I am starting two different basils – ‘Genovese’ and purple ‘Dark Opal’. Some warm season choices I am particularly excited about are a small ornamental, yet edible pepper called ‘Tequila Sunrise’ and two different varieties of tomato. One is ‘Koralik’ and the other is a mystery tomato from my good friend . She lives in San Francisco and had tremendous success with this tomato last year and thoughtfully sent me some seeds from it. I’m especially excited to see how it grows and performs in my zone given it is so much different from the Bay area. I could be pleasantly surprised or disappointed but that’s the spirit of growing don’t you think…a sense of excitement and curiosity and sharing experiences with friends.