Digging into the seedy side of gardening can pay off

By Janice Sroufe
I am a notorious collector of seeds. It’s fascinating that a tiny, dead-looking speck of fiber or rock-like nugget can, with soil, light and water, turn into a huge plant
Little globs of fluff, dry particles, tiny cones or weird-looking winged things find their way into my pockets, my camera bag or the bottom of my purse whenever I go outdoors. I am not organized enough to carry envelopes and a Sharpie to label them, so I just plant them and see what happens. They almost always germinate and grow (although keeping them growing is tricky in this crazy Kansas climate).
The good news about seeds is that many of them can be grown with certainty just by following the instructions on the seed packet, which means you probably should purchase them from a reliable source in the year that you intend to plant.
Along with local garden centers, which have an extensive variety, seeds can be ordered from mail order catalogs or online.
Light is imperative for starting seeds successfully indoors. You need a lot of it, probably more than provided by a sunny window. Unless a climate-controlled greenhouse is available, you will be more successful with some artificial light, florescent or LED. The lights need to be adjustable so they can be really close to your planting containers and then raised as the plants grow.
Old shelving in the corner of my furnace room, with lights hanging above and between the shelves, became my indoor seed-starting garden. The lights are hung with chains, which allows adjustment as the plants get taller. A timer on the plug-in keeps the lights shining 14-16 hours a day without me having to turn them on and off. This set-up works well as long as I remember to water occasionally.
Here are a few other things to keep in mind when you start seeds indoors:
Read the seed packet or Google how much time the plants need to grow inside. Some take longer than others.
Use clean containers. Buy new ones or wash used ones with soap and water.
Use new potting soil to avoid infecting your baby plants with disease.
Wet the soil so that it is moist and crumbly before you plant your seeds and water carefully so that your seedlings stay hydrated, but not soggy.
Planting trays with covers are helpful in conserving moisture as the seeds germinate and the plants grow. When they get a couple inches tall, you can remove the covers and raise the lights above the top of the plants.
When the prescribed time has pass, the ground is warm enough and the plants are ready to go outdoors, be sure to acclimate them to the sun and wind gradually.
Besides the satisfaction that comes from growing plants from seed, I have experienced fewer diseases in plants I start myself. Seed starting probably won’t save you time or money, but it is a fun and interesting experience.

Janice Sroufe is a Sedgwick County Master Gardener. She welcomes comments and questions. Contact her at janice.sro@gmail.com

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