Seed Starting 2022

As I write this, I’m sitting on my couch, surrounded by seeds, garden books, a vomit-inducing amount of kids toys, while watching “Gardener’s World” on Amazon Prime. 

Hi from the wasteland!

Can I just say the Brits really know their gardening? Monty Don is my garden hero, and if you haven’t read his book, “The Complete Gardener“, you should. It’s chock full of great gardening info and beautiful pictures – pretty much his gift to all mankind.

The King himself, Sir Monty Don.

Why isn’t it spring yet???

This is the time of year for daydreaming, planning, and watching/reading all about gardening. It’s also the time of year for starting your first seeds! 

I’ve got the bug, so I rearranged all my seed packets and started my first four seeds – Chinese String Eggplant. Here are the steps for starting your seeds indoors:

Determine if you ACTUALLY need to start your seeds indoors. 

    • Rule of thumb is to start brassicas (cauliflower, broccoli, brussels sprouts) and anything in the nightshade family (tomatoes, eggplants, peppers) indoors. Why?
      • 1) brassicas are frost hardy, but they’ll bolt once it warms up, so you want to give them a head start indoors to optimize your short growing window before the heat gets here
      • 2) nightshades are slow to grow and they’re frost tender. If you wait until after the last frost to sow outdoors, they’ll do just fine, but you won’t get a harvest until much later
    • You can check this nifty list for more recommendations on what should be direct sown vs. started indoors.

Sort your seeds by sowing date and mark your calendar.

  • First, know your last frost date. Here in Zone 7B, it’s April 15th. You can do a quick google search for this by your zip code.
    • Look at seed packets for sowing dates (i.e. 8 weeks before last frost). Do a google search to determine what date that equates to in your zone. Then mark your calendar and sort your seeds accordingly!

Google tells me that 12 weeks before April 15th is January 21st. Because I **cannot** count. Also, tea boxes make great seed packet storage.

Make your seed-starting mix.

    • I use coconut coir with perlite mixed in. Nothing scientific here, just make it so that there are some specks of the perlite in there. The coir holds moisture and the perlite prevents compaction and keeps everything light and fluffy.
    • Pro tip: get your coconut coir in small bricks. Chiseling into a rock hard, 10 lb slab is NOT fun.
    • NOTE: You don’t need compost or anything with nutrition in it yet… seeds have enough energy in them to carry them along until they start making true leaves. Once you see true leaves, you can add a little dusting of compost on top.

One pound block of coconut coir, rehydrated + itty bitty bit of perlite + old nursery pot (scrubbed clean)

      • Mix it real good
    • Get your seed starting mix damp like a wet sponge, fill up a container that has drainage (old nursery pots, yogurt cups with holes in the bottom, etc), put your seeds on top, and dust with more of your mix. Since you’ve pre-dampened the mix, you don’t need to water.

Itty bitty eggplant seeds

Here are the seeds.

Rather than poking the seeds down into the mix, lightly dust some mix over top.

Label and Put your plants in a clear bin (AKA mini greenhouse).

  • Keep the lid on to encourage germination. Most seeds don’t  need light until after they’ve germinated, so as long as it’s relatively warm, you’re good for now.

The Germination Station

Check your seeds for germination. 

  • Once they’ve germinated, take them out of the bin and give them lots of good, strong light (grow light or shop light with broad spectrum output). Water them as needed (bottom watering – submerging the container in a tray of water- is best to prevent fungal problems)

January brings a lot of cold and icky-ness, but I hope this has brought you a little ray of sunshine. Spring will be here soon!

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Seed Comparison Shopping

I was raised by a shopaholic mom. No joke. We would drive all the way from our house in Cary to as far as Greensboro just to get a deal. It was pretty fun as a pre-teen… my sister and mom and I would make a day of it and go all day on a Saturday. Our poor dad probably needed to eat an entire bottle of Tums when he heard mom say we were going shopping. I’m glad I never had to see those bills :-/.

Even though I’ve slowed down a bit now that I’m paying the bills myself, the thrill of the hunt runs strong in our family. Put my sister, mom, and I in a TJ Maxx and we can do some serious damage, unearthing amazing finds hidden in racks and behind throw rugs for dirt cheap. 

So, when it comes to buying seeds, it should come as no surprise that momma didn’t raise no fool. I look for the deals y’all. 

I am going to go big or go home this year in the garden, and a cut flower bed is GOING TO HAPPEN. See? I already laid out the bed shape! 

New L-shaped flower bed is happening!

Here are some thoughts as you’re doing your seed shopping:

Consider Free Seeds First

  • Did you know your local library *probably* has free seeds? They do! At our library, we can get up to 4 packets of free seeds from the “seed library” per season. They may not be the sexiest varieties, but hey, they’re free!
  • Also, ask other gardeners if they’d like to split seed packets or have any old seeds they didn’t like or don’t want to plant. 
  • Sometimes seed companies will give you a free packet of seeds if you spend over X amount of dollars with them. It’s a crap shoot, but you might get something for free. At Baker Creek, you get a free packet for every $35 you spend on seeds.
  • Now is a great time to look for free seeds in nature/your garden/public gardens! Spent seed heads may still have seeds in them at this time of year (my fennel certainly does!). If you know what grew there, it might be worth taking a gamble. 

Consider Unit Price

I’m finding that sunflower seeds are cheaper from Seed Saver’s Exchange. Though the price per packet is a bit higher, each packet contains more seeds. Take these identical varieties of Torch Sunflower from Seed Saver’s Exchange and Baker Creek, for example:

Torch Sunflower from Seed Saver's Exchange

VERSUS…

Initially the Baker Creek one looks like the better deal because it’s cheaper per pack. But look at the fine print… you’re only getting 35 seeds. Seed Saver’s Exchange gives you almost triple that amount for only slightly more money. Let’s so some math…yes, math.

$3.75/100 seeds = $0.04 per seed @ Seed Saver’s Exchange. Whereas $3.00/35 seeds = $0.09 per seed @ Baker Creek.

Math Memes | Memes

Now, does that price difference really matter all that much? No, it’s not a huge deal if you’re only buying a few seed packets. But me? I’m about to buy A LOT of seeds and sow A LOT of seeds at once (see shopping cart – Lord help me).

I’m not done here… this will get whittled down (likely by Jonah)

Jim Carrey The Mask - Imgflip

Please. This is my cry for help!!!

Generally speaking, I’d rather buy a greater quantity of seeds AND Fewer varieties than A Smaller QUANTITY of seeds AND MORE varieties.

Why? Because it’s better to plant SWATHS of plants than a bunch of individual plants.

Frankly, an individual plant looks kind of dumb all on its own, and it’s also more likely to get overlooked by pollinators and YOU, the gardener. Give it a friend! Or maybe 10 friends! When it comes to something like sunflowers, it’s also good to hedge your bets with more seeds because birds, squirrels, bunnies, and e’erybody else WILL go to town munching those newly planted seeds and seedlings. When you plant more of the same, you can afford to lose some to predation and bad weather

An exception to shopping by the unit price rule would be if you’re buying something kind of experimental. Like you aren’t sure it’s going to work in your zone or you’re not sure if you’ll love it or not. In that case, get the cheaper seed packet, even if there are fewer seeds. That way, you’re not wasting seeds if you decide not to grow it in future years and you’re not out a lot of money on seeds you hate.

Consider Varieties Available

Baker Creek and Johnny’s have WAY more varieties to choose from, so if you’re looking for a specific color or growth habit (i.e. for containers), you’re more likely to find it there than SSE. Take Hollyhocks, for example:

Baker Creek’s options don’t wow me… they don’t offer a packet that has a mix of colors:

But I’d LOVE the Outhouse variety from SSE for the combo of colors:

 

Consider Shipping Costs

Unless you’re buying seeds in person, rather than online, that is. Free shipping covers a multitude of sins. If you only want a few seed packs and the company does not offer free shipping, it might be best to find them at a local nursery instead.

Consider Hybrids

These will cost you a pretty penny, but they might be worth it for some plants. For instance, I’m pretty sure I’m not going to grow zucchini or yellow squash ever again (squash bugs and squash vine borers have gotten them almost every year), but if I did, I would DEFINITELY pay for an F1 that is resistant to powdery mildew and that pests might not like as much.

Hybrid vigor is a thing (hybrids produce more than open pollinated), but any seeds you save won’t be like the parent plant.

Here’s an example comparing zucchini varieties (not exactly apples to apples, since it’s different companies, but you get the picture):

An F1 from Johnny’s:

VERSUS

An open-pollinated from SSE:

I hope these tips help as you’re thinking about seeds for this year! For more on this subject, check out my entries from last year. Happy shopping!

 

Where to Start? Nursery Transplants vs Direct Sowing vs Indoor Seed Starting

All About Seeds – Part 1! Deciphering Seed Packets

All About Seeds – Part 2! Seed Lingo Decoded

All About Seeds – Part 3! Selecting Varieties for Planting

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