FARGO, N.D. — My favorite time of year is starting soon, garden seed starting time. I am starting to prepare and gather materials to start seeds for my school garden programs. As far as I am concerned, there isn’t a better way to endure the cold, snowy days of winter than planning for the growing season.
If you are giving seed starting a try this year, there are some supplies you might want to have on hand. If you are a seasoned seed starter, here is your reminder to check your stashes.
Seeds are first on the list. If you read NDSU Extension horticulturist Tom Kalb’s article last week, you have the all the information you need to find good seed catalogs and get your seeds ordered. I have already received at least six different seed catalogs in the mail, not counting the duplicates that I received at home. If you find yourself lacking in the seed catalog department, ask a fellow gardener. I know they will share.
Next on the list is a material to start your seeds in. The material seeds are grown in needs to allow air movement and be well-drained, while holding onto water at the same time. I use the term “material” because many gardeners like to use pure perlite or vermiculite to start seeds. This a good option as perlite and vermiculite allow for air movement and hold onto water. However, they don’t provide any nutrition for growing seedlings.
I prefer to use potting soil or soil-less media. Most potting soil mixes do not contain any soil. It is a mixture of peat moss, perlite and vermiculite.
Containers for seed starting also should be on your list. A general rule of thumb is that containers for seeds starting should be about three inches deep and should have holes for water drainage. You can purchase seed starting containers or re-purpose milk cartons or other disposable type containers. Make sure the containers are clean and did not contain any harmful chemicals in their previous life. Do not forget to add drainage holes. I have a disorderly stash of takeout containers in my pantry that are going to get repurposed for seed starting this spring.
Labels are a necessity when starting seeds. You will be able to tell the difference between vegetables like peppers, tomatoes and broccoli. However, you will not be able to tell the difference between varieties of tomatoes. Labels are especially helpful if you have limited garden space or only want a certain number of each variety. Popsicle sticks work well for labels but stay away from ink that will bleed when it gets wet.
Typically, seedlings are transplanted into larger containers or growing trays after they have their first set of true leaves. A supply of growing trays or larger containers are needed to accommodate the number of seedings you are transplanting. If you want to re-use pots you acquired last year, wash them in soapy water and use a 10% bleach solution to clean and disinfect.
An optional item is a set of grow lights. If you are serious about seed starting, you might want to invest in a set. Another helpful item is a small fan. It isn’t to keep the plants cool but to help plants build up stem strength. There is not a lot of air movement indoors unless you are in a greenhouse. I usually run the fan on my seedlings for a couple hours a day.
Do not let seed starting intimidate you. Complete NDSU Extension horticulturist Esther McGinnis’s number one resolution from her Dakota Gardener column on Gardening Resolutions for 2022 by growing a new variety from seed. Happy gardening!
— Carrie Knutson, NDSU Extension