Starting Seeds Indoors


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Starting seeds indoors, including germination requirements and problem-solving. Video is here:

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  • [Slide 1] I am very happy to be here today to speak with you about Seed Starting. My name is Jennifer Zoch and I am a Seed Technician here at Seed Savers Exchange. One of my responsibilities is to schedule and start all of the transplants that will be grown here on the farm for the trial gardens and commercial seed increases.
  • Just a little background on our mission here at Seed Savers. We are dedicated to saving North America’s diverse garden heritage by building a network with other like-minded people and through education.
  • One of the reasons to start from seed is that there are a lot more options. For example, in the 2013 catalog, 81 varieties of tomato seed offered vs. 12 available to order in transplant form.This is not even counting what we have available in the yearbook
  • To keep going with the tomato example, one packet of 25 seeds from the VC is around $2.75That same plant, one plant, costs $3.00 from the VCTo grow one plant would cost $0.11 (seed)—not including media or container. You decide how expensive this part gets, but you could grow a plant for your garden for as little as $0.11 if you’re resourceful.
  • earlier end productThere are some crops that can be direct seeded, but people choose to start them indoors so they can harvest them sooner. For example, even though lettuce is usually seeded directly into the garden, I am starting lettuce indoors at home so that I can have several crops of head lettuce this year. (It also makes me really happy to see all that green springing out of the soil!)
  • grow long-season crops in short-season climatesAccording to Park’s Success with Seeds, peppers germinate best in soil temperatures of 75 to 80 degrees and take 10 days (up to 2 weeks) to germinate, during which time moisture levels and temp. need to be maintained. In many areas of the country, if you had to wait until the ground temperatures were that warm to seed out, you wouldn’t have enough time left in the season to get a crop.
  • There are many things to consider in this initial planning, some of the aspects most related to seed starting include:What do you like to eat?What varieties are not available as transplants?
  • How many seeds do you need to start of each variety to get this number? (number seeds to plant=desired population / germ %)Do you plan on canning/putting anything up?
  • How many of each plant can you fit in each area of your garden?Example of modified planting sheet—track the information YOU want, that is most helpful to YOU.I do this for my own garden too, it helps a lot with planning for the next season.
  • Consider your climate/zone, length of growing season, and soil temperature @ the time you want to plantSee handoutLong season vs. short seasonLong: egg, okra, tom, kale, broccoliShort: pea, mustard, carrot, In reality, you can start anything you want in the greenhouse—but a lot of plant types really do not like being transplanted and need to be transplanted at the right stage in their growth so they aren’t stunted from the stress. Peas, beans, and corn are examples of crops that perform the best when direct seeded. For DS:Aerate soil and mix in compost two weeks prior to planting.Plant when soil is workable.Water them in if you wantDon’t plant too deep or pack in soil on top.Seed liberally; thin later.
  • where to find sowing considerations on seed packets and online
  • sowing considerations (continued)The seed packet should also tell you when to seed the plant. For this tomato, you should start the seed indoors 6 weeks before the last frost. Use state/local extension services to find average frost dates. Then count backwards.Growing Calendar.
  • What are you going to start them in?I can’t stress the importance of early plant nutrition enough, especially if your seedlings are going to be spending more than 4 weeks in their cells. If they are going to be in their cells longer than 4 weeks, additional nutrition will probably be needed in either the form of compost or liquid fertilizer.Their systems operate a lot like ours—if they don’t have what they need they become more susceptible to disease and pest infestationsNo shame to buying cheap potting mix and either using it as is for quick things or amending it with your own compostIf you’re amending with compost, you want a mix that’s at least 20% compost, 35% is ideal, more is great.Make sure the compost you’re using is ‘finished’No raw manure!Avoid hot compost!Sources of compostCheck with your municipalityGarden CentersOther Gardeners you knowMake sure that you do not use compost from grass clippings that had broad leaf herbicides applied to.SunshineHappy Frog
  • CONTAINERSBe creative with your containers—seeds don’t care what they’re planted in as long as they allow for drainage and hold their form until transplanting timePaper, jiffy pots, peat pellets, yogurt containersFlats, inserts, plug trays—pretty standardized for larger scale production, may not work for what your system w/cost analysis BFG Supply Look around—most large suppliers will send you samples if you’re curious about using a productSeed into flats and “prick-out” or cut squares
  • labeling and organizing transplants
  • Where are they going to live while they’re growing?This can be found in several books and online resources—the optimal temperature for germination is often 5-10 degrees warmer than the optimal temperature for growthEx. Onions recommended start date 10-12 weeks before last frostShould germ on average of 7 days after sowing @ 70 degreesOnce germed, move off heat and allow to grow between 55-65 degreesThese specifications are generally on the back of your seed packet, but can also be found in a lot of seed catalogs, in books, and from online resourcesNancy BubelSSE WebsiteFedcoTerritorial SeedATTRAAerial temp vs. root zone temp
  • LightWindows work fine, rotate your plants to encourage even growthGrow lights need to be close to containers so seedlings don’t get spindly—this makes them hard to handle and wastes a lot of their energy climbing for lightMove the grow lights up as the plants grow so they don’t get burned (don’t move up so much that they begin to get spindly)
  • Number of seeds?We worked with figuring this number earlier, with the planting/sowing sheetAre you going to prick out or upgrade? What is your time commitmentPlan for % mortalities
  • seed anatomyScarification and stratification
  • How deep? Depends on seed size; anywhere from on the soil surface, 1/8” to ½”Twice the diameter of the seed
  • HUMIDITYDon’t overwater, especially before seeds germinate. Lightly water so as not to wash away seeds. Cover containers with plastic to retain humidity. Once seeds germinate allow for good airflow so you don’t encounter problems with damping off/leggy plants that can’t support themselves, and even moisture evaporation.Cover to retain moistureGood airflowWatered once a dayBe consistent with thisBefore 12pmWatch the weather—don’t unnecessarily create conditions that compromise your seedlingsFertilize when, and IF, needed4-6 weeks if nutritive mixHow long are your seedlings going to be inside?Do they even need it?Choose the right source for your needs
  • Watch them—the only way to detect early decline is to be attentive to how they are doing.
  • Damping off generally caused by botrytis and occurs if humidity conditions exceed 85%. It’s’ very sudden and is initially seen as seedling collapse, where the stem has withered and degenerated at soil level. This is not a problem you can fix for the plants that succumb to it—but you can prevent it by maintaining good air circulation, not overwatering, sowing seeds in sterile medium, by removing infected seedlings.Leggy plants—look at your lighting situation, temperature (high temps can cause too rapid of growth), and distance from other plants (are they competing for resources?)Poor root growth could be caused by poor drainage, low temps, potting mix that’s too compacted/low air space, low fertilityLow or no germ: temperature, dry soil, seeds planted too deep, old seed, washed your seed away when wateredPests: Keep a vigilant eye on your plants!!! SCOUT! I can’t stress the importance of scouting your plants for pests and taking proactive measures as the most effective way to control pest outbreaks.
  • germinated seed anatomy
  • satisfaction and increased garden savvyMay need to pot up or upgrade your plants once before they go out, depending on what you started your seeds in Called pricking-out, in certain circumstances (whole row sown/open flat) Demo??
  • When? Generally when they are well rooted but not root bound. Usually plant types like brassicas will have 4 true leaves when ready as well—top growth and bottom growth important. Bottom growth is MORE important—if your plant is not well rooted in it’s cell, it’s likely that you’ll break the root hairs when trying to remove it from the container and this will contribute to what’s called ‘transplant shock’ (period of stress in which growth is postponed)The process of hardening off is critical to the success of your transplants in the field and subsequent harvest.What happens to your skin in the summer, when, over-excited by the end of winter you spend too much time in the sun? It happens to all of us, right? Well, plants get sunburned too, especially when their leaves aren’t used to the harshness of full sunshine. Try to introduce them gently to the outside ‘real’ world!Once seedlings have a second pair of true leaves and their root mass is sturdy, put them outside to harden off.Hardening off should take 1-2 weeks (2 stages)Stage 1Withhold water: This does not mean don’t water! Just gradually decrease the amount they’re receiving over a period of 1-2 weeksCooler temps: Let them start to gradually experience cooler temperatures (don’t shock them though). This temperature change will encourage growth to slow down (which will also help decrease water usage). Flats can be set outside in shady areas or covered with remay—they should be in the shade for at least 3-4 days, if you can allow them to be there a little longer, that’s great. Don’t cut this part out though! Wind: your plants will need to strengthen their stems in order to support themselves in the elements as they grow. This can be aided inside with a fan on very low, low, low (get it?) low setting to stimulate this cell wall strengthening; you can brush them lightly with your hand to simulate the wind. I like to do this every so often to force the plant to strengthen it’s stem as it’s growing so you get a much sturdier plant from the get go.Stage 2Finally, expose your plants fully to the environment and let them acclimate for several more days before planting out.Harden them off for about a week before planting so your seedlings can adjust to the elements.
  • Starting from Seed: The natural Gardener’s Guide to Propagating Plants was part of a gardening series published by the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. Beginner, with background information, very story-like.Seed Sowing and Saving: Step-by-Step Techniques for Collecting and Growing More Than 100 Vegetables, Flowers, and HerbsOrganized by the common name of the plant (for example, separate pages for broccoli, eggplant, and onions) with each ones special growing requirements. Good illustrations and line drawings! Highly recommended for beginner to semi-advanced gardeners, especially those who are interested in saving seed.Seed to Seed: Seed Saving and Growing Techniques for Vegetable Gardeners Actually copy written by SSE. Organized by Latin family names. Mostly written with seed saving in mind, does have a section for regional growing considerationsThe New Seed-Starters Handbook by Nancy Bubel has very good, practical information from on things from making your own homemade potting soil mixes to using coldframes. Also includes a section on saving seeds
  • [Slide 30] Questions?I would like to thank you for listening today. I encourage you to check out our website; there’s a lot of good information about our mission and seed preservation efforts. There’s also some really good webinars about subjects like seed saving and home germination testing that have been archived on our website.Does anyone have any questions?
  • Starting Seeds Indoors

    1. 1. Seed Starting Seed Savers Exchange 2013 Webinar Series Presented by Jennifer Zoch
    2. 2. Our mission is to save North America’s diverse, but endangered, garden heritage for future generations by building a network of people committed to collecting, conserving, and sharing heirloom seeds and plants, while educating people about the value of genetic and cultural diversity.
    3. 3. Why Should I Start From Seed?
    4. 4. Transplants 82 varieties sold at LGVC 23 varieties of tomatoes, peppers, groun d cherries available in the catalog Seeds 12,495 varieties in the seed exchange (Yearbook) 597 varieties in the commercial catalog
    5. 5. 1 transplant $1.75 at LGVC $3.00 in commercial catalog packet of 25 seeds $2.75 at LGVC and in the commercial catalog
    6. 6. earlier end product
    7. 7. long-season crops in short-season climates
    8. 8. Initial Planning
    9. 9. number of seeds
    10. 10. direct seeding vs. transplanting
    11. 11. *Source: Nancy Bubel’s The New Seed-Starters Handbook Onions 12-14 weeks before safe planting-out date Peppers 8-12 weeks before last frost Eggplant 6-8 weeks before last frost Tomatoes 6-8 weeks before last frost Lettuce 5-6 weeks before safe planting-out date Cole crops 5-6 weeks before safe planting-out date Cucumbers and melons 2-4 weeks before last frost
    12. 12. potting mix
    13. 13. containers
    14. 14. labeling
    15. 15. heat
    16. 16. light
    17. 17. sowing seed
    18. 18. seed coat epicotyl cotyledon seed anatomy
    19. 19. seed depth
    20. 20. Humidity water and humidity
    21. 21. growth phase
    22. 22. Troubleshooting
    23. 23. transplanting
    24. 24. hardening off
    25. 25. Recommended Reading Cutler, K.D. (1998) Starting from Seed: The Natural Gardener’s Guide to Propagating Plants Turner, C.B. (1998) Seed Sowing and Saving Ashworth, S. (2002) Seed to Seed: Seed Saving and Growing Techniques for Vegetable Gardeners Bubel, N. (1988) The New Seed-Starters Handbook Reilly, A. (1978) Park’s Success with Seeds
    26. 26. Thank you! Questions? 2013 Seed Savers Exchange Webinar Series For more information please visit these resources: Seed Savers Exchange website: Forum: Online Yearbook: To learn more about seed saving Read Suzanne Ashworth’s Seed-to-Seed Visit for the free publication, A Seed Saving Guide for Gardeners & Farmers
    27. 27. long-season crops
    28. 28. short-season crops