For many home gardeners, starting seeds indoors is great fun. Successfully growing seedlings indoors requires high quality seeds, a germination medium, containers, lights, and other supplies.
Flower and vegetable seeds can be purchased at local garden centers. They're also available from mail-order companies. Mail-order sources include Stokes Seeds , Box 548, Buffalo, New York 14240; Park's Seeds , 1 Parkton Avenue, Greenwood, South Carolina 29647; Johnny's Selected Seeds , 955 Benton Avenue, Winslow, Maine 04901; Harris Seeds , Box 24966, Rochester, New York 14624; and many others.
Germination media should be lightweight, porous, and free of pathogens. Excellent seed-starting media are commercially prepared soilless mixes, such as Jiffy Mix or Redi-Earth. Use a high quality, well-drained potting mix when transplanting seedlings into individual pots or cell packs.
Various containers can be used to germinate and grow transplants. Gardeners can purchase flats, trays, pots, compressed peat pellets, and other products. Previously used flats, trays, and pots should be cleaned and disinfected before use. Wash the containers in soapy water, then disinfect them in a solution of one part chlorine bleach and nine parts water. Cut-off milk cartons, plastic jugs, paper cups, plastic food boxes, and other containers can also be used to start seeds.
Uniform moisture levels are required for optimum seed germination. To maintain uniform moisture levels, place clear, plastic, food wrap over the containers. Flats can also be covered with clear, plastic domes.
While plants can be grown in sunny windows, they often become tall and spindly because of insufficient light. For best results, grow seedlings under fluorescent lights. Light stands are great, but can be a little expensive. A standard fluorescent shop fixture containing two 40-watt tubes is a much cheaper alternative. For best results, place one cool white and one warm white tube in each fixture. The fluorescent lights should be no more than 4 to 6 inches above the seedlings. A timer can be used to turn the lights on and off.
Most seed packets provide germination and cultural information for the crop. Oftentimes, however, the information is rather brief. For many home gardeners, a reference book with more detailed information is an indispensable resource. The "Ball Culture Guide: The Encyclopedia of Seed Germination" by Jim Nau is an excellent book for home gardeners and commercial growers. The book provides germination temperatures, light requirements, germination times, growing temperatures, and crop times for over 300 seed-grown crops. These crops include annuals, perennials, vegetables, and ornamental grasses. "Burpee Seed Starter: A Guide to Growing Flower, Vegetable, and Herb Seeds Indoors and Outdoors" by Maureen Heffernan is another helpful book.
A few other materials are also helpful. A rubber bulb sprinkler is a handy watering aid. The sprinkler produces a gentle spray which won t dislodge the seedlings or wash away the potting mix.
Most seeds germinate best when the medium temperature is consistently 70 to 75 degrees F. Placing containers in a warm location in the house, such as on top of a radiator or near a heat register, usually works fine. In cool environments, electric heating cables or mats can be used to insure warm medium temperature.
This article originally appeared in the 1/16/2004 issue.