How to Grow Plants from Seed
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How to Grow Plants from Seed
Getting your plants started may seem, at first, a daunting process. But once you've taken that crucial, first step towards growing your own food, the best is yet to come.
You may have gotten your necessary materials together; pot, a packet of seeds, and soil.
You open your packet of seeds bury some seeds in the soil and water.
Then you wait and wait.
This stage of gardening can be the most frustrating and yet the one most rewarding for the patient gardener.
Sometimes you wait weeks, and nothing appears.
Sometimes many seedlings poke their way out of the soil.
However, this whole process can seem like alchemy when you're starting. If you are starting the seeds to transfer them outside, the process becomes even more confusing!
I've had whole flats of thriving seedlings I've transplanted outside die within two days of transplanting.
Hopefully the following 5 Steps to Seed Starting Success will help:
- Start Your Seeds using the "Grow the Biointensive" Way
- Start Your Seeds in Seedling Flats
- Space Your Seeds Correctly when Sowing
- Start Your Seeds at the Right Time
- Transplant Your Seeds Successfully
"Since I started implementing Biointensive techniques to start our seedlings, the stress of getting seeds into the garden has largely gone away."
1. Start your Seeds the "Grow Biointensive" Way
I'm pretty sure I'm not the only one who's suffered learning how to grow plants from seed.
I had limited success until I was directed to research "biointensive" growing (different than "biodynamic"), pioneered by John Jevons, founder of Ecology Action. His particular method in its entirety is called GROW BIOINTENSIVE and spelled out in that all-caps style means that you follow all the eight elements of the official technique.
The GROW BIOINTENSIVE method, although having some overlap with Permaculture principles, really stands out for its detailed research on starting seeds in flats and transplanting them efficiently into raised beds for maximum productivity.
When asked about the effectiveness of the GROW BIOINTENSIVE method, which is known to produce 2–6 times the yield with a fraction of the resources usually used to do the same, John Jeavons is the first to say,
1. Start your Seeds in Seedling Flats
The main takeaway I got from Jeavon's book, "How to Grow More Vegetables," is that the most effective way to start seedlings is in flats.
Long, shallow, rectangular trays such as the one shown below are best. They are often called 10/20 trays because of their size in inches.
"It is quite normal to plant 180-300 seeds in one flat."
3. Space Your Seeds Correctly When Sowing
4. Start Your Seeds at the Right Time
I start my seeds all year round.
Some people in temperate climates are surprised that they can grow outside of the warm seasons.
If you would like salads and harvest lettuce year-round, you can start your seeds every 2–3 weeks the first year. In the second year, you will find that as long as you harvest only the tops of the lettuce and leave the base for it to regrow, you can do so at much less frequency.
Of course, you should not start "cool weather crops" right before the summer. But you can start certain "cool weather crops" at the very end of summer, right before the fall, when the weather starts getting cool again. More on seasons "cool weather" and "warm weather" crops on the blog, "Planning your Planting Calendar"
Better yet, join our Monthly Garden Planning Sessions so you can be sure you are starting your seeds at the right time.
5. Transplant Your Seeds Successfully
- Make sure you harden off your transplants outside a few days before doing the transplant.
- Pick wet days to do the transplanting to reduce plant shock and
- Make sure that half the root and stem structure goes underneath the soil when performing the transplant.
After your seeds have:
- “Hardened off,” which means they have acclimated to the outdoor temperatures (hot or cold) and
- You see their first two true leaves unfurling,
You would then transplant them into your garden in a way that maximizes space.
To illustrate this principle, have you ever planted a tray of seeds according to the seed packet directions and are leftover with half a packet or more?
Or have you planted small seeds, broadcasted the seed around the tray, and ended up with patches of intense growth that you have to separate (usually unsuccessfully) to transplant?
This philosophy of maximizing space carries over into the garden when you transplant the seedlings outside.
Instead of transplanting in rows, biointensive recommendations are to plant using hexagonal spacing where the plants are close enough to touch their leaves when they are at full size.
In addition to allowing you to grow the most plants in the same space, the foliage as it develops will start to cover the bare exposed soil and significantly reduce the effects of evaporation.
Some More Seed Starting Tips
Since I started implementing biointensive techniques to start our seedlings, the stress of getting seeds into the garden has largely gone away.
I still have difficulties starting certain perennial plants from seed. Still, for most vegetables, flowers, and herbs, it's a simple, repeatable process that helps me focus more on seasonal timings and harvests.
There are a few additional tips on transplanting I'd like to point out:
- When you transplant a few tomato plants or squash, the technique doesn't matter that much because it only takes a few minutes to bury the roots and these plants are pretty good at adjusting to curling or bent roots.
- I like to use a dibber.
Shovel Technique (for many seedlings)
Digging deeper into how to grow your plants from seed
Check out the "Seed Starting Cheat-Sheet."
It summarizes information in this article and gives some links to good resources for further information.
Below, is a short video on how to start plants from seeds based on size.
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