Thursday, April 4, 2013

Seed starting

My husband and I enjoyed the orange blossom tomatoes I found at the Ames Farmers Market last year. So I decided to try to grow them from seed at home this spring.  I've made a couple other attempts at seed starting before, but never had much luck. Mostly because I wasn't very scientific about it.  I just planted seeds in the trays, put them near a window and hoped they grew.  But the seedlings were always spindly, or they would mold in the wet trays.

So this year, I did my homework and invested some cash to make it work.  When I've got money sunk into a project, I'm a little more committed to seeing it through.  I went to Earl May and bought a seedling heat mat ($40) and a 2-foot grow light ($90). Yes, I could have bought them cheaper online, but I liked buying them from a local store.  And my friend who is a master gardener told me that a grow light is a must and worth the investment.

I started out by planting mini lunchbox pepper seeds, a new veggie I would love to grow at home. Pepper seeds take longer to grow than tomatoes, so I started these seeds in mid-March, as recommended by Iowa State University Extension.  I've been following the seed starting instructions from ISU Extension, which are available online.

I'm using a seedling starting tray I got for free from Gurney's. I'm signed up for Gurney's emails, and the company offered a free 10-pod tray as a one-day special, as long as I paid the $4 shipping and handling costs.  I couldn't pass up the deal.

I placed the seedling tray in the basement, on top of the heat mat.  Unfortunately, our basement got too chilly when the March temperatures dipped below freezing, so the seeds didn't germinate a week after I planted them.  I moved the seedling tray upstairs, and the seeds germinated immediately.  A few of the seeds didn't make it, though, because they got moldy after sitting in the cold, damp basement.

I panicked when the seeds didn't pop up after a week, so I bought another seed starting tray at Wal-Mart to plant a second set of seeds.  It's a Burpee Eco-Tray, and it was only $2.  They are just peat-moss planters with a cardboard tray for catching the water.  Then I covered them with plastic wrap.  After just six days, the seeds started to germinate.  So I guess the $2 tray was worth the money!

So far, everything is looking good.  I've got the seedlings under the grow light now, and I'm trying to let the trays dry out a little before I water them, so I don't run into anymore mold problems.  I planted the tomato seeds this weekend, and I'll keep you updated on how it all turns out.  I figure if I can't make it work in time for spring planting, I'll try to grow broccoli, lettuce and cauliflower seeds this summer for fall planting.

Do you start seeds at home?  Any advice for a newbie?  I really want to make this work, so it's not just another expensive hobby.


  1. A grow light is a must? Goodness how DID the pioneers grow any food at all?

  2. I've been growing seeds for several years now and still learn new things all the time. It's a challenge I enjoy immensely. Make sure your lights are within 2-4 inches of the seedlings. Consider adding a small fan near the seedlings as they grow as the air movement makes them sturdier. I have people save me their plastic pots of all sizes from the plants they buy each spring and reuse these. I actually start my seeds in the plastic containers that you buy strawberries or cherry tomatoes in and then put them in individual pots when they get true leaves. I use 4 foot light fixtures from Menards and am experiementing with a variety of light tubes this year (grow bulbs, Warm and Cool combination, and full spectrum). I'm not seeing a lot of difference in performance and price wise if buying in bulk the warm and cool bulb combination is about half the price. Can you tell I love this topic?

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