What we’re doing differently this year with seed starting

Learning has been a big part of this whole gardening thing that we’ve been doing. During our hibernation months, we take time to figure out what went wrong (and right) that past season and then figure out how to improve things in the next season. Starting at the beginning of the process with seed starting, here are some changes we’ll be instituting this year:

  1. Start seeds later
    For the past few years, we’ve been starting seeds the last weekend in February. This year, we decided to see what happens if we push things up a week and start seeds the first weekend in March. A mere seven days might not seem like it’d make much difference, but we want to see if we might be able to time out spring transplanting a little better. Before last year, our seedlings were ready to transplant way before the garden (and weather) was ready. Last year, we had such problems getting the seeds to take at all that it seemed like were were starting new seeds every few weeks. This year we want to see if we can structure things a little better, so we’re planning for a six- to eight-week block for the seeds from the start of March to mid- or late-April.
  2. Change up the seed lighting
    For lighting the seeds, we’ve been using florescent plant lights. And they’ve been great and easy to use. But last year, late in the seed-starting cycle, we added a full-spectrum bulb to one of the shelves, and it actually worked better than we expected for the few tomatoes seedlings that we finally got to take. So this year we’re going to add more full-spectrum bulbs and see if they help even further.
  3. Start fewer types of seeds
    Truth be told, we know that we’ve gone a  little overboard with the number of seeds we’ve prepared each year (4 trays of 72 cups each — that’s a lot of plants!). Not all of those seeds did well when transplanted, and many died before they got even that far. So this year we’re going to focus on starting only tomato and pepper seeds indoors, along with a few flowers. We’re going to plant greens, lettuces, kale, romanesco, and a few other things directly outside after the first frost, rather than start them indoors as we have been doing. We’ve learned that we have much better luck with direct-sowing these plants. Whether or not we do 4 full trays of just tomatoes and peppers (and flowers) remain to be seen.
  4. Add more heat (in short spurts)
    With the way the weather has been going (i.e. unseasonable and unpredictable), we’ve been faced with the challenge of how to keep the seeds warm enough inside. We have heat mats, and they do okay for the tomatoes, but they’re just not warm enough for warm-loving seeds like peppers. Last year we tried keeping the seeds warm by covering the shelving unit in mylar. It actually worked great for awhile, but only ended up cooking most of the poor seedlings in the end. So this year we’re going to try using a few of our portable heaters to keep warm the general vicinity around the seeds. We only plan to do this for a an hour or two a day or every other day, and only if the temperature outside take a dip. The room that the seeds are in also contains a large sliding glass door, and it’s really good at sapping the room of its heat. So we may also temporarily insulate it until the outdoor temps become steadily warm.

As with all plans, they may change. Thankfully, gardening is a flexible hobby, and we have plenty of room for improvement and experimentation. So next week we’ll be taking a look at the things we’ll be doing differently outside. Again, we have some ideas, but it’s been so miserable outside lately that it’s been hard to imagine how they might work. We suppose that step one will be to simply clean up the yard, which has taken a beating this winter…and the winter’s not over yet!

But boy, do we wish it was!


5 thoughts on “What we’re doing differently this year with seed starting

  1. carolee 02/15/2017 / 9:48 am

    How wise of you to actually investigate your mistakes, and then make plausible changes to improve matters. Too often, folks recognize failure, but just throw up their hands and declare they have brown thumbs! I’ll be interested to hear your evaluations of the changes. Have a great season.

    • Garden State-ments 02/15/2017 / 11:52 am

      Thanks! We must admit that after the problems we had last year with some of the seeds simply not taking, we did consider throwing in the towel (at least for a year – maybe we just needed a break). But then along comes the promise of a new year and fresh start, and it seems all too silly to not at least try again. Even if we get nothing but a couple crops again, it’s all about learning and doing!

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