How To Germinate Seeds and Grow Healthy Seedlings
1. When trying to figure out how to germinate seeds and grow healthy seedlings it is important to research your crop and read the seed packet if available.
My best advise is to start a spreadsheet with your crops and seedlings, and the following information. This will allow you to germinate seeds in the most efficient way.
Click HERE to download our Free Crop Research Template.
This is the exact template we use on the farm to research new crops and to keep information up to date. This information shows when and how to germinate seeds.
2. Once you have selected your seeds, you will want to sow into trays or cells.
I highly advise against the use of ‘peat pots’ as they are notoriously bad draining. You will never see a professional greenhouse using peat pots because they are not reliable, and peat moss is bad for the environment to unearth. I still use peat moss to germinate seed in small amounts, and when I am finished with my germination mix I always compost the leftover soil so that it may be reused in a garden bed or, as more potting mix.
What I do recommend for starting healthy plants is to use basic, re-usable plastic propagation cells with trays. This is where your crop research will be vital. Certain plants will need more or less room than others.
For Example here are some of the cell blocks tray sizes I prefer for certain crops that I have germinated before.
Lettuce – 200 cells
Tomato – 120 cells
Squash / Zucchini – 6 cells
3. Germination Mix Recipe!
You will want to start your seeds in a sterile well draining soil mixture. There are many products that may have similar results but in my personal experiences, nothing works better than your own custom recipes.
My own personal germination mix recipe
- 5 cups finely sieved Peat Moss
- 1 cup of Fine Vermiculite
- 1 heaping cup of Perlite
- 1/4 cup of Garden Lime
- 1 level cup Composted Cow Manure
- Mix well.
You can scale this recipe up and make gallons of it at a time. I highly recommend using a 1/2 inch screen to sieve the peat moss, or a stainless steel colander might work well. You want to compost and discard the leftover large chunks of peat moss. They will inhibit germination. You want a well-draining soil mixture that is an ideal environment for a seed to shoot its roots down.
4. How to Start The Seeds
Refer to your crop research.
Consider how deep you may need to plant your seed. Some plants want to be uncovered, and others may require a certain depth. burying all seeds about 1/4 inch deep is usually a safe bet. I have found that seed depth is not always important. I’ve started seeds burred in the pots and right on the surface. Both will work.
Fill your seedling cells with soil, and pack it fairly tight without over filling it.
Consider lighting. Many plants want a well ventilated area, some will require warmth. Many will require complete darkness, and for others, light will aid germination. Amaranth, Lavender, and Eggplant are an example of crops where light may aid germination. Once your sprout appears it will want to be in direct light.
Natural lighting is of course one of many ways this can be acheived. You can grow starts successfully in a well-ventilated warm window.
In my experience many seedlings want a 60 to 75 degree area to germinate.
You can use your sunlit window, a growing rack, or even a warm laundry room with a fluorescent light set up.
Some tomatoes and peppers will require additional heating to germinate the seedlings.
I always use T12 fluorescent bulbs for seedlings and plant starts. So far I have had great results so I am pleased to share this information with my readers. The bulbs only put off minimum heat, which is in a way helpful sometimes. The main concern is timing. Give seedlings about 16 hours of light a day, and they will be very happy. You can grab a cheap and efficient light timer like the one below. I use the same one for my newly started seedlings.
This is very important, always bottom water your plants using the bottom tray and discard the leftover water. Do not allow stagnant water to sit for more than an hour in your bottom tray. Allowing water to sit in your freshly germinated seedlings will cause fungal growth, and lead to plant issues.
5. Hardening Off
On the last week of your seedlings time in the germination tray, you will want to introduce it to the light for an hour a day for 7 days and slightly reduce watering. Increase that time by another hour everyday until on the 7th day and 7 hours has been achieved, your seedling should be hardy enough to survive the transplant outdoors. Be careful when reducing water as the direct sunlight can try cell trays out quicker. They have less soil than most pots and trays.
6. Maintaining healthy outdoor soil
For more information on bed and soil prep and how to maintain healthy soil outdoors refer to this article.
If you have any questions for this article, please let me know down below using the contact form.
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