26 August 2013

Starting Seeds Inside

Seeds are so much cheaper than seedlings. A packet of seeds will cost anywhere between $1 - $4, a punnet of seedlings costs $2.95+. You'll have a lot of seeds in a packet compared to an average of 8 seedlings in the punnet.

It simply makes frugal sense to buy packets of the seeds you want to grow and grow our food from scratch.  It makes even more frugal sense to learn how to save the seed from the plants you grow from seed and really have free food, but we'll talk about that in another post.

Most seeds need to be started in a mild, controlled climate and allowed to grow a little before being hardened off and then planted in the garden and starting them indoors gives a much better germination rate and grows stronger, healthier plants that will transplant easily.

About this time every year I go a little seed crazy and start:
  • Tomatoes 
  • Zucchini
  • Cucumber
  • Mini cabbages
  • Mini cauliflower
  • Broccoli
  • Silverbeet
  • Spinach
  • Pumpkin
  • Watermelon
  • Rockmelon
Growing from seed takes time and requires dedication so choose vegetables, herbs and flowers you really love or you may just lose enthusiasm and then the whole project will be a waste of time and money. 

Remember that plants are not naturally indoor things, they don't especially like the light or the atmosphere so you need to cater to their particular whims.  To start your seeds inside you'll need a nice sunny window, a greenhouse (you can buy portable outdoor greenhouses for around $40 from hardware stores, nurseries or eBay), a cold frame (you can easily make one yourself) or a grow light (and you can make these yourself too).

I use a sunny window in the family room to start seeds. The pots are laid in litter trays ($2 each from The Reject Shop) that I sit in front of the window. The trays are half filled with wet sand which acts as wicking to water the seed pots from the bottom, a much gentler option that watering from the top.

Another thing I do, that's not strictly necessary, is make my own seed raising mix, a modified recipe based on Mel's Mix.   http://extra.cheapskates.com.au/pages/default.cfm?page_id=42818 I use 1 part compost, 1 part coarse sand, 1 part peat moss and 1 part worm castings. I use a sieve to sift it all so the end result is a nice, fine mixture. The compost and worm castings come from the backyard, the and I buy the sand and peat moss as I need it.

You can buy seed raising trays but they're plastic, tend to be flimsy and I find them fiddly. Instead I use egg cartons, egg shells (poke a hole in the bottom for drainage), toilet roll tubes or newspaper pots. These things are all free, but the biggest advantage for me is that they can be put straight into the garden, where they'll break down naturally. There's no need to disturb tiny root systems for planting, reducing the chance of transplant shock and the chance of spreading disease by re-using plastic pots and trays.

To plant your seeds water your seed raising mixture. I like it to be damp but not soggy. Then fill your seed pots to within 5mm of the top. Press the seed mix down, leaving a small indent in the centre. Drop in your seed. I am stingy with the seeds, I only ever put 1 to a pot. I think the norm is to put 2 or 3 seeds in and choose the strongest plant, discarding the others. To me that's a waste of a perfectly good plant, so one seed to one pot. Gently cover the seed with a little soil mixture, levelling it off with the top of the pot.  Label the pot with the date and the veggie so you know what it is and when it's time to transplant to the garden.

When all your pots are filled, sit them on the wet sand. Add a little more water, just until you see the water wicking out of the sand. The pots will absorb the water from the sand, watering the tiny seeds from the bottom up. They'll be able to absorb the moisture they need, reducing the need for you to watch them constantly.

Sit the trays in your sunny window and watch your food start to grow.

When your plants are ready for the garden (check the times on your seed packet, it varies from plant variety to variety) you can take your biodegradable pot and put it straight into your garden bed.

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