Ask a Question forum: Starting seeds for the first time

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oscarsgirl2
Dec 19, 2014 1:32 AM CST
Any wisdom out there I need to know. Ron purchased a 5 ft tall, 4 ft wide or so baby greenhouse and it has 4 shelves and covered in plastic with a zippered door. I think it is the perfect gift. I am sure once I get going it will be great. Why I am scared I just do not know. I have planted seeds in the garden many times and raised many a garden. Some great and some not so great. Our aquaponics system needs more plants and lots of them. I just hope I am not starting to late to help the nitrates in our system.

Using the count of 4 plants for each one inch of fish, I am really lacking.

Any words of encouragement will be greatly appreciated.

Oscarsgirl2
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Name: Jennifer
48036 MI (Zone 6b)
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jvdubb
Dec 19, 2014 12:25 PM CST
Don't know where you are located. So that would be a factor on what and when to start in your new gift.

I would try to find some very cheap seeds and experiment.

I only tried sowing seeds inside a couple times. My biggest challenge was keeping them from drying out.

Good luck! Have fun with it
Name: Ken Ramsey
Starkville, MS (Zone 8a)
[url=www.tropicalplantsandmore.com]
Orchids Greenhouse Vegetable Grower Ferns Region: United States of America Hummingbirder
Composter Bromeliad Master Gardener: Mississippi Cat Lover Tropicals Plumerias
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drdawg
Dec 19, 2014 12:43 PM CST
I start many doz. seeds every winter in my "Everything Else" greenhouse, but have never done any hydroponic growing (is aquaponic the same thing?).
drdawg (Ken Ramsey) - Tropical Plants & More
[url=www.tropicalplantsandmore.com]www.tropicalplantsandmore.com[/url]
If God wanted me to touch my toes, he would have put them on my knees.
Name: Rick Corey
Everett WA 98204 (Zone 8a)
Sunset Zone 5. Koppen Csb. Eco 2f
I helped beta test the first seed swap Plant and/or Seed Trader Seed Starter Region: Pacific Northwest Photo Contest Winner: 2014 Vegetable Grower
Avid Green Pages Reviewer Garden Ideas: Master Level Garden Sages I was one of the first 300 contributors to the plant database! I helped plan and beta test the plant database. Charter ATP Member
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RickCorey
Dec 19, 2014 2:43 PM CST
Oscarsgirl2,

Congratulations! Seed starting can be very rewarding as well as economical. And you can start unusual varieties that you might not find as plants. One way to leverage seed starting is to deliberately start more plants than you will ever need. Then trade them or give them away to neighbors and friends. Or sell them, or hold a charity event where people buy plants at reduced prices.

I start seeds in trays under lights in my bedroom, so I see every stage of the miracle and can fiddle with them to my heart's content.

I think that "greenhouse" and "indoor seed starting" are two very different things, even if you start seeds in a greenhouse.

I suggest that you learn how to control the temperature and humidity in your greenhouse before starting difficult seeds out there. Overwintering plants, or hardening off young plants in a greenhouse would be two ways to "learn" how to "drive" the greenhouse before learning what method of starting seeds you like best. I assume you have either vents or a flap that have to be opened when the sun is strong, and closed at night and on cloudy days.

Really, though, I have no experience with greenhouses, only with indoor seed starting.

I think the key things for seed starting are:

Provide enough drainage and aeration and don't over-water. Don't use a peat-based seedling mix unless it DRAINS WELL and holds more air than water. If you do have much peat in your mix, or a fine-grained mix, or no large air channels in the mix, never over-water AT ALL. Under-water by so much that the roots always have access to air.

The surface of the soil is a special case: you wish it could stay very dry, to prevent damping-off. That's why I scatter some largish bark chunks onto the soil surface after I finish sowing seeds. The bark covers the soil and hold humidity in, even though the surface dries out and prevents damping off. Medium-size seedlings can push through and between small bark chunks, but not tiny seed plants like petunia and lobelia. They need to be surface-sowed. You can add small bark nuggets after they emerge.

Just never let the seeds get all-the-way-dry, below the surface layer, after they have started absorbing water.

Also, don't leave seedlings in small cells too long. They need root space or they'll give up. Pot them up while they are still small and growing vigorously (like before they are 3 inches tall, and before they have 2-4 pairs of true leaves.

Also, as soon as you see any green part emerge from the soil: they need light!. If they don't get strong light,

People worry about seed-starting mixes being very fine, but I don't agree with that at all. Coarse seed-starting mixes have more air, which is crucial if you don't want roots to drown or suffocate. Almost anything holds enough humidity for germination, especially if there is any fine bark or any peat in the mix. Covering with plastic means you don't need to mist or bottom-water or water the soil in the time it takes to germinate.

I'm bad - I tend to spray the surface with water every day, so I need a quick-drying surface material to avoid damping-off (medium size pine bark, or some use grit or coarse Perlite on the surface).
Name: Rick Corey
Everett WA 98204 (Zone 8a)
Sunset Zone 5. Koppen Csb. Eco 2f
I helped beta test the first seed swap Plant and/or Seed Trader Seed Starter Region: Pacific Northwest Photo Contest Winner: 2014 Vegetable Grower
Avid Green Pages Reviewer Garden Ideas: Master Level Garden Sages I was one of the first 300 contributors to the plant database! I helped plan and beta test the plant database. Charter ATP Member
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RickCorey
Dec 19, 2014 2:54 PM CST
There are many styles of seed starting. You should pick one that suits your inclinations, or try several on a small scale and perhaps be surprised by what turns out to be easy or pleasurable for you.

I like to watch and fuss over my seedling trays. As soon as they emerge, they need the plastic cover removed. 100% humidity encourages damping off (soil fungus that attacks the seedling stem).

Once the seedlings emerge, I don't have enough room to pot them all up, so I wish I had a greenhouse or cold frame to harden off the seedlings.


1. wintersowing -

Start seeds in small covered containers or cut-up milk jugs outdoors in winter or early spring. Just leave the containers outdoors in the shade so they don't "cook" some sunny Noon-time. When the weather warms up, the seeds will sprout when the warmth INSIDE the containers meets their needs. They will need some hardening off when you take them out of the jugs.

This is an easy way to provide cold, moist stratification for perennial flowers that need that.

Many or most WS-ers sow so thickly that they can only break up the seedling mat into "chunks" and they plant out 5-50 seedlings in each chunk. That also works better with flowers than vegetables.

But you should ask someone who does a lot of WS for the tricks of the trade. Many people say passionately that this is the easiest way to start seeds.


2. seed flats: pricking out & potting up -

Broadcast many seeds onto a shallow flat. You can fill an 11x21" tray with one variety of seed, or use pots as small as 4"x4" to start many seedlings rather close together. There are 11x21 flats available with 20 small "rows" if you also consider that a "seed flat".

Cover the flat with plastic to hold in humidity. Maybe provide a heat mat if the seeds need warmth. Provide light or darkness according to the seed's dormancy requirements.

You have to "prick out" the best seedlings before their roots get big enough to tangle tightly - probably when the seedlings only have cotyledons or 1-2 pair of real leaves. Then "pot them up" into larger pots and grow them on for a while before hardening off and transplanting.

That's what I dislike about this method: you have to untangle seedling roots and that gives me the heebie-jeebies. I'm afraid that I'll kill the seedlings by touching the "tender" roots or just exposing them to light and dry air.

Others tell me that I'm silly: that they just rip those seedlings out casually and pot them up and plenty survive unharmed.

I think "flats" are the best way to start LOTS of plants. They take up almost no room at all until you prick them out and pot them up. You might start seeds indoors, under lights, in flats, until they are ready to pot up. Then move the 4" pots out to the greenhouse and natural light after they adapt to being potted up.


3. small cells - plug trays, propagation trays, inserts, or trays of small pots.

I love "propagation trays", "plug trays" and "inserts". You start just one seedling per cell and never have to untangle any tiny roots. Just pop out the root ball and plant it whole, no "pricking out".

Inserts are flimsy plastic that can be torn apart into "6-packs" or "4-packs". Big box stores sell small plants in these "inserts". An 11"x21" insert tray would have 72, 50, 32 or some other number of inserts. The inserts are very flimsy so you need to support them with a "1020 tray", usually with no holes, so they hold water. I re-use inserts, usually the 72-per-tray size. I think most people throw inserts away after each use.

"Propagation trays" or "plug trays" are much more sturdy and support their own weight. I plan to re-use my prop trays forever. You can use plug trays without anything under them, if you're willing to have muddy water drip on your shelving.

(Plug tray = propagation tray = prop tray, as far as I know. maybe there is some subtle distinction.)

They usually have smaller cells and more per tray, so you can start nearly as many seeds as you can with flats. I have 11"x21" plug trays with 50, 72, 128 and 200 cells. You can buy plug trays with 288 cells! The tray has 12 rows by 24 columns.

The advantage of inserts and plug trays over flats is that you start 1-2 seeds in each insert or cell. Then you cut all but the best seedling in each cell. Let the best seedling grow in each cell until it is sturdy enough to pot up, or until it is almost root-bound in its cell. Then pot out

If you prefer to avoid "potting up", you can transplant directly from plug trays into the soil. That plan goes best with largish cells, like 72 or 50 per tray. You can find inserts with as few as 18 cells per tray - around 3.5 inches each. I tend to use those only as mini-flats, sowing multiple seeds per insert cell and forcing myself to prick them out young.


4. start in pots

You can start seeds directly in small pots or large inserts. Most people plant multiple seeds per pot and keep only the best ones. If they pricked out some of the rejected seedlings from the pot, and potted them up to keep them, then technically the small pot was really a "small seedling flat".

I think that any of these schemes could be done outside in a greenhouse, as long as you check them frequently. My inclination is to start seeds indoors under lights, fuss over them obsessively, and then move them outside when I need more room in my seed-starting shelf.

5. Deno Method: germinate on a damp paper towel in a plastic baggie

You can start seeds on damp paper towels (inside baggies to keep the humidity high). As soon as the root emerges (the radical), plant the seed shallowly, root down, in a 4" pot. let it establish itself in soil before hardening off.

This can be combined with refrigerator stratification, and it works well for seeds that might need weeks or months to germinate. It's easy to do this method very cleanly or even with near-sterility, so the risk of rotting is less than in soil.
Name: Ken Ramsey
Starkville, MS (Zone 8a)
[url=www.tropicalplantsandmore.com]
Orchids Greenhouse Vegetable Grower Ferns Region: United States of America Hummingbirder
Composter Bromeliad Master Gardener: Mississippi Cat Lover Tropicals Plumerias
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drdawg
Dec 19, 2014 3:53 PM CST
Good info, Rick. I agree

Personally, I prefer and generally use plug trays, either the 72 or 98 cell ones. I typically only start a dozen of a particular plant and just stick a plastic label in a forward cell so I know what's what.
drdawg (Ken Ramsey) - Tropical Plants & More
[url=www.tropicalplantsandmore.com]www.tropicalplantsandmore.com[/url]
If God wanted me to touch my toes, he would have put them on my knees.
Name: Rick Corey
Everett WA 98204 (Zone 8a)
Sunset Zone 5. Koppen Csb. Eco 2f
I helped beta test the first seed swap Plant and/or Seed Trader Seed Starter Region: Pacific Northwest Photo Contest Winner: 2014 Vegetable Grower
Avid Green Pages Reviewer Garden Ideas: Master Level Garden Sages I was one of the first 300 contributors to the plant database! I helped plan and beta test the plant database. Charter ATP Member
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RickCorey
Dec 19, 2014 4:21 PM CST
6x12 and 7x14 trays are practical sizes for many purposes. I guess you go from the cell to the final plant pot, not into the ground?

>> I typically only start a dozen of a particular plant

I don't think I ever start an entire 11"x21" tray of all-one-plant! I always cut my prop trays up into 4-5 chunks or slices so they are easier to swap around as some plants emerge or need potting up before others. Like you, I start a few rows of each thing. I label one cell in each row with a mini-blind slat cut in half the skinny way. Those slats also hold plastic film up off the soil surface.

Although I have started a whole tray of the genus Salvia: a few rows of each species or cultivar.
Name: Ken Ramsey
Starkville, MS (Zone 8a)
[url=www.tropicalplantsandmore.com]
Orchids Greenhouse Vegetable Grower Ferns Region: United States of America Hummingbirder
Composter Bromeliad Master Gardener: Mississippi Cat Lover Tropicals Plumerias
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drdawg
Dec 19, 2014 4:33 PM CST
Yes, I am basically growing "plugs" of plants and will pot them or plant them in the raised garden in the spring.
drdawg (Ken Ramsey) - Tropical Plants & More
[url=www.tropicalplantsandmore.com]www.tropicalplantsandmore.com[/url]
If God wanted me to touch my toes, he would have put them on my knees.
Name: Rick Corey
Everett WA 98204 (Zone 8a)
Sunset Zone 5. Koppen Csb. Eco 2f
I helped beta test the first seed swap Plant and/or Seed Trader Seed Starter Region: Pacific Northwest Photo Contest Winner: 2014 Vegetable Grower
Avid Green Pages Reviewer Garden Ideas: Master Level Garden Sages I was one of the first 300 contributors to the plant database! I helped plan and beta test the plant database. Charter ATP Member
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RickCorey
Dec 19, 2014 4:56 PM CST
Wow! How long do you keep seedlings happy in a 72-cell tray or 98-cell tray?

With vegetables, I feel like I should plant out cells that small within a few weeks of emergence.

Name: Ken Ramsey
Starkville, MS (Zone 8a)
[url=www.tropicalplantsandmore.com]
Orchids Greenhouse Vegetable Grower Ferns Region: United States of America Hummingbirder
Composter Bromeliad Master Gardener: Mississippi Cat Lover Tropicals Plumerias
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drdawg
Dec 19, 2014 5:12 PM CST
Don't forget I have greenhouses, Rick. I would guess that it takes 1-2 weeks for most to germinate and then I let them grow in their plug-trays for an average of a month. I then will transplant the majority to 2-3" pots or larger plug trays (larger compartments, not trays). I sell many of my plants and some will go into the raised garden in March/April. Those that will be sold will ultimately be growing in 1 gal. pots. I will thus move the plants from those 2-3" pots to 4-5" ones and then into gal. pots.

drdawg (Ken Ramsey) - Tropical Plants & More
[url=www.tropicalplantsandmore.com]www.tropicalplantsandmore.com[/url]
If God wanted me to touch my toes, he would have put them on my knees.
Name: Rick Corey
Everett WA 98204 (Zone 8a)
Sunset Zone 5. Koppen Csb. Eco 2f
I helped beta test the first seed swap Plant and/or Seed Trader Seed Starter Region: Pacific Northwest Photo Contest Winner: 2014 Vegetable Grower
Avid Green Pages Reviewer Garden Ideas: Master Level Garden Sages I was one of the first 300 contributors to the plant database! I helped plan and beta test the plant database. Charter ATP Member
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RickCorey
Dec 19, 2014 5:30 PM CST
>> I let them grow in their plug-trays for an average of a month. I then will transplant the majority to 2-3" pots or larger plug trays (larger compartments, not trays).

Ahhhh! Then we have almost the same experience. I can see where a reasonably slow-growing plant could stay in a 72-cell or 98-cell for around 4 weeks without potting up.

I always try to get the deepest plug trays I can find. I guess professionals don't feel the need, but I figure that any extra soil volume I can provide while not overflowing my one light shelf, is a Good Thing.
Name: Ken Ramsey
Starkville, MS (Zone 8a)
[url=www.tropicalplantsandmore.com]
Orchids Greenhouse Vegetable Grower Ferns Region: United States of America Hummingbirder
Composter Bromeliad Master Gardener: Mississippi Cat Lover Tropicals Plumerias
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drdawg
Dec 19, 2014 7:00 PM CST
I agree Thumbs up
drdawg (Ken Ramsey) - Tropical Plants & More
[url=www.tropicalplantsandmore.com]www.tropicalplantsandmore.com[/url]
If God wanted me to touch my toes, he would have put them on my knees.
Name: Donald
Eastland county, Texas (Zone 8a)
Region: Texas Enjoys or suffers hot summers Raises cows Plant Identifier
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needrain
Dec 19, 2014 7:10 PM CST
Good post Rick,

"3. small cells - plug trays, propagation trays, inserts, or trays of small pots"

Any chance you have photos of these? The first three especially. I 'think' I can visualize a tray of small pots, but who knows? Do you find these at a big box store or some specialty supplier? I haven't noticed any of these offered out in the boonies and haven't thought to look for them when I've visited the bigger cities.

I've started seeds indoors. Usually with good success, but sometimes damping off has been a problem on really young seedlings. I know really good air circulation helps with that. I've been known to set an oscillating fan in the vicinity in the past.
Donald
Name: Caroline Scott
Calgary (Zone 4a)
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CarolineScott
Dec 19, 2014 9:49 PM CST
How you choose to start seeds,---- depends too some extent on the germination characteristics of the particular seed/plant. There are data bases to help with this.
Name: woofie
NE WA (Zone 5a)
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woofie
Dec 20, 2014 10:26 AM CST
Just a word of caution on those plastic covered greenhouses: A strong wind will pull that cover off in no time! I think I have the exact same one, bought as an overflow area for when the tomato plants get out of control (as they always do!). If you get much wind where you are, you'll need to come up with a better way to secure the cover.

Other than that, Rick has provided some very thorough information on seed starting in general. We could be more helpful if you mentioned what plants you were planning on starting. Smiling
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Name: Sandy B.
Ford River, Michigan UP (Zone 4b)
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Weedwhacker
Dec 20, 2014 7:50 PM CST
@oscarsgirl2 -- although RickCorey has provided a LOT of good info about seed starting, I'm not actually sure what your question is... in another post you said you have a large greenhouse with the aquaponics system, so I'm a little confused as to why you would want to use the mini GH for seed starting. A very small GH like that is very hard to regulate the temperature in. So... maybe you could be a little more specific as to what you want to know? Smiling
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Name: Rick Corey
Everett WA 98204 (Zone 8a)
Sunset Zone 5. Koppen Csb. Eco 2f
I helped beta test the first seed swap Plant and/or Seed Trader Seed Starter Region: Pacific Northwest Photo Contest Winner: 2014 Vegetable Grower
Avid Green Pages Reviewer Garden Ideas: Master Level Garden Sages I was one of the first 300 contributors to the plant database! I helped plan and beta test the plant database. Charter ATP Member
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RickCorey
Dec 21, 2014 9:52 PM CST
Donald,

Adding a small, intermittent fan also helped me avoid damping off. But I think the fast-drying soil surface helped the most.

I have some photos of trays, inserts, and prop trays in a blog post, but I don't know how to create a link to just one post within a blog.

Does this "permalink" work?
http://garden.org/blogs/entry/850/

Or, if you go to my blog, page down to near the bottom to see this post.

Maybe you can go here, and then search for the title?

http://garden.org/blogs/view/RickCorey
Title:
"Plug Trays, Inserts and 1020 Trays"
Date:
[Last edited by RickCorey - Dec 21, 2014 9:54 PM (+)]
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Name: Donald
Eastland county, Texas (Zone 8a)
Region: Texas Enjoys or suffers hot summers Raises cows Plant Identifier
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needrain
Dec 22, 2014 8:21 AM CST
Thanks Rick,

The links worked great. Things I'm familiar with now have names - if I can remember Smiling . My own seed starting generally isn't that professional or that organized and, undoubtedly, probably not as successful. I really did like the info on wicking. I haven't tried anything like that. Thanks again.
Donald
Name: Elaine
South Sarasota, Florida (Zone 9b)
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dyzzypyxxy
Dec 22, 2014 10:16 AM CST
Burpees sell a seed starting tray that has a wicking mat under the tray. Seemed to work really well. http://www.burpee.com/seed-starting/ I've used mine two years in a row now.

I hardly ever have problems with damping off, even here with high humidity! I always water with chlorinated tap water, which I am sure helps. I used to be religious about watering my orchids and other sensitive plants with rainwater, but the orchids suffered plagues of diseases of a fungal nature so I stopped. Improved things immensely.

I'm sure that we just have every fungus known to man happily floating around in the air here. When it rains the spores are washed down, and of course I collect them in my rain barrels and cisterns. Now I just use that water for my veggies (after they are past the transplant stage, and for my Earth Boxes (bottom watered).
Elaine

"Success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm." –Winston Churchill
Name: Rick Corey
Everett WA 98204 (Zone 8a)
Sunset Zone 5. Koppen Csb. Eco 2f
I helped beta test the first seed swap Plant and/or Seed Trader Seed Starter Region: Pacific Northwest Photo Contest Winner: 2014 Vegetable Grower
Avid Green Pages Reviewer Garden Ideas: Master Level Garden Sages I was one of the first 300 contributors to the plant database! I helped plan and beta test the plant database. Charter ATP Member
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RickCorey
Dec 22, 2014 12:09 PM CST
I went Hog-Wild about wicking seedling trays in this article:

http://garden.org/ideas/view/RickCorey/646/Bottom-Watering-S...

But bear in mind that I'm a total nut-job about soil aeration and drainage. Most people seem able to start seedlings indoors without wicking gadgets and super-coarse seedling mix. They just (somehow) avoid over-watering.

After killing most of many trays of seedlings indoors by over-watering, during my first three years of indoor seed-starting, I've learned to jump through several hoops until I master the art of NOT over-watering.

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