By Jennifer Ruisch
It’s the time of year when green thumbs start itching, and a really productive way to scratch that itch is to start your seeds indoors. There are a lot of advantages to this method versus purchasing seedlings later on. By starting with seeds, you have way more choices in terms of plant varieties, and it’s of course much more economical.
Time is on your side with this approach as well—you’ll be ready to set your plants outside as soon as weather permits, and you’ll get the longest growing season possible. Which means more tomatoes and peppers and whatever else floats your boat.
Grow trays are designed especially for starting seeds or cuttings, and there are even “smart” versions that ensure that your air-to-water ration remains ideal. You set the grow pods inside the styrofoam tray with a channel leading from the bottom of the pod to the surface of the water. The smart tray adjusts to the moisture needs of your seeds and removes the guesswork.
There are grow trays that come with a plastic dome to maintain humidity and warmth, creating a mini-greenhouse environment for fragile newborn plants. They’re available in several different sizes, so you can put together a setup to exactly suit your needs.
The heat is on: seeds need it, and you’ve gotta give it to ‘em. Being little ectotherms, plants rely on the ambient temperature to perform their metabolic tasks. The higher the temps, the faster the metabolism, the more the little seedlings grow (up to a point—too high of a temp and they turn to mush…ask me how I know). Delicate little seedlings or small clones thrive with additional warmth from heat mats, which are available in several sizes to suit your needs.
If ‘add water and grow’ describes your approach, you can find self-contained seed starting hot house setups that include a heat mat.
Seedlings need light, and if your setup doesn’t include a lot of natural light, you need to supplement it with a gentle overhead light source. There are lighting rigs that include a pulley system to allow you to adjust the height of the bulb as your seedlings grow taller. You can choose to expose your seedlings to 24 hour light, or to mimic nature and give them a short rest at night.
The two-foot lighting system fits perfectly over the mini-greenhouse, which fits over the heat mat—I like to call this the Spring Sandwich. Heat mat on the bottom, grow house in the middle, light above. By following this tried and true pattern of moisture control, heat and light, you can assure yourself a fatty yield come summer. It’ll guarantee your seed survival in a way starting them on a wet paper towel in the windowsill, third grade style, never could. Get started early enough, and you’ll be the envy of your neighbors as you sit outside munching your fresh tomatoes while they’re busy trying to keep the neighborhood cats from digging up their teeny defenseless seedlings. Go ahead, make ‘em jealous.