Extend your growing season by starting seeds indoors

The first day of spring is on March 20.

For gardeners, that means we are eagerly flipping through seed catalogs and planning this year’s garden. We can’t wait to put our hands in the dirt.

The good news is that we don’t have to wait. We can get a head start on this year’s garden right now.

This is the ideal time to start planting seeds indoors. In recent years, our last frost dates have been in May and June. Since we live in a cooler climate, starting seeds indoors can add weeks to our growing season.

Lettuce, spinach, kale, leeks, onions, parsley, thyme, oregano, chives and basil seeds planted now will make excellent transplants.

In order to start your seeds, you’ll need to gather your supplies. You will need seed trays, humidity domes, a sterile germination mix, a heat mat, a grow light, and of course your seeds.

Before you do anything, disinfect your containers with a bleach or hydrogen peroxide solution and rinse with water. Seedlings are susceptible to disease and this will prevent many before they start.

If you are using a germination mix containing a lot of peat moss, you will want to soak your mix before planting your seeds as peat moss absorbs water very slowly. Be sure to let the excess water drain from the tray.

My favorite secret is to water the mix with a living compost tea so that the medium can start populating with beneficial bacteria and microbes. These magical microbes will make your roots explode and prevent many common diseases. Compost tea will help you grow large, healthy transplants for your garden.

Once you soak your germination mix, plant your seeds to the proper depth –– the seed packet will tell you what that is –– and cover your tray with a humidity dome. Place the tray on a heat mat set to 74 degrees. Mist your seeds with water daily. It is very important to keep your soil moist and warm in order for the seeds to germinate.

Once your first seedlings break through the surface, make sure you place a grow light above your seed tray. T5 fluorescent grow lamps give off the perfect amount of light and heat for propagation.

Once germinated, protect and nurture your seedlings while they grow. Remove your humidity dome to lower the humidity level around the seedlings. Make sure your area is well-ventilated. Damping off is common for seedlings and is more likely to happen in humid, poorly-ventilated environments.

Be sure to harden off your plants before transplanting them outdoors. Do this by placing them outside for a few hours every day. This allows their cell walls to strengthen and acclimates them to their new environment.

Before you know it, it will be time to plant your starts outdoors and watch them grow. Until then, let’s start our gardening early and pretend it’s already springtime.

Monica Rakowski is one of the owners of KP Indoor Garden Store in Key Center.  She can be contacted at naturegirllife@gmail.com

Living Close to Nature