Wednesday, March 3, 2010


Yearning for the feel of soil in my hands, seedlings have sprouted in my house. Actually, I started the first batch of pansies in mid-January, peppers in February and herbs in March. They are located on the second floor of my house, out of the reach of curious cats that tip over, eat, and then throw up the plant material. Felines have their own pot of oat grass to consume. Starting from seed is so much cheaper than purchasing a small plant from a garden center. If you have the space and some time, you can grow your own seedlings easily. Here are some of my tips.

First Step: sterilize everything. I place old plant containers and all tools in the dishwasher and set them on the regular cycle with soap. Don’t include regular dishes or they may be covered by fine grit from the sand/soil. The grit will scratch glass. I reuse old seed starter and potting soil (not the soil you dig from the ground) since it is so expensive. Place about an inch of the soil in a 9 x 12 inch baking pan and cook in the oven at 250 degrees for an hour. Don’t attempt to speed up the process by cooking it at a higher temperature or it will burn. However, if the soil is wet the baking time will be longer. Be careful not to let the soil start smoking or it may start a fire. Most potting soil has some wood pulp, moss or organic material that may be combustible. You don’t want a fire in your kitchen. I usually bake something edible at the same time and the soil has never affected the taste of the food. Let the soil cool down to room temperature before you use it.

After the plant holders/containers (3.5 inches or 4 inches, usually in a square pot) have dried, marking them is the second step. I use liquid paper on the outer edge and give each holder a number with a permanent marker. I usually place them in a group of a dozen: examples A-1, A-2, through A-12 and start B-1 and continue. Third Step: place a couple layers of newspaper in the bottom of each container to block the holes but it will still permit excess water to exit. Put on a couple inches of the old soil. I top it off with another inch of new seed starting soil. It is easier for the seeds to start in the new stuff and they will be strong enough for the old soil, as they increase in size.

Fourth Step: use filtered water to moisten the soil. I like to douse the plant container the day before and let them soak in the water overnight. I use the 9 x 12 pan again so that a couple inches of water can be around the container. The seeds will be disturbed if you dump water on them from the top, especially since seed-starting soil is very loose. After the soil is moist, let the excess drain out. On the top of the soil, poke a small hole in the middle with your finger or the end of a pencil.

© 2010

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