Monday, March 14, 2016

Growing a Garden: Starting with Seeds

Hello my lovely readers. We've moved into the 10th circle of hell over here on Dancing Feathers Farm. That's right. Daylight Savings Time.

Now one may think with my vast appreciation of all things agriculture, I would appreciate Daylight Savings Time. Its purpose, after all, is to allow farmers more time in the day to work in sunlight.

But not me. Not this Jen. Daylight Savings will get no love from me because this mini-farmer likes light in the morning. That's right. Light at 7PM isn't as important to me as light at 5AM. I like to wake to sunshine, you see. And it'll all balance out in a few more weeks when the sun "catches up." Until then, I am trying to focus on the good and not on the sleepy children with whacked-out schedules and my shock and surprise when I realize I've actually been up until 11PM, not 10PM, scrolling my Pinterest.

So let's talk positive, my friends. Let's talk gardening because gardening, unlike time, is glorious.

Last week we dove into planting zones, where to put your garden bed, and gathering your supplies. Now we are actually going to get our hands dirty....a little. Mini-dirt. Mini-pots. Mini-plants, really. And the most precious of all mini-items.....seeds.

Seeds are inspiration, potential, life, and nutrition all wrapped up into a little, inanimate morsel of goodness. Seeds are you hear me? If you are buying heirloom seeds (which I highly recommend you do) you are quite literally saving a plant variety that may already be endangered or well on its way to being endangered. Imagine holding the last Purple Indian Stripe tomato in your hands. Imagine showing your children how to harvest its seeds and replant them next year - the only Purple Indian Stripe tomato plant in your entire state, our country, or continent. What a powerful way to make a huge impact by doing something small.

Direct Sow vs Start Indoors
So before we dig into actual planting (see what I did there), let's talk for one sec about the difference between "direct sow" plants and "start indoor" plants. Any good seed company will tell you on the back of the packet whether your seed can be planted outside when the frost ends or started indoors to get a jump on the growing season. For a long time I thought all plants could be started indoors but turns out they cannot - corn in particular does not transplant well, so it should always be sown directly into the ground after the threat of frost has passed. Follow what your seed packet tells you and if you're unsure, Google is your planting buddy. Or me. You can always email me and I'll figure it out for you :)

I personally love direct sow plants. May comes along and my frost is gone and I head out there and *thunk* drop some seeds into the dirt and then whammo, food. Easy-peasy.

But I like peppers, my stomach whines, and strawberries, and onions, and all those other delicious foods that won't mature quickly enough to eat in your cold-ass climate if you just thunk them in the ground in May.

And thus, the need for starting seeds indoors arose. What my stomach wants, my stomach gets, people. We'll talk about direct sow seeds in a few weeks...but right now? Time for a little indoor action!

Seed Pot
You need a receptacle to hold your dirt and seeds. And can I please tell you, there are a ton of options for seed starting receptacles.

Peat pots - These are common, but controversial. I know. A peat pot - very dramatic little thing! But it's true and it's important so here we go. The material used to make peat pots (peat moss) is typically shipped in from Canada (that's a lotta fuel!) and taken from sphagnum moss growing in bogs. The peat is all the dead stuff - moss that has died, kinda like our leaves in the fall - and it forms under the moss. When we harvest peat, we remove the moss and the entire living ecosystem above it...we disrupt the natural system of the bog, something that is not at all easy to recreate or replace. And although peat is "renewable" (we can plant more moss, they say) the peat takes hundreds of years to form. That's like buying environmental stability on a credit card. Of course, the peat industry says they are aware and careful to never remove more than can quickly regenerate, but we should know by now that this Jen never believes anything a profit-driven corporation says about the environment.

Toilet paper rolls - Anyone who uses toilet paper already has these lyin around to be recycled. They are typically brown (unbleached) and decompose real well, so when you start your seeds in these you can simply pop them in the ground when it comes time to move your plants outdoors. In my experience, however, these little suckas fell apart too early. I used them for only a couple weeks before the water my plants needed soaked through and caused them to unravel. But still a fun and eco-friendly idea if you can figure out a way to hold them together!

Recycled yogurt containers - I know someone who saves each of her yogurt containers throughout the year and then uses them every spring to start her seedlings. Of course, when using plastic you cannot simply pop 'em into the earth when it's time to move them outside....but I love the idea of getting more use out of something slated for the trash!

Dirt pods - there is a do-it-yourself tool out there that allows you to create little, square pods or "soil blocks" to plant your seeds in. No material needed - these are nice and compacted and go right into the dirt when it's nice outside! My *new* favorite option - I used peat pots last year before really understanding what I was doing to the environment. Flaws, forgiven, people!

Newspaper pots - Another resource most of us have lying around! You don't need any adhesive or fancy finger-work to make these.....just some newspaper and a good tutorial. Again, these can go right in the ground when you're done with them.

Seed Starting Soil
Your seeds will probably start in any soil! I repeat - you do not need special seed-starting soil to get your seeds to grow. It will help to have light, loose, well-drained (meaning the water will flow through) soil that doesn't have anything else growing in it that could cause your seedlings to get sick. Seed-starting-specific-soils (holy crap) are all of these things - sterile, light soils allow little roots to grow and keep the plant from gettin' all stunted and sick. But you don't need to buy special soil if you don't want to. You can do whatever you want. Gardening is 25% book knowledge and 75% learning from experience.

If you do use a seed-starting soil, be sure to wet it prior to filling your containers. Not soaking, but enough to make it more like the dirt you'd get out of the ground. I made the mistake of not doing this once and I couldn't understand why my plants weren't growing. Special seed-starting soils almost repel water, man! You gotta moisten them beforehand. .....heh heh giggity

Pop 'em In!
Grab yo kids, grab yo wife, and have a seed-starting party. I let one kid put the dirt in the receptacle and another hand me the seeds. You want to plant them at the time and depths indicated on your packet. If there is no time indicated (6-8 weeks before last frost, for example), I start them 3-4 weeks before frost. If there is no depth indicated on your seed packet, I typically push them down about as far as my pinki-finger nail bed. Very scientific modes of measurement around here.

I contain all of my seedlings and seedling receptacles in cheap plastic trays. You'll want to do this to catch the water drainage and any dirt that might escape. Plus it's easier to carry the seeds outside when the time comes.

Let There Be Light!
If you don't have a south-facing window (like sad Jen), you'll likely need some helper light. My helper light is a huge shop-light with two regular fluorescent bulbs. It works fantastic, I had no issues last year, and the handy chain on the back of the lights allowed me to move it up and down as the seedlings grew.

They have special grow lights out there and I am sure they work fantastically. I myself bought one, mostly because it was purple, and decided I never would again as the light it radiated reached out maybe 2-3 inches....or enough to reach one seedling. For a $12 bulb. No thanks :) But if grow lights are your thing, grow on!

And although it seems like common sense, remember...your seeds do not need light until they sprout. If you're anything like me you'll be checking every single day so you'll know when they sprout and then, when that happens, light 'em up!

Water, Water, Everywhere
I found out the hard way - spraying water on your precious seeds with a huge spray bottle just blows the dirt and seeds right out of your container. True story. Until my seedlings started actually sprouting, I poured water into the bottom of the trays to allow it to be absorbed up into the dirt and then very, very carefully dribbled the water on top in tiny drops. This took me quite some time, obviously. There is likely a better way to do this, but I haven't found it yet.

Now to avoid watering and to create some heat, I also covered my seedlings until they sprouted. I used plastic wrap (cringe) but you can use old plastic containers, or anything way better than my lame, lazy plastic wrap. Make yourself a little greenhouse. Once the sprouts pop, though, I take the plastic off and let them breath. Don't want it too sauna-like or mold will grow.

The Hand Wave
Once your seeds are sprouted and you have a good idea of their light and water needs (they will stretch if they are not getting enough light), it's time to execute my favorite part of the seed-starting game....the Hand Wave.

I read once, I can't remember where, that running your hand over your seedlings (lightly) mimics the breeze and strengthens their stems. I don't know how true this is but boy do I love doing it. It tickles and it makes me feel like a good garden mama and it supposedly makes them why not?

There you have it. Not too bad, right? I'm tellin you, this gardening thing is not as intimidating as it seems. And it all starts with seeds. Seeds can be so much more than a flimsy packet of potential. They are a direct link to our history and a premonition of our future....all while feeding us. Respect your seeds and they will give you life beyond measure. And don't forget to tune in next week when we discuss pest control!

Anyone planting seeds this week? What are you planting? If you're not, what is holding you back? I'd love to hear about it in the comments down below and as always, thank you so much for reading :)

Did you miss a Growing a Garden series post? Don't worry! Click the link below to catch up!
Where Do I Start?

**Can't get enough homesteading? Check out the Homestead Blog Hop, hosted by some of the best and most beautiful bloggers in the self-sufficiency world. This post, and many of my others, are shared on the Homestead Blog Hop each week. From breadmaking to seed selection, home-grown recipes to herbal health, the Homestead Blog Hop has it all! Enjoy! :)



  1. this is OH-so-helpful! we just started 72 seeds in those little pods and will direct sow several other seeds as well--that's definitely our preferred method! i'm pinning this post for future reference!

    1. I am so glad to hear it! 72!?!?! That is exciting!! What are you planting?? Thank you so much for stopping by, Grace!

  2. I'm with you - more light in the morning, please! But mostly because that's when I like to run outdoors. As a gardening novice, I appreciate the tips - now, any tips to keep pesky cats out of your plants?

    1. Haha perhaps! Check back next week when I talk about pest control!! ;) Awesome hearing from you Nicole!

  3. These are such helpful tips! We just started planning our veggie garden this weekend!

    1. Thank you! I am so excited to hear they helped you out :) Have fun with your veggies!!!

  4. Thanks so much for this informative post! The hand wave, love it! Why do you start your seeds 3-4 weeks before the last frost? All my seed packets say 4-6 weeks prior…

    1. Haha right! The hand wave is the BEST! I always start my seeds a little longer if the package doesn't say because I've typically ended up with huge lil plants with nowhere to grow them because it's still too cold outside!

  5. I love the ideas for different pots. We use plastic trays now, but they don't seem to last very long. I like the idea of recycling something I already have laying around the house.

    Thanks for sharing on the Homestead Blog Hop.

    1. Thank you Bonnie!! I love the Homestead Blog Hop so much - appreciate having you stop by and thank you for hosting!!