Want to get the most from your investment in your garden? Want to control the fertilizer, insecticides, pesticides and all of the other components that go into your plants from day 1? Then growing your plants from seed is definitely the best route for you. It’s doesn’t provide you with the instant gratification that you get from a seedling or large plant. But it does give you a sense of accomplishment when those first little greens begin to sprout.
We acknowledge that starting seeds of your own can be a little intimidating. But don’t worry! We went through a lot of trial and A LOT of error and have created a simple method that works.
Seeds of Disaster – Our First Seedling Experiment
Our first attempt with growing our spring garden from seed ended in complete failure. We followed the instructions on the seed packets and the starter kit we bought but they were simply NOT GOOD. We planted 72 plants, hoping to get about 25% of them to sprout. Not one single plant grew.
We then had to rush out to our local nursery and snatch up whatever was left to ensure that we had something to grow for the season. Needless to say, it was a little discouraging. But my husband is not one to accept defeat easily. He poured through research, came up with a plan and convinced me to start our fall garden from seed. When the time came to plant, we gave ourselves plenty of time for trial and error. Our first batch of fall seed consisted of romaine lettuce, spinach, arugula, rainbow chard and kale. These also failed at a 100% rate. We were beating our heads against the wall trying to figure out what we did wrong when we decided to try something different with our second batch.
With a few small changes, our second fall garden seeds became a completely different story. These slight alterations to our method increased our success rate from 0% to 50%. We now have a lovely crop of lettuces growing in our garden boxes that are delicious.
Though we were extremely pleased with our 50% success rate, we believed that we could do better. So, when we started our winter garden from seed, we made two small adjustments. With those two changes, our success rate sky-rocketed to 92%. This means that 66 of our 72 plants have sprouted for our winter garden. Now it’s time for how we did it!
- Right Season
- Full sun
- Use a starter tray
- Good quality soil
- Liquid fertilizer
- Water daily
One of the biggest factors to your success will come from reading the back of your seed packets. We would not suggest trying to plant seeds outside of the recommended months. Even if you’re close to the right time, you are still probably not going to have the best success rate. This is one of the best times to exercise patience and just wait for the ideal month to plant that particular seed.
This is the MOST critical component to successfully growing your plants from seed. Unfortunately, it does not always appear on the internet, on your starter kit or on your seed packets. We have planted 10 different types of plants using this method and all have sprouted at least a 50% success rate. We even tested it by planting the same plants in partial sun and partial shade. Not a single plant sprouted. The message is loud and clear, while grown plants may need different levels of sun exposure, seeds need the sun all day. The ideal amount of time is about 15 hours. This provides your plants with plenty of food from the sun and time germinate.
Use a Starter Tray
This recommendation comes primarily from mobility in relation to the sun. Starting your seeds in a starter tray gives you a lot more flexibility than putting them into a pot, the ground or a raised garden bed. When you start with a tray, all of your plants can stay in full sun without being locked into their final location. Then once they start to grow and reach about 2-3 inches tall, you can replant them into the proper location based on the plant-specific instructions.
Additionally, you do not want to plant your seeds more than about one fingertip deep. Starter trays make it easier to plant shallow and set you up for success.
Good Quality Soil
We recommend trying a woodier soil that has great drainage to avoid molding. When you use a starter kit, you’re placing the plant in a really small area. This means that you want to make sure water doesn’t just sit in the tray and rot.
The kind of soil that we’ve found works best is called Kellogg Raised Bed & Potting Mix. It has a lot of mulch and bark in it, which is what provides such excellent drainage.
This soil is also a great bang for your buck. You get 2 full cubic feet out of a single bag and the price is usually around $8-$9. That’s only about a dollar more than the other organic raised bed and potting mixes, but they only contain between 1-1.5 cubit feet per bag.
Right after we finish planting our seeds, we hit them with a little liquid fertilizer and water combination. You don’t want to overdo the watering, but want to give your plants a decent soaking. If you’ve made the soil really wobbly and lots of bark is floating on top, that’s when you know it’s too much. If this happens, just gently tilt the tray to the side and pour some of the water out.
The combination of fertilizer and water jump starts the germination process and really sets you up for success. The fertilizer we have right now is called “Espoma Organic Grow!” The primary ingredient is chicken poop, which probably the reason it works so well. It’s also really easy to measure and comes with instructions for water proportions.
As an aside, using liquid fertilizer along with changing to a woodier soil is what took our success rate from 50% to 92%. The results really speak for themselves.
This one is simple, but is often the downfall of most backyard gardeners. It can be tough to get the water content right, especially in a starter kit because you do not want to overdo it. The key is to hit it with a splash of water every day. This is critical because it is planted in full sun, which means the water evaporates quickly. But all it takes is a small splash and they are good to go!
We put our extender hose on the lowest possible flow and just hold it over each starter cup for a 2-3 second count. That seems to provide the plant with plenty of water without drowning it and creating a mold issue. If you still have trouble with draining, just poke a couple of small holes in the bottom of your tray. This will let the water flow through and will eliminate the mold issue.
Go Forth & Garden Like a Champion!
We hope that you find these steps helpful in starting your garden from seed. It really is a super rewarding way to grow your plants and provides you with 100% control over what’s in your food. If you have any questions about starting your seeds, just let us know!
Also, if you’d like to learn how to grow a pineapple from its step, please check out our post Grow Your Own Pineapple Plant.