Seed To Table Series - Part 1
Starting Your Seedlings
Gardeners look at calendars differently than most of us. It may read “February” at the top of the page, but Daphne and Laura, our gardeners here at Round Pond Estate, are already thinking “June.” The seeds they plant now mean that our chefs will have plenty of tomatoes, peppers, corn, squash, melons, eggplant and more for our Il Pranzo lunches this summer.
Here, Daphne and Laura walk you through their process of deciding what to plant and when, how to raise healthy seedlings, and the essential steps you must take to prepare those seedlings for the garden.
Enjoy our PRINTABLE version: How To Start Your Seedlings!
Step 1: Choose what you want to plant.
Planning your garden starts with dreaming. What do you want to cook come summer? Are you longing for luscious tomato and mozzarella salads? Are you a fan of grilled eggplant and peppers? Make a list of what you want to plant, and then buy your seeds.
Step 2: Plan your calendar.
You have to look at your calendar backwards to know when you should start your seedlings. Look on the back of your seed packets to find out how long each will take to germinate; germination is the time it takes for the seed to break open (shed seed coat), grow roots and sprout above the soil (sprouting “first” and then the “true” leaves) - see picture diagram.
Once seedlings have germinated, they’ll take a few more weeks to get established enough to transplant to the garden, Which needs to happen after the last frost date in your area. You can find out when that is for you by entering your zipcode here. Work back from that date to the length of time your seeds will take to germinate and grow to transplant size. So if your last frost date is May 1, and your seeds have a six-week germination process (plus two weeks for growing), you’d want to start your seedlings in early March. It’s not an exact science, but it’ll give you a good idea for general timing.
Step 3: Purchase your "cow pots".
Cow pots are renewable resource pots that are made of predominantly cow manure which house your plant from seed to outdoors. Because it is essentially soil and fertilizer in one (which will eventually decompose), this allows you to plant the pot directly into your outdoor garden without disturbing the roots while feeding the plant with nutrients.
Step 4: Buy and hydrate your seed starting mix.
Seed starting mix is a special blend that does not contain soil, which eliminates the transferring of soil born diseases to your seedlings. Hydrate your seed starting mix to the point of a rung out sponge (not sopping wet).
Step 5: Plant seedlings.
Fill cow pots to within an inch of the top and press lightly to compact. Make a hole with your index finger or a pencil and plant your seed to the depth indicated on the packet (usually twice the depth of the size of the seed). Cover seed lightly and water gently. Keep the soil moist throughout the germination and growth process. Don't forget to label what you planted!
Step 6: Find a controlled environment for them to grow in.
Any indoor environment will work. A greenhouse is best, but most people don’t have greenhouses. You can put them on a windowsill with direct sunlight or under grow lights.
TIP: The three most important aspects for success in starting your seedlings are 1) Consistent moisture, 2) Warm indoor temperature, and 3) Light once the seed has germinated.
Step 7: Fertilize your seeds.
Always water before fertilizing! Start fertilizing after the second set of leaves has appeared. We recommend a complete organic fertilizer, such as fish emulsion with kelp. Be careful, though, to dilute correctly for young seedlings, as too much of a good thing is not! Read the label!
Step 8: Let it grow.
For the most part your timing and the size of your new “transplant” should work well. If the weather is not conducive to planting you may find that your plants are getting too big for their “britches”. Not to worry, if need be, place the cow pot into a larger container with more soil and let your plant grow until you can transplant to the garden.
Step 9: Harden off your seedlings.
This step is essential. Since the seedlings have been growing in a controlled environment, they need to be exposed to the outside elements before being planted in your garden beds—a process called “hardening off,” which is a bit like babysitting. For one week, simply take your seedlings outdoors during the day for about 3-4 hours. On the first day, keep them in the shade the entire 3-4 hours. Then each day gradually expose your seedlings to other elements like sunlight, wind, etc.
Now your seedlings are ready to plant in your garden beds! To learn how to create healthy garden beds for your seedlings, click here for our "How to Make a Gorgeous Garden Bed".