Thursday, March 7, 2013

Seed starting for stupid people

Did any of you participate in Nan Ondra's great seed giveaway? I have gotten so much inspiration from Nan's blog and I jumped at the chance to get some seed from her favorite plants. The only problem is that I find seed starting really intimidating. For something that happens in the wild all the time with no help from humans, there seem to be a lot of rules. And equipment: sterile soil, heat pads, special lamps, etc.

Now that I've finally realized that annuals are awesome and totally of value in the garden, I think that I need to start saving seed and making my own. Then when I buy a new annual I can think of it as an investment. I decided to try the wintersown method, which means no heating pads or artificial lights. I'm just prepping the seeds and letting them germinate outside. But I'm me, so I screwed up a number of things. We'll see what happens!

The wintersown people are really into using tupperware for seed starting but I'm always short on tupperware and rich in plant containers, so I just used some of the hundreds I have in my garage. They say to wash your containers with warm soapy water, lest you infect your seedlings with disease. I didn't do that because I'm lazy. I may lose all of them because of it. Someone chastise me in the comments!


I did use seed starting soil! It was very expensive.


I googled seed sowing instructions for the seeds I had and put them in to the depth they indicated. Then I put the pots into a pan with some water because the Internet told me to. The idea is that the water wicks up from the bottom of the pot and doesn't disturb your seeds. I read after I plopped them in there that the water should be warm, "like water that has sat our for 24 hours."

DO YOU SEE WHAT I MEAN ABOUT SEED STARTING BEING SO WEIRDLY SPECIFIC? This is why people are scared to garden.

My water was cold and it didn't want to wick up. I didn't have any 24 hour water sitting around! So I sprayed the top of the soil with a spray bottle.


For the seeds that want a warm humid environment I applied a layer of plastic wrap. For any seeds that didn't mention warm/humid I just gave them a layer of chicken grit so they wouldn't crust over (Nan does this, it's her fault if it doesn't work). In the plastic wrap I poked three air holes and then slammed a plant marker through. Then they got moved to a sunny spot in the garden. I'll have to monitor that the soil doesn't dry out.


At Dan Hinkley's lecture at the Yard Garden and Patio show he quoted his friend JC Ralston as saying, "If we're not out killing plants, we're not doing our job." So . . . mission accomplished, maybe. I'll keep you posted. And my apologies if you were one of the people who wanted Amsonia hubrichtii or Rudbeckia maxima and didn't get any because of me.

12 comments:

  1. Hahahaha...I'm just about to sow my seeds from Nan...I'm such a procrastinator. I don't do any of the things they tell you to do, I just pop them in some dirt and pray to the gods of horticulture to have mercy on poor, simple me. I have visions of wafting through fields of Patrinia, Sanguisorbia and Vernonia...umm...seedlings.


    BTW...I was going to bring one of my Amsonia hubrichtii plants to the swap next month...it's yours if you want it :-)

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  2. Yes yes yes, I want it! Thank you! You are like the never ending dispenser of plants I want. :)

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  3. Me too on the seed starting fear. My budget has required I figure it out this year. Impulse buying $5-30 plants one at a time isn't doing me any favors. I did sunny window, upside down large tupperware clear tub, and I have a soil thermometer that has told me that this tub can get to 80 degrees pretty fast during the day. Once they sprout I put the seeds in a sunny window. I haven't lost any seeds yet. They all seem pretty happy. I feel so grown up now.

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  4. Soil thermometers! You're definitely a grown up AND you sound like you know what you're doing. I may be hitting you up for tips. :)

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  5. Remember the days when I used to baby my little seedlings through early spring with complicated pipe cleaner setups? I'm too lazy to do that now. If I can't throw the seeds right into my garden then I buy a plant. Or I just don't plant it! Growing the starts was just way too damn stressful for me. I like the idea of sowing them outside -- that would have helped a lot!

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  6. The wintersown people swear by this method--apparently the germination rate is much higher. I really admired your pipe cleaner interventions! Such commitment!

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  7. All my window sills are populated by succulents just now...guess it's time to become one of those wintersown people. Is it too late?

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  8. If it's too late then I'm in trouble!

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  9. I don't sterilize pots or use a heat mat or do anything with the temp of the water. Just potting mix, put the seeds in, water lightly from above like a houseplant, then wait. Water as needed after that. But I do use lights indoors to start them, that makes a big difference. Most seeds germinate, some don't. You're well on your way to success, I can tell from the care you've taken (and Nan's quality seeds!)

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  10. I don't start many of the late flowering annuals till April (Christopher LLoyd's advice) No sterized pots, no tupperware... in fact, I've gotten better results lately by sowing in the ground. Often the selfseeders of the plants that I sowed in pots the year before are much stronger, so I've just about given up on winter sowing, Though sometimes I hedge by betts and do both!

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  11. I just started some seed - first time for me. I didn't realize I was supposed to do all this! It does seem complicated. Good luck!

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  12. A big part of my gardening theory is if it lives it was meant to be, if it doesn't... well, um. My husband calls my methods "haphazard" and he doesn't even garden or anything, he can just tell from my cursing.
    But deep in January I need something to do, so mis-labeling seeds it is.

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