Preparing for Spring: Seedlings for the Garden

Part of eating well includes understanding how your food is grown. We keep a garden every year to help my son understand what goes into raising food, as well as to understand the lifecycle of plants and how insects and other animals factor into food production.

Since we live in Texas (zone 8a), we are fortunate enough to have nearly year-round growing seasons. Our first couple of weeks in January consists of searching through seed catalogues and websites, deciding what we would like to grow, gathering our seed packets, and getting our seed planting equipment ready.

seed packets

We use a soil blended specifically for starting seeds, as it’s lighter in weight than, say, the dirt in the yard or a commercial vegetable soil. This will allow roots to grow.

Our setup is a metal wire rack onto which we have hung shop lights on chains using S-hooks. In each shop light fixture we have put both a warm and a cool incandescent bulb. We use a boot tray to house 4″x4″ flats and single containers. We’ve found cheap popsicle sticks and permanent markers to be the best form of labeling containers. (Permanent marker on plastic sticks/posts seems to fade in the sunlight fairly quickly.)

When starting seeds, it can be helpful to pre-moisten the soil before planting. However, I typically set my seeds and then use a spray bottle to keep the soil moistened until the seeds sprout. Wrapping the trays in plastic wrap helps contain the moisture so that you don’t need to water daily, only as the soil dries out. Once the seeds sprout, I use a little watering can with a gentle spray (this is my current favorite, and I found it for $3 off season).

Once the seedlings are about an inch tall, it’s time to start pouring water into the boot tray. This encourages the roots to grow as they seek water. I occasionally will water from above to stimulate rain and toughen up the seedlings a bit.

As the seedlings grow, the lights need to be adjusted, as they should remain about 2″ above the top of the plants. Seedlings such as tomatoes and okra will grow very quickly and so the lights will need to be adjusted much sooner. I try to keep all of these plants together on the same rack.

After the last freeze, it’s time to move seedlings outside to harden them off. More on this in a future post!

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