Last season, I decided to start my plants from seeds. I purchased a variety of seeds from any place I could find them. I searched the internet for vegetables that were either too expensive to buy at my local grocer or that I’d never had before. I started my seedlings with regular garden soil in styrofoam cups, purchased some seed starting cells and, repurposed some random large mail assorting bins my fiancee had found somewhere.
I carefully wrote down everything I’d planted and used color coded toothpicks to organize everything. I watched a few tutorials and thought I had it all figured out! The results… TERRIBLE! The seedlings were long and spindly. I had a host of fungus gnats flying in my house and to make matters worst, I accidentally knocked over one of the containers while vacuuming one day. At that point I took most of the remaining seedlings and dumped them into my compost bin!
It was off to my local nursery for starters that year. After all that organizing and some planning what could have possibly went wrong? Well here is a list based on my assessment.
- I started off with the wrong medium for seedlings.
Seedlings should be started indoors with a soil free mix. These are usually labeled as seed starting mix. The garden soil I bought because it was cheaper, did not drain well contributing to the fungus gnats and slow growth.
- Some of the containers that were used were not suitable for seed starting.
The mail sorter was made of a cloth/cardboard material that held moisture in and the styrofoam cups were o.k but putting holes in them were a pain, not too mention easy to knock over.
- I did not feed them any nutrients.
After they gained their first set of true leaves, I should have begun feeding them with some sort of natural nutrient such as worm casting or maybe an organic compost tea.
- I did not thin then out.
Again, after the first set of true leaves, they should have been thinned out by snipping away the weaker seedling from each cell.
- They were not provided with adequate light.
I relied on light from a nearby window which forced my seedlings to lean towards it in a desperate attempt to catch some rays. Most of the time a window does not provide enough energy for the young tender plants. A fluorescent light at about two inches away is what was needed for these babies. Most seedlings need at minimum 8 hours but I suggest 10-12 hours.
- Not enough prior research was done
Yes, the internet is at our finger tips and offers a ton of information but it also offers a lot of misinformation! Comparing several techniques and trying to refer to reputable sources is the best way for success. I now include in my research, articles from my local university gardening extension which includes information tailored to my specific region. I also listen to a ton of podcasts!
- I over watered them
Fungus gnats are a sure fire way of telling that you are using too much water. Plants and seedlings like to dry out in between waterings. This encourages deep root development which is integral for a healthy plant.
My seed starting that first year was a bit of a fiasco but I can’t say it was a complete failure. I did after all discover what is often referred to as “black tomatoes” and also Brandywine tomatoes. I was once one of those people who thought tomatoes were only red. A couple of these varieties survived the neglect and abuse and even produced some fruit.
I had no idea what these plants were all season long until they began to bare fruit. My disappointment from the entire fiasco made me just throw them in a random pot and keep it moving. But by the end of the season I had produced a few beautiful fruits!
Yes, my first attempt was a disaster but since I hate failure, I spent months planning for the next season. One resource that I love the most is a podcast called “You Bet Your Garden”. Mike McGrath has over 20 years of experience and each episodes offers a wealth of knowledge. Armed with his knowledge and additional information, my 2017 attempt is currently looking like a success! I am happy to say that 99 percent of what is in my modest garden was started from seed. Taking the next step of gardening (seed starting) is not for the inexperienced or uninformed and honestly it can be somewhat costly that first year. I paid a total of 154.00 just to set up the shelf with lights and that does not include the cost of; seeds, seed starting mix, worm casting, fungus knat control ( you can almost always expect to see a few), containers etc…
In the long run it will pay off because I love not worrying about pesticides and having the ease of going out to my garden to harvest fresh vegetables for dinner!
That is all for now my fellow gardeners. Stay tuned for more on my journey as I strive to become a Top Shelf Gardener! Happy Gardening!