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Seed starting tips

Onions growing in a repurposed one-gallon milk jug. Holes were punched in the bottom of the jug for drainage.

Starting vegetable and flower plants from seed has its advantages. The most notable being the greater number of varieties to choose from. Besides seed, only a few other supplies are needed, such as potting medium, containers, and a light source.

Generally, the best seed starting medium is one that contains no true soil, often called a soil-less mix. Commercially available seed starting mixes are usually composed of vermiculite and peat. These mixes are sterile, lightweight, and free from weed seed. These mixes are easy to use and readily available to the home gardener.

Many types of containers can be used for seed starting. If you like to recycle, try using gallon milk jugs and cut the top off so the bottom measures two to three inches in height. You could also use plastic cups or egg cartons. Traditional containers made of plastic or biodegradable materials can be found at your local garden center. It is important that the containers have drain holes. If needed, punch or cut holes in the bottom to allow excess water to drain out.

Fill containers with potting mix and lightly tap on a table to settle. Thoroughly water the mix and add more if needed. Look at the seed package to determine the proper planting depth. After planting the seed, lightly water to insure good seed to soil contact. Cover seed containers with loose fitting plastic wrap or some other type of transparent material to help keep the seeds moist. Remove the covering after the seeds have emerged.

Seedlings generally need more light than a window can provide. However, large south facing windows may be suitable. If light is in short supply, use a fluorescent shop light. Suspend light with chains so it can be raised and lowered. The ideal height is two inches above the seedlings. Plants will need approximately 12 to 16 hours of light. If you do not like plugging and unplugging cords use a timer.

Seed starting is a project the whole family can enjoy. Only a few supplies are needed and many plants can be grown from one package of seed. 


Randy Nelson
Extension Educator, Home Hort & Ag Production Systems
(218) 299-5020

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