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Seed Starting

The Martha Stewart Show, March 2009

Growing your own vegetables is not only healthier, it's a great way to save money. Start your seeds early to get a jump start on the growing season -- use our seed-starting worksheet to schedule all your seed starting.

Seeds That Can Be Started Early Indoors
- Eggplants
- Tomatoes
- Leeks
- Kale
- Peppers
- Broccoli
- Onions
- Snapdragons
- Violas

Seeds That Can Be Planted In the Ground Now (Early-March)
The seeds listed below can be planted in the ground now, usually in a protected environment such as a cold frame or an unheated hoop house, unless you are in a Southern area where the temperatures have already reached a point where it is safe to plant outside.

Some plants prefer cool soil temperature to germinate while others need the warming and cooling temperatures in the soil to break the seed dormancy.

- Spinach
- Greens mixes
- Swiss chard
- Larkspur
- Sweet peas

Seed-Starting Methods
Cell Flats
Cell flats can be used for starting seeds in greenhouses. They are compact enough to make the most of available space and are ideal for transplanting outside.

Heat Mat
The heat mat is something used in the greenhouse at Johnny's Selected Seeds. Many seeds prefer warm soil to germinate, particularly cucurbit crops, peppers, and many flower varieties.

Grow Lights
Grow lights are a necessity if you want to produce healthy seedlings indoors. Most homes, even those with abundant Southern exposure, rarely capture enough sunlight in the early spring to grow strong seedlings. Optimum light time for most seedlings is 14 hours, and this can be regulated with a simple timer (like those used with holiday lights).

Dot Pots
Dot pots are the answer for certified organic growers. Composed of 80 percent wood fiber and 20 percent peat moss, they are completely biodegradable and approved by the Organic Materials Review Institute. They're available in a wide variety of sizes, allowing you to bump up your seedlings as necessary, and can be transplanted into your garden.

CowPots
CowPots are a fantastic new item made of composted cow manure, and they don't smell at all! They were invented by two Connecticut dairy farmers and are an eco-friendly option for bumping up your seedlings. Plus, when you plant them in the ground, not only do they minimize root shock, but they add a healthy dose of nutrients to the soil giving the plants an added boost.

Soil Block Maker
A soil block maker is a device that allows you to make blocks out of lightly compressed potting soil. Soil blocks are a fantastic option for starting your seeds. The roots of the plant will grow to the edge of the block and stop, awaiting transplant -- this means there is no transplant shock, no torn roots, and plants establish themselves quickly. Also, you're not spending money on plastic trays and pots every year that can't be recycled and will ultimately wind up in landfills. It's best to use a high-nutrient potting soil.

To make a soil block, first moisten the soil to a "peanut butter consistency," push the block maker into the soil so the unit is full, then turn and lift out of the soil. Set the block maker into a tray and squeeze the trigger to release the blocks.

The soil to make the blocks is moist, and blocks should be kept that way. Take care to use a mister or a very fine rose when the blocks are newly constructed since they do not yet have the root structure to provide support. As the seedlings grow, their roots will keep the blocks from eroding; most fine hose attachments can be used for watering.

When To Transplant
Every type of vegetable or flower takes a different amount of time to be ready for planting in the ground. Some flowers take much longer to reach a healthy transplant size than vegetables. Tomatoes generally take six to eight weeks before they are ready to be transplanted outside. Peppers take 10 to 12 weeks.

It is important to remember that soil temperature is just as important as air temperature. The air can feel warm and the danger of frost may be past, but if the soil temperature has not warmed up enough, it will shock the transplants. The best time for seeds to go into the ground is after the danger of frost has passed in your area and once the soil temperature has warmed to the recommended temperature (such information can be found on the back of most seed packets).

Resources
Soil block makers are available from johnnyseeds.com.

Special Thanks
Special thanks to Kelly Dionne of Johnny's Selected Seeds for sharing this information and for giving CowPots (available for purchase on cowpots.com), seeds, and catalogs to our studio audience.

Comments (7)

  • 6 Mar, 2009

    I really like the cowpot idea. Genius! Root shock is a real problem in new england gardens. I am going to plant half of my vegetable garden with cow pots this season.

  • 6 Mar, 2009

    We always use egg cartons when planting seeds, it seperates them and it's a good way to reuse them.

  • 4 Mar, 2009

    the block makers are a great idea but too rich for my wallet. where can i find the dot pots? any clue?

  • 3 Mar, 2009

    I have only a small garden space, but have had good results starting seedlings in fastfood salad plates (the ones with the clear lids)! I start the seeds, then transfer them as they reach the top!

  • 3 Mar, 2009

    Dotpots are the only plantable pot approved for use in organics. Also you should NOT rip off the bottom dotpots.. that damages the roots. If you use peat pots you should rip off the bottoms so the roots can come through but not with Dotpots.

  • 3 Mar, 2009

    you can get the block makers out of the "Johnny's Selected Seed Catalog".

  • 3 Mar, 2009

    were can you get the soil block makers