Originally published by Kelly Allsup on February 19, 2021.
Who would have known seeds would be the latest craze in 2021? Many seed companies are finding it hard to keep up with the demand and are out of stock or delayed in delivery. If you haven’t ordered your seeds, don’t fret, some are still available and your garden centers will not let you down on offering the average fare.
Coming from a greenhouse background, I have mostly bought vegetable transplants to start my garden. It was easier to let someone else who had the equipment, time, and commitment to produce a small plant for me. After the average last frost date (April 22), I would go purchase and plant transplants from the garden center into my garden beds.
But this year I am trying to experiment with some special varieties of vegetables that won’t be readily available as transplants. I am looking to grow vegetables that will grow in small containers, but will also produce a lot. I need to know which tomatoes I can grow in a 5-gallon bucket and how many tomatoes I can expect to yield. Last year’s experimentation with standard varieties left me unimpressed with the final harvest.
This year, I will be starting seed like a boss.
I will use seed flats, high quality soilless media, heat mats, lights, plastic, water sprayer and watering can with a water breaker built into the spout.
Seeds need warmth to germinate. This will be accomplished with the lights, heat mat, and plastic. Most people don’t realize that grow lights provide heat for germinating seeds before they develop leaves. Once they have germinated, the seedlings will use the light source to photosynthesize and make their own food. We used heat mats in the greenhouse when we didn’t have lights. They are specially designed for the seed germinating process, durable and available at most garden centers. They provide a consistency in germination that was vital during large production. Covering the flats with plastic keeps in the heat, and also maintains moisture. Remove plastic once germination occurs.
I will also be using my spray bottle and watering can with breaker on the end. The spray bottle is not fancy, but allows me to individually water seed inserts. If one cell is dry, I want to give that one a quick spritz but the one that is wet I want to skip. They will eventually even up enough that I can use my watering can to water the entire flat evenly. The breaker on the end just allows the water to come out softer and not disrupt soil-seed contact.
For more detailed steps, visit my colleague Chris Enroth’s video on seed starting. Or join us on March 11 at noon on Facebook Live with the Horticulturists, during which we will cover everything you need to know about starting garden seed. https://go.illinois.edu/FacebookLive.