from sky to seed

Indoor Seed Starting

Missouri’s summer weather makes for Eden vegetable gardens, but sometimes the more finicky plants still need a helping hand.

Indoor seed starts will give your plant babies the boost they need.

Or so everyone tells me.

Only time will tell for sure.

I had bad luck sowing eggplants and tomatoes from seed last year, and by bad luck I mean, absolutely nothing germinated. My strategy this year is to go ahead and try indoor starts with those crops, plus a couple other plants rumored to be difficult to direct sow. Mainly, peppers and herbs. Actually, those are the only things I’m sowing indoors: tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, and herbs.

The benefits of sowing indoors are basically that you can manage itty, bitty fragile crops in controlled environments until they are strong enough to sustain themselves in the brutality of nature (namely weather and insects). It also gives you a jump start on crops so that you can extend their growing season instead of waiting until the outdoor soil warms up enough to welcome seeds.

We’ve got a great nursery the next nearby, so from them I picked up organic seed starter and a bunch of advice. The nice lady told me that, post sowing in good starter, I didn’t need anything fancy, “Just a sunny spot in your house.”

This is where we bumped up against our first problem. “I don’t have a sunny spot in my house,” I told her.

“You have to have a sunny spot in your house,” she said.

“No, I don’t. I really don’t.” This is the point in conversation with fellow Missourians in which I often get irritated, because don’t you just love it when complete strangers tell you that you don’t know what you’re talking about when, in fact, you do?

“There’s got to be a window or something.”

“There’s not.”

“You don’t have any windows in your house?”

“Not really.”

“Well! Do you live in a cave or something?”

And then I had to explain to the nice lady that I lived in an airplane hangar apartment designed by a man and that the only window we have is above the sink and it is absolutely stuffed with succulent planters.

I could tell that she didn’t believe me. She probably went home and told her husband that some idiot came in claiming that she didn’t have any windows in her house. She patted my head and told me to buy some grow lights. Which they, sadly, did not sell.

Now, I really, really strive to buy local for as much stuff as possible, but absolutely none of the independent hardware stores in our area sold indoor grow light fixtures. Our local Lowes, whose service is so atrocious it’s painful, sold the bulbs, but not the set-up, so I went ahead and ordered this from Amazon. It’s great. Easy assembly, no tools required, and everything (stand, power cord, light bulb) included.

It was super, ridiculously easy to assemble. I saw this with emphasis because I know lots of women who hate assembling things. In fact, as I carried the enormous, lumbering box past Jon, he called out, “I’ll put that together for you later.”

And I said, “No, I can do it.”

And I did.

That’s how easy it is.

First you put together the legs and feet. No tools required.

First you put together the legs and feet. No tools required.

This leg piece snapped off with the plastic bit still inside, but Jon fixed it easily by replacing the plastic with a small block of wood.

This leg piece snapped off with the plastic bit still inside, but Jon fixed it easily by replacing the plastic with a small block of wood.

And anyway, the fixture still stood without that fourth foot.

IMG_0812Here’s a neat-o feature: The grow light height is adjustable thanks to this little cord, which words exactly like the pull strings in a hoodie.

IMG_0814The bulb attaches with the use of little clips. Again. So easy!

IMG_0817IMG_0819Okay, now on to the actual seeds.

I read a lot of fancy PR packaging that said I needed super special soil and additives and warming mats and such, but every experienced gardener I talked to said that was just BS. You really, really don’t, they told me. So I didn’t. I just bought seed starter and collected my little egg cartons and free seed starter containers that The Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Company gave me for buying so many seeds. They’re so nice. I just love them. Please buy your seeds there.

My work space was a bit of a disaster. The wind has been absolutely thrashing our countryside lately, rendering outside work with tiny seeds impossible. So I cleared a little space on Jon’s workbench in the hangar and got to work. See? Egg cartons, seed starter containers, seed starter soil stuff, seeds, and a big bowl to make managing the wet dirt easy. The screen on my laptop has my plant list from the Mother Earth News Vegetable Garden Planner, which I raved about here and which, if you are a gardener and don’t know what I’m talking about, you really need to school yourself on.

IMG_0821Now, I got to work! It’s so easy, seriously. Just fill the carton with dirt and set your seeds. I started with eggplant, those tiny, pesky suckers. See how little?! Now you understand why I worked inside. My hands kind of look weird and creepy in these pictures. Sorry.

IMG_0822It’s really, really important to label your containers. Trust me, you will forget what you planted where if you aren’t very organized and careful. Those labels are like $2 at a garden supply store. SO worth it.

It took me about two hours to plant everything off my list, which was great because I got in two solid blocks of the This American Life podcast.

Once done, I set everything under the grow lights, but you really don’t have to do this, or so I’m told. Seeds only need darkness and dampness and reasonable temperatures to germinate. Your seed packets will tell you how many days to germination, but it’s usually 3-10 depending on the plant. Once the seedlings pop up above the dirt, the grow lights come on.

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