While I have started vegetables and flowers indoors from seeds in the past, my results have been spotty at best. Damping off, drying up, keeling over for no apparent reason — that’s the story of seed starting for me. This year, I changed several aspects of my approach and have been pleased — OK, bursting with pride — with the results.
I’ve got about half a card table-ful of stout little seedlings of tomatoes, cucumbers, melons, sunflowers, peppers, and the special salvia for attracting hummingbirds that I heard about at the Rice County Horticulture Day in March. What worked this time that hadn’t before? Two things: Putting the plants where I can watch them closely and adding air circulation.
Recently, I moved my office to the lower level of our home. It’s near a west-facing sliding glass door, so I set up the card table and simple shoplight right next to the desk. With the plants right there, I’m much more likely to notice that this tray or that one needs more water, more likely to rotate them so the seedlings get more or less even light, and more likely to notice that they need to be potted on. Because I can see them — and even smell them — I’m less likely to neglect them. The one trick with this location was how to hang the light. Since it’s a finished room, I did not want to drill holes in the ceiling and hang the lights. Instead, I commandeered a hanging rack from the laundry room and hung the light chains from hangars on the rack. It’s a bit odd looking — and yes, family members have asked a) when all the seed junk will be out of this room, which doubles as a TV room; and b) when the hanging rack will be available again for clothes. But all in all, it’s a great set up.
The second improvement was the addition of a fan. I learned this from an article by Don Engebretson. A small fan set on low provides just enough air circulation to prevent damping off and other fungal diseases. With the fan, the shoplight, the window for extra natural light, and my extra attention, the seedlings are thriving.
The next challenge: Getting them safely into the garden. I’ll be reading up on hardening off seedlings over the next few weeks.