Starting seedlings is a great activity for young children. It is can be inexpensive (critical when you have a plant habit like the two of us). It brings spring to your home just a little sooner than the Idaho climate does. If you shop seed catalogs, it brings more diversity to your garden than you can find in local greenhouses. It expands the growing season in Idaho and allows you to eat fresh sooner.
Honestly though, starting seedlings can be discouraging when you don’t have a flat full of nursery quality plants and instead have wilty, spindly, pale yellow strings that are struggling for life. It happens to us too, especially when we attempt new kinds of seedlings we are not familiar with. There are tons of blogs out there on how to properly start seedlings…here are just some of our tips that have made us more successful, especially in Idaho and our busy lives.
1. Designate a safe area. More seedlings have succumbed to toy tractors driving through their soil, helpful little fingers “weeding” out the ones they didn’t like, curious minds looking at the roots, balls bouncing through the area… My kids get their own flats and seeds to plant. The youngest kid gets peas or beans that are easy to handle and oldest his choice of favorite vegetables. Remember that brightly colored seeds (pink, blue, orange, red) have chemical on them to prevent disease – your children should NEVER handle these seeds!
2. Let them have light. My biggest challenge has always been finding high quality light conditions in my home. I should have bought the $10 grow lights years ago! You can see right away if your plants are looking for light as they start to bend and get spindly just a few days out of the soil. Rotating their direction can help minimize the effects but a light-lacking plant will always be spindly and not have the strong main stem of a happy light-filled plant. Spindly plants are also harder to harden off and transplant to the garden. Some starts, like tomatoes, can be planted differently in the garden to overcome this growth but others cannot.
3. Not all potting mix is created equal. We prefer a mix specifically designed for starting seeds. They are typically a finer texture and help us get good soil to seed contact. A good soil mix will have enough nutrients to maintain almost any seedlings growth until it is ready for transplant unless you are delayed in getting larger starts out of their pots or you are over-watering.
4. Think outside the pot. Don’t get locked into the traditional image of what a seedling in a pot looks like. Check out these sites for ways to use items around your house as pots. Some of my favorites that I have used (and still do) are solo cups, old egg cartons, apple cartons from Costco and Rubbermaid bins.
5. Hold the flood. We are bogged down in mud and standing water right now and hating it. The plants do too! It is so tempting to encourage plant growth by giving them more water. Sometimes the answer is to just let them grow. Depending on the pots you have chosen to grow your seedlings in, water encourages mold and fungal growth or just drowns the seedlings. Seeing fuzzies on the top of your soil, time to back off on the water and let them dry off. Depending on how much humidity is in your growing area, a fan may be useful in drying off foliage and also is a great start for preparing your babies for the Idaho wind.
6. Prepare them for Idaho. Idaho springs are a tough environment to handle seedlings. Winds, frosts all the way into the end of May, hot days at the beginning of May…you need to be prepared for everything. I lost all of my seedlings one year when I set them outside and forgot about them while I was cleaning house, a wind came up and they were crispy before I could rescue them. Hardening plants take patience and a good location to slowly expose them to the elements over time. Always start this on a day when you will be home and check them often!
We hope you are getting your veggies from us this year BUT we also want you to enjoy a garden at your house as well. Start some flowers for containers. Make sure you always have your favorite herb on the kitchen counter. Grow some flowers for cutting.
What else is on the list this time of year? I am starting to clean out the shed from the fall and winter accumulation of “stuff” that didn’t get put away. I am hoping to do a re-arrange to make the pickup location more open and welcoming. There are handles to replace on shovels, harvest knives to sharpen, compost to spread, the hoop house to setup for March plantings and a new section of garden to break in. We really are expanding! It will be great to get back outside as soon as the mud becomes bearable to work in!