This guest article is written by Tom Corson-Knowles, founder of Authentic Health Coaching. Tom blogs regularly about whole food nutrition, vertical gardening, and other health topics. Tom’s book The Vertical Gardening Guide is free on Amazon.com until October 10th, 2012.
Starting seeds for your vertical garden is just like with starting seeds for traditional gardening methods. If you are new to gardening and starting seeds, then this chapter will teach you what you need to know!
You can either start seeds yourself or you can purchase plants that have already started to grow. Here are a couple of reasons why starting seeds is a great idea:
- It’s affordable
- You can do this for any type of plant you want to grow
- The plants usually are of higher quality
- You’ll know they’re organic
In order for your seed starting to succeed, you’re going to need to have the right environment for them to germinate. It’s a good idea to start with seeds that start to germinate quickly.
For beginners, it’s a good idea to limit the variety of plants that you are trying to create seedlings for. You don’t want to work with too many types because you could end up getting frustrated with certain types of plants that take longer or require too much effort to get started.
Just to give you an example, strawberry seeds can take up to 4 weeks to sprout whereas lettuce can sometimes sprout in a day or two.
Starting seeds on your own can be a lot of fun. If you want to bypass this step, you can just go buy starter plants at your local gardening store.
Picking Containers for Your Seeds
You’re going to need containers to start your seeds. The type of container you choose is up to you, but should be at least two to three inches deep and contain holes at the bottom for drainage. Some people take the easy route and purchase a seed starting system. If you’re going to be growing tomatoes and peppers, you can buy a seed starting system and then transport them into a pot.
Starting Seeds Without Soil
When starting seeds, sometimes you don’t even need soil at all. In fact, I recommend sprouting seeds without soil in most cases. This will enable you to avoid problems with insects and diseases. The medium should consist of a blend that is spongy, fine-textured and moist. When sprouting seeds for my aeroponic vertical garden, I use rock wool cubes. You can buy them at any hydroponics supply store or online. More on that in Chapter 11.
You can find ready-mixed blends readily sold at gardening centers in your area or online. These blends consist of vermiculite, milled sphagnum moss and perlite. Since these blends don’t have a lot of nutrients, if any, so you will need to add a liquid fertilizer to the mix. This should be done a few weeks after your seeds start to germinate. Once you transplant the seeds into the garden, you can discontinue the fertilizer.
The transplantation of your seedlings should take place after six to eight weeks. They can then be transplanted into a larger pot. It should contain coarser materials with the vermiculite, perlite and sphagnum, such as garden soil or compost. Usually a 1/3 of each item is used in the blend. This mixture will get your transplants prepared for a life out in your garden.
Starting Your Seeds at the Right Time
Certain plants grow faster than others, which is why you should try and time your seed starting accurately. You don’t want to start seeds that grow too fast to where you can’t transplant them out to your garden right away.
You will need to time rapid growing plants closer to planting time and those that grow a lot slower can be planted earlier, so that they are ready by the time you want to transport them outdoors.
For instance, you can begin growing leeks and celery 12 weeks before you want to transplant them outside into your garden. Then there are sunflowers and cucumbers, which only need between three and four weeks to be transplanted to your outside garden. Most seed packets give directions for seedling and how long it takes before they’re ready for transplantation. To better organize your seed starting, you can create a schedule for all of the different plants you decide to grow this season.
If you will be starting your seeds inside of a greenhouse or a room that is very warm, then you can subtract a week or so from the planting date. When starting seeds in very warm temperatures, it can cause the plant to grow faster, which will leave you with a big plant that is ready to be transplanted sooner than you expected.
Some seedlings will have to be transplanted into larger pots after they’ve been growing for about three to four weeks. If you’re growing your seeds in flats instead of individual plant cells, then this is especially so. These plants will need space to allow their roots to grow before being transplanted outdoors.
Starting and Maintenance of Seedlings
The container that you are growing your seeds in should be kept moist and warm. Room temperature water is the best to use. Fill the trays you have purchased with the medium you decide to use and make sure that it is thoroughly moistened.
Fill the tray about ¼ to ½ from the top, then plant the seeds. Make sure to check the seed packages to see if the seeds are required to be chilled or soaked before being planted. You’ll also need to double check whether the plants prefer sunlight or shade and specific temperatures.
It’s important that you create the perfect habitat for your seedlings to get the best results. This is why it’s easier to start with a small variety of seeds – because it can be pretty difficult to create multiple climates at once. If you can, you should try growing plants that have similar requirements. But just know that if you do make a mistake and some of your seeds don’t sprout, you can always try again! Trust me, we’ve all made those kinds of mistakes many times in our gardening adventures.
You can either plant the seeds in their own cells or scattered across the surface of the soil. Don’t sow the seeds too thickly; they only need a fine layer of soil. Most seeds should be covered three times their thickness, unless the seeds are very tiny or require light to germinate, which in this case would need light coverage.
Always read your seed packets because they should have all the information you need to know about how to sprout them!
A mister or dribbles of water can be used to keep the medium moist and this will ensure great contact between the soil and your seeds. Make sure to put labels on the trays, so that you know which plant is which. Don’t throw away the seed packets either – you might want to use them for future reference.