How to Start Greens/lettuce seeds inside

seed germination tray

Here’s what  last year’s lettuce looked like when germinated and ready to be transplanted into bigger pots

Greens/lettuce seeds started inside February 8

Yesterday I planted some lettuce and greens seeds. Here’s how I do it:

seed germination tray

I cut this tray into thirds

I bought these flats above for starting seeds indoors and under lights. I cut them into thirds as I like I them a little smaller as they are easier to handle and not so flimsy.

I like shallow containers to start SMALL seeds as it is easier to get the correct soil temperature needed for germination and I can plant a lot of seeds in a small space. Bigger pots for small seeds are harder to get the soil temperature correct. Optimal seed germination temperature for greens and lettuces it is 65-70 °F and it should take between 7-10 days to germinate.

seed starting tray_dots

I mark each row every inch and plant a seed there

Before I put in the seeds, I marked each row with a dot (I used a silver sharpie) one inch apart so I could evenly space the seeds and that way I can also see if a seed germinated by that dot. I use Metro Mix 360 soil for starting seeds. I pre-moisten the soil.

seed starting tray_seeds

Put kiddie (play) sand on top after putting seeds in rows.

I used a pencil to make a small hole in the Metro Mix and put a seed in it. Afterwards I put ‘kiddie’ play sand over each row to cover the seeds and pat it down. Small seeds can easily break through the sand when germinating. I would use bigger pots for larger seeds. You must keep the soil moist at all times till they germinate. Because the trays are so shallow, I only have to mist the pre-moisten soil with a sprayer, sometimes several times a day. You could put a clear top on it till germination happens. I never put the trays under a faucet to water as that could move the seeds around.

thermostat probeseed starting tray with thermostat

Here I have them sitting on a heat mat but I don’t turn the mat ‘on’.  For greens/lettuces I put the probe in the soil to see what temperature it is at with the thermostat. I find for greens/lettuces the lights above the seed trays provide all the heat needed to stay in that temperature range.  Here the thermostat reads 66°F. I’ll turn seedling heat mats on later for warm season crops like tomatoes which like the soil temperature much warmer for germination. The thermostat is great for controlling the temperature.

seed starting tray with journal entry.jpg

Write down what variety each row is in a notebook

I identify each row with a number and then keep a record of what each number represents instead of trying to write down what it is on that little piece of tape. There are 12 dots so that means since there are 6 rows in each ‘mini-flat’ that there are 72 seeds in this tiny space! After they germinate and their first two true (cotyledon) leaves appear, I will transplant them each plant into a 4 pack and from there directly into a cold frame, low tunnel or greenhouse. Still too early to  throw them outside without protection.

Here is what I planted:
1-Yugoslavian Red lettuce-butterhead type
2-Santoro lettuce-butterhead type
3-Slow-Bolt Cilantro
4-Carmel Spinach
5-Baby Pak Choi
6-Forellenschuss (trout) lettuce-romaine

Seed Starting For Early Spring Crops-Class handouts

The Seed Starting For Early Spring Crops class that I taught today was sponsored by one of the organizations I’m a member of called Home Grown New Mexico. Home Grown New Mexico puts on many classes about growing, raising, making and preserving your food throughout the year. They are about sustainability, urban farming and growing organically which is right up my alley and the classes are open to the public. If you’d like to see what other classes/workshop Home Grown New Mexico is putting on, check out their website homegrownnewmexico.org.

Now, here are the handouts if you weren’t able to make the class or if you didn’t get them as we ran out of them during the class today-it was definitely a full house with about 35 people attending. It was a good mix of Master Gardeners, Interns and the public that attended. I really like to teach when you all show up! Hope you learned something and enjoyed it!

Starting Cold Hardy Plants in Early Spring Inside-2014

seed germination chart

PRESPOUTING SEEDS

Cold hardy crops for early spring in March-April

COOL-WARM SEASON CROPS

Seed starting INSIDE

I’ve been planting seeds INSIDE for a couple of weeks now. Here is my update on my seed starting endeavors this spring so far.

PEAS-Not everything is successful-My pea seeds I planted inside have NOT done well as I had hoped. They are barely coming up now inside so I planted more outside and if these make it, I will add to the other seeds that I planted outside on Saturday. I think the heating mat was too hot for them so I put them on a table under the lights but with no heat. We will see..

FAVA BEANS-I’m so excited-I’ve never grown fava beans before but are trying them this year. I sprouted fava beans that I got from that Homegrown seed swap and bought some more that I got from Spanish Table Market here in Santa Fe. The companies would like to say that the ones they sell you to eat are different then the ones they sell you to grow.  If they are treated then that would be true but so far I have not found that to be the case. They are both sprouting just fine. Today I saw three of them breaking ground in their little pots on the heat mat under the lights. Once up I will transplant them outside as they like the cold. I’ll talk about them later.

CHARD, BOK CHOY seeds planted-MAR 13-The chard and bok choy germinated in 2 days!

BORAGE seeds planted-MAR 13-Germinated in 3 days!

MORE LETTUCE-seeds planted-MAR 13-just starting to come up

SPINACH seeds planted inside as well as outside -MAR 13-Not up yet

TOMATOES-seeds planted today-Sunday, MAR 18-planted 27 different varieties! Hope to put them out 8 weeks from now-mid May or sooner. Last year I planted tomato seeds inside on Mar 21.

POTATOES-I’ve been chitting them for a week now. Chitting is getting the potato eyes to sprout.

The next major inside seed starting will be in 2 weeks-Basil, oregano, marjoram, zinnias and probably a lot more.

Starting Seeds Inside

Pea seeds starting to sprout after being treated with ascorbic acid.

Last Saturday I taught a seed starting class at the Railyard classroom. I want to share the information sheets I provided in class with anyone who might be interested.

STARTING SEEDS INSIDE will help anyone who wants to get a head start on how to start seeds inside.

One of the tricks with peas (especially if they are older) is to soak them in a water/ascorbic acid mix. To read how, go to PRESPOUTING SEEDS. I soaked them for 2 days and then put them in damp paper towels and in a plastic baggie. The little seed germinates the root right away. Then plant each pea root down in a little pot being careful not to break the root and wait for them to come up. My goal is to plant the pea PLANTS by March 17th (St. Patrick’s Day) instead of planting the SEEDS that day.

DIRECT SEEDING: TRANSPLANTING covers planting seeds for warm season crops directly in the soil AFTER the danger of frost has passed.

COOL-WARM SEASON CROPS is a list of plants you can grow by season. We are right now in the beginning of our growing seasons which is COLD SPRING/FALL meaning we can plant those plants in early spring and again in fall. The next group we can plant on the list (generally in April) is called COOL WEATHER crops and then of course we go into the WARM SEASON crops which is after the last frost freeze date (our area May 15th) and for those cold hardy people there is a list of WINTER crops.

Four Season Harvest by Eric Coleman

I suggest you read Eliot Coleman’s Four-Season Harvest book which is a great resource for all seasons.

SEED STARTING DATE CALCULATOR from Johnny’s Seeds does all the work for us as to when to start seeds inside and when to plant them in the ground (that also means when to put in transplants if you choose to buy them instead). I just plugged in the last frost free date and it does the rest. Now all we have to do is get a calendar out and write down when we should start the seeds for the plants we want to grow this year. A terrific resource. Johnny’s has some other great tools on their main page in the left hand column under GROWING GUIDES called Interactive Tools. Be sure to check them out.

NEXT: MASTER GARDENER INTERN VEGETABLE CLASS

Tomato seeds planted inside-March 21

Bleaching pots before use

drying on an OLD towel

Last evening I planted my tomato seeds-both heirloom and hybrid seeds. I brought out and set up the light boxes and heating mats last week. Before planting my seeds, I always clean the little pots with some bleach water that I use for starting tomato seedlings. It’s important to disinfect the pots because you don’t want your plants to pick up any soil borne diseases. I use about a 10%  bleach to water ratio.  I use the kitchen sink and try to not get dirt everywhere from the used pots. The trick is to convince your partner that it is ok! Just tell them you are disinfecting the sinks out (which is true)! I picked up the seed starting soil-Metro mix 300 from Agua Fria Nursery last week. It comes in a big bag but you will be planting up into larger containers in a few days after the second set of true leaves appear and besides if you have any left over, you can use it for next year. I’ve bought many seed starting soil mixes (usually at the big box stores) and hate the way the water rolls off of the soil when you first go to use it. With this soil mix (Metro Mix 300) I just plant the tomato seeds about 1/4 inch deep and water it all at once. It saves time and anything that saves time I like!

Metro Mix 300

After I water the seeds, I put them under my lights and on top of a heating mat which is great for warming the soil for the seeds to germinate. I’m starting the tomatoes later this year because last year I started the first week of March and they got too big-about 3-4 feet tall because I couldn’t put them out with the cold spring we had.  This year I’m hoping to get them transplanted into the garden around mid April (with protection) weather permitting. Why do I think I might be able to get them in early this year? We are in a La Nina which generally means warmer weather in spring but less rain. By planting them later if I have to, they shouldn’t be as big as last year.

seeds on heat mat