Many of our seeds need to be planted early indoors, as our growing season is somewhat short and we like to grow many things from warmer climates. To this end we have installed a cold frame. This will be our first year to use it and we plan to fill it to the brim with early seedlings. We have already started planting many seeds for germination in the seed window which faces south and has a large sill with shelves.
While we do use small commercial peat pots, when we have them, I have begun to make my own using newspaper. It's so easy, free and it breaksdown in the soil so the roots can grow through. This means no transplanting is necessary. Just plop the newspaper pot into the ground or a larger pot, fill with soil and water.
I wrap a piece of newspaper, cut to the right size, around a pill bottle so that both sides overlap a bit, and tape it. I use a tiny piece of paper masking tape to hold it in place at the top and bottom of the side. I don't put tape on the bottom of the pot as it is folded over and I want the roots to have the freedom to grow through. I like the paper pots because you can jam more of them into a space, since their shape can be somewhat warped and they can be forced to fit. Here are several placed in a clear plastic cookie container from the grocery store. The lid will be closed until they sprout then propped open for air flow, or removed altogether. These containers are marvelous for winter sowing of seeds needing winter stratification outdoors, as well.
Some seeds will need special treatment before being planted in the soil, such as the winter temperatures mentioned above. These canna seeds must have the seed coat removed in one tiny spot before planting, so the water can enter. I had to use the drill with a rasp to thin the seed coat on these babies! These are very hard seeds! I also soak them for a few days in warm water to start them off. This makes for a much quicker germination than direct planting. Many other seeds need special treatment.
Some need the seed coat nicked or thinned, some need just soaking in warm water, some need winter freezing temps. These we either put in the freezer or winter sow in containers outside on the deck. There are a few, such as strawberry and impatiens seeds, that need light to germinate. It is a good idea to know your seed before planting time comes. These seeds have gone through the winter outdoors and should be sprouting soon.
I know gardeners who spread the seeds out between damp papertowels until they sprout. Then they cut them out with the paper towel and plant the whole piece. This way the seeds absorb moisture, swell and germinate before planting, letting you know if they are viable. This is a good practice with old seeds. You can also put them in water for a day to see if they are still viable. The dead seed will float. The ones that sink will likely sprout if given the right treatment.
This is a plastic serving tray rescued and reused as a seed germinator. Recycling is great for the invironment and the pocketbook!
We have already planted many of the early seeds, the hardy ones that can go out into the garden as soon as it is dry enough to walk out there. Most brassicas can be planted directly into the garden as soon as May is here. We have kholrabi and broccoli already up and growing in the seed window, both brassicas. Also in the brassica family are cabbage, brussel sprouts, turnip and rapini. I will be planting brussel sprouts as soon as I get the seeds. (It's a time issue. I have none!) We love young, tender brussel sprouts!
Also recently planted, are the dwarf white and orange canna seeds discussed earlier, candy lilies and 4 O'Clocks, soaking here in water for a few days. I have never grown candy lilies before and I am looking forward to it. Directly seeded just this weekend are garlic chives, red currents, ground cherries and bell peppers of all colours. I have plans to sow the tomatoes, luffahs, ornamental gourds, giant Halloween pumpkins, watermelon and canteloupe tomorrow. I have some seed for special coloured decorative corn that I would like to start early but I don't know if there will be room for it.
Most of these seedlings will go into the cold frame, if it ever gets warm enough for them. (We had more snow this morning.) Our new coldframe, pictured below, has a glass top .
Labelling the seedlings is a bit of a problem. Most ink and marker will be worn away and faded by the rain and sun of the outdoors. I use coloured paper clips from the dollar store to mark groups of pots, or individual pots, then record the colour clip with the type of seed planted in my garden journal. I do use other lables for my plants. Many are made from old horizontal window blinds that I have taken apart and cut into short pieces. Some ends already have a hole in them for tying it to a small shrub branch. I use cut up plastic ice cream containers and cut styrofoam pieces. I like these because the pen leaves an indentation in the styroforam. This indentation remains even if the ink fades and it can still be read in good light with glasses on...and maybe a magnifying glass. I am continuing my search for the perfect marker that will last through the sun and weather without fading. I may try nail polish on wood this year, if I have time.
A garden journal is priceless for those of us with poor memories. I record what I plant, and where, so there are no surprises and no seedlings pulled because I forgot I planted them there and thought they were weeds. I lost an entire package of primrose seedlings like that last year! Darn! (Um, if anyone has primroses to divide, I would love some pieces...) I also do my large garden planning for crop rotation in my journal. I record a list of the seeds that I have to trade, a list of seeds I am looking for, seeds that I have wintersowed, growing tips that I want to remember to use and creative ideas that suddenly come to me. You know...the ones you get in your sleep when you have nothing to write on. When I'm feeling the need to garden in the dead of winter with ten feet of snow and minus 100 temperatures (slight exaggeration) I can always read my garden journal from last year and remember summer. A garden journal is a great tool and a must for anyone with a large garden.
Altogether so far we have planted for the windowsill: bell peppers (yellow, orange, red, green), broccoli, kholrabi, brussel sprouts, garlic chives, red currents, ground cherries, Holloween pumpkins, luffahs, matrimony vine, watermelon, cantaloupe, cannas, 4 O'clocks, incarvillea, candy liles, sage, comfrey and 3 kinds of tomatoes.
Collecting and growing new things from seed is always a great experience! Seedlings don't grow exactly like the parent. Some see this as a drawback but I see it as an adventure. A handfull of seeds is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you're going to get!