#1 way to save money gardening: starting seeds

Starting seeds can be tricky but I live  in the dark and cold tundra of northern Minnesota without electricity….. so if I can do it so can you! Starting your own seedlings is the #1 way to save money gardening.  If you are buying seedlings I guarantee you are spending more money with a garden than you need to. In most of my life I barely  miss electricity, but man would it be a bonus when starting seeds!!!  I’ll tell you how I do it off-the-grid AND how my sister does it with the benefits of electricity.

Start out with good seeds.

If you have any questions about the vitality of your seeds, do a germination test. Simply put some seeds on moist paper towels in a plastic bag placed in a warm spot. Keep the paper towels moist and check daily for germination. Seeds can take any where from a couple days to a couple weeks to germinate. If none or only some seeds germinate the you need to get new seed.  See my post with tips on ordering seeds

Provide the best growing medium possible

Seedlings have different needs than plants in a garden and that’s why garden soil will not work to start seedlings in. I look for seedling mix that absorbs water well. I tend to stay away from Miracle Grow as I have not had good results with that brand.

Denise used Burpee’s organic seed starting mix this year and has been happy with it.

Plant seeds at the right time.
Hopefully your seed has a package with instructions that include two pieces of info. #1 -how many days from last frost date to transplant date and #2 how many days from starting seed to transplant date. This will tell you when to start your seeds.

Plant seeds the correct depth.
I ignored this detail for a long time to the detriment of many seasons of gardening. Read the seed package to find what depth to plant the seed .mark a stick at 1/8″, 1/4″, 1/2″, 3/4″ and 1″ and use it to poke a hole in the moist growing medium. If you plant it too deep it may never break the surface or take much longer.  If you plant it too shallow you will have a weak and floppy plant.

Next give those babies what they want….water, warmth and light!
If your seedlings do not get what they need they will become stressed.  They may survive but they will be weak and you will have delayed plants the whole season. By giving them the perfect amount of water, warmth and light you will have strong seedlings.
Seeds must be kept moist but not waterlogged. You don’t want mold when starting seeds but you NEVER want them to dry out. Consistent small amounts of water is the best, many people use a spritz bottle for their seedlings. Be vigilant but don’t soak them. If you use tap water be careful you may need to filter the chlorine out of it. I even make sure my water is a little warm so I don’t stunt my seedlings.

Denise bought this cool seed starting devise where she just fills up the water reservoir an it wicks the perfect amount of moisture for the little seedlings.
Here is where I SO wish I had electricity or lived a bit more south than the boreal forest… I have a  shelf behind my wood stove where my seedlings stay warm and cozy while they germinate.  Denise  bought a seedling heat mat to provide the perfect consistent temperature to her plants.

            My off-the-grid set up: Behind the wood stove when it is dark and in the southern windows when it is light.

A south facing window with a fluorescent adjustable light with one warm and one cool light bulb is enough to get by. Ideally if you have electricity set a timer for 16-18 hours of light a day. Remember to rotate your seedlings everyday.  You will see they will start to bend towards the light.

Densie’s set up with all the tools modern life has to offer while starting seeds.

Starting seeds is the only way to go if you have a garden.  It allows you to select rare and interesting varieties you will rarely find at your local greenhouse.  It also gives us gardeners a chance to get our hands dirty and tend to some new life while there is still snow on the ground and months before we can get out in the garden.  Plus if you have any extra seedlings you can share them with family and friends. Spread that joy of gardening around people!

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