Every year about this time in February I begin my spring planting.  I use heirloom organic seeds and I start my seedlings inside.  Starting certain plants 6-8 weeks before the last frost ensures that I will have a hearty plant ready to transplant into the garden.  Today was an unusually warm day for winter, it was 70º here in the Midwest.  I took advantage of this unseasonably warm weather to get my hands dirty in the soil.

As I mentioned in a recent article, I won some of my heirloom seeds from Listia.  I also purchased a few others at my local department store.  I chose heirloom seeds because they will produce year after year.  Hybrid seeds are not as reliable to reproduce year after year and can be genetically modified seeds.  When I harvest my organic heirloom vegetables, throughout the summer and fall, I save the seeds and air dry them out.  Once they are dry I place them in a labeled envelope for the following years planting season.  By doing this I save myself a lot of money not having to purchase new seeds each year.  However I do allow myself to purchase/barter for different varieties each year to expand my garden.

I had purchased organic seed starting potting soil and some recycled cardboard seed starting trays.  I reuse plastic trays I received when purchasing plants from years past.  The plastic trays are great to catch moisture from the cardboard seedling trays.  I first fill all the trays with the potting soil.  Then I water to moisten the soil.  I press down to add more soil and moisten again.

Since it was a little windy, I came inside to plant the seeds.  I started with making little tags for the seeds I was about to plant.  After making the tags, I began placing the seeds in the trays.  You can use a #2 pencil eraser to make a small indention in the soil to place the seed.  I personally use my pinky to make the indention.  I also place two seeds per pot in the tray.  I do this in case one of the seeds does not germinate or for some reason a seedling gets damaged.  Once the seedling is ready to plant in my garden, I carefully separate the two seedlings, taking care not to damage the seedling or roots.  If you are concerned about separating the plants, place only one seed per pot.  Cover the seeds with soil and place your tag in the pots to help you remember what you have planted.

This next step is important and you do not want to skip this step.  Cover your tray to keep the humidity in.  You can purchase trays that have lids for your convenience.  I use plastic wrap to cover my trays.  I tape down the side to ensure the humidity can build up inside.  Most seeds sprout best in a warm humid environment.  Place the trays in front of a window, if you do not have a window available it is important to purchase grow lights or special light spectrum bulbs.

Check your plants on aregular basis and water the soil before it becomes dry.  Consistent moisture to the soil is important to a young seedling.  As your seedling begins to grow you will need to lift the plastic lid or plastic wrap to allow for growth.  You do not want your seedling to become leggy so you will need to remove the plastic once the seedling has at least four leaves.  This is a tip I learned 18 years ago from an old farmer down the road.

My seedlings are in a tray that has 36 small pots.  If they are getting too big before the weather is right for me to begin planting outside, I will transfer them to a larger pot to allow them to continue to grow.  Before planting them outside I will set them outside in a protective area where they will not get too much wind.  This is called hardening, it allows the stem to strengthen before I set it out in the garden.

I can not beginto explain how wonderful it is to start the garden in February.  Even this 50 year old gal gets excited when the first seedlings pop through the soil.  I can’t wait to share the pictures of the progress with the readers of G2N.  Stay tuned to see my garden grow.