Master Gardener – A primer for starting seeds indoors

Pat yourself on the back. Light a fire and put your feet up. Have a glass of wine. If you have wrapped up another gardening season — or are putting the finishing touches on your garden clean-up — then you are deserving of some rest and relaxation! But don’t get too comfortable: spring will be here soon enough, and there is no better way to start a new growing season than by starting seeds indoors.
During normal Minnesota winters, our days are dark and dreary and oh-so-cold. Nothing brings life and light (literally) to these days like new shoots of green emerging from a growing tray. And once you have started seeds indoors, you are hooked! If you have never tried starting your own seeds, this might be your season to try — and it is not as difficult as you might think!
First … get your seeds! There is no substitute for high-quality seeds — and no thrill quite like looking at seed catalogs in January!
Next, consider your growing station.
You will need: clean seedling trays with individual spots for each seed; a seedling tray cover; a bag of soil-less potting mix and a florescent light fixture with white or “grow light” light bulbs.
To prepare your growing station, add the soil-less potting mix to each spot. Moisten the “soil” before planting seeds. Position the light over your seedling tray.
Now it is time to plant your seeds… or is it? Check the information on your seed packets for the number of days it takes the plant to reach maturity.
Depending on the plant and the desired harvest time, work backwards with those numbers and plant your seeds at the appropriate time. After planting, keep soil moist (but not wet!) and position your light two-inches away from soil surface.
Cover the trays for the first two weeks or until the seedlings begin to push against the cover. Remove cover and raise the light as needed, always keeping the bulbs two-three inches away from the seedlings.
Depending on your planting date and the growth of the plant, you may need to transport your seedlings in to a larger pot at some point.
Finally, when spring has sprung and your plants are ready to move to the garden, remember to “harden them off” (acclimate them to the outdoor environment) before transplanting to your garden.
For more information on seed starting, visit the University of Minnesota’s Extension website at: http://www.extension.umn.edu. Search “Starting Seeds Indoors.”

Travis Gerjets is a Master Gardener of Scott/Carver County.

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