Seed Starting for early spring flowers, herbs and vegetables

  Over the course of the next few weeks I will begin starting my seedlings here on the farm. Most of what I will start is the early cool season crops that I will plant into the field in February. Some of these I will protect with low tunnels, which are in essence mini hoop-houses we use here on the farm. I plan on posting a video of how we set up these low tunnels up so you can see just how simple they are to use even for the home gardeners. These low tunnels give us a couple of weeks or more jump on the normal planting schedule here in Middle Tennessee. The first thing that has to happen before I begin starting my seedlings is to get organize and making sure I have all the thing I will need for the process on hand. Because our farm has a healthy CSA program as well and our on-farm market here at Madison Creek Farms we have to start several flats of the same variety of whatever crops we intend to grow. Every year it seems like I don’t plant enough and run short as word about the farm spreads. The one thing about starting your own seeds is that you can grow so many different types of plants…plants you could never find at Home Depot or Walmart or where ever you do buy your plants. Don’t be intimidated by starting your own seedlings start with just a few tips and some easy varieties to begin with you will be just as hooked as the rest of us…just don’t quit your day job yet…lets get you growing first… Once you get your garden legs about you and a little confidence you can move on to the more fickle but oh so lovely plants. Below I have listed a few tips to get you started along with some of my favorite early season flowers, herbs and vegetables. You can always email me if you have a question or leave a comment if you have something to share with others that might set them on the path of glorious gardening.

Things you will need to get started when starting seeds:

1.        For easy quick start to seed starting I think you should start with the Jiffy Greenhouse Kits. These are fair nice kits you just need to soak the seed starting plugs in warm water until they double in size or more and you are ready to start seeding. One other thing I like about these Jiffy kits are they have a clear plastic lit that create a mini greenhouse effect. It saves water and helps to keep the seedlings from drying out as fast.

2.        Fish emulsion to water in your newly planted seeds. You want to give then the nutrients they need to start strong. 1 cap full of fish emulsion per 1 quart of water. This measurement is diluted for seed starting. Now I will warn you…fish emulsion stinks…so hello. I told you so….but your plants with love it!

3.        A shop light…just a cheap florescent shop light…no need to spend a lot of money on fancy grow light.

4.        A good bright sunny spot in the house to place you’re planted tray on. Even though you have extra lighting with your shop light you plants need the warmth and light from the sun as well.

5.     Your seeds! That is it… 

Good Seed Varieties For Beginners: remembers this list is for early season plants.

1.        Calendula  Flashback “edible flower” these are wonderful bright spring flowers that are great for cutting and also good from dressing up that fresh spring salad. They will bloom all summer off and on but they do best in the cool season of spring and fall.

2.        Dill “herb” there is nothing like fresh dill cut right from your garden. Dill can grow fairly tall and looks great even in you flower beds. Dill is another plant that just doesn’t like our hot summers here in the south and want to bolt and go to seed…which is great to allow some of your dill to do just that…free seed for next season garden!

3.        Lettuce “vegetable” easy to grow and if you start romaine lettuce now you will be ready for an extra early spring salad.

4.        Kohlrabi Winner “vegetable” I love this vegetable and if you have been apart of our CSA you know what I am talking about when I say yummy! The reason I chose the Winner variety is because it tend to not split as badly as some others do. But…okay…thefemalefarmer’s  little tip about homegrown vegetables…don’t compare vegetables appearances to store brought vegetables. If you grow organically and I hope you do…you are going to have splits, holes and dings..get over it…its not a big deal…just taste it and you will find there truly isn’t any comparison. If your Kohlrabi does split…it is still fine to eat…it does this if it has been a wet growing season.

5.        Spinach Spargo “vegetable” very easy to grow…grow plenty what you don’t eat you can preserve it by freezing it. You’ll thank me for that tip during those hot summer days when you would kill for something green!    

6.        Sweet Peas Mammoth Choice  “flower” the Sweet pea seed is fairly large about the size of …holy cow…a real pea…so they are a snap to plant. You will notice the seedlings will start to vine very quickly so give them lots of room. When you plant these flowers out they will need some support like a fence or trellis. Sweet Peas smell amazing and make wonder fresh-cut flower bouquets.

7.        Chives Purly “herb” start Chives now and you will have them for years. Chives like an early start in the cool days of spring.

8.        Nasturtium Jewel “edible flower” I love the color of these flowers and again like Calendula these are edible and look and taste great.

All the above mention seed varieties you can order from Johnny’s seeds ….love Johnny’s!

Once you have your seeds and your seed tray ready its time to plant…here’s a few femalefarmer tips:

If you are starting your seeds using the Jiffy kit follow their instructions about preparing the kit.

Tip 1. Rule of thumb…the bigger the seed the deeper you plant it. So for Sweet Peas I push them half way into the seed starting mix. The smaller the seed the shallower I plant it. Very small seeds don’t want to be covered with heavy soil. A nice little sprinkle of lettuce seed on top of the tray is really all you need to do…don’t plant these seeds too deep for they don’t like the dark.. Think about what the seed must need in nature to survive.

Tip 2. Let there be light and flowing air…once your seedling pokes its head out of the soil it wants …needs light to least 16 hours of light so keep those shop lights on. Also adjust hanging the shop lights about 4-6 inches above your seed trays. As your seedlings get taller you can keep raising the light. A fan blowing moves the air from around your seed trays it keep nasty fungus and other yucky stuff from taking hold and spoiling all your fun. Just a box fan set on low will do the trick.

Tip 3. Watch the moisture level of your seed trays. Not too wet not too dry.

 Tip 4. Once the first true leaves appears fertilize them again with the fish emulsion same strength.

In about 6 weeks your baby will be ready to start Harding off…that means taking them outside in under the porch or a protected area for a few hours a day. This allows them to get a feel for what their new home in your garden will be like. Watch that you don’t allow your little ones to get too much direct sunlight or too much wind. They are still babies…after a week of this they are ready to be planted in your garden.

Happy growing:)

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My name is Peggy Lynn Marchetti. I am a wife, a mother of two beautiful, never boring children, and a farmer... that's right - a farmer... a female farmer to be exact. I live on a beautiful little third generation organic farm in middle Tennessee.

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4 comments on “Seed Starting for early spring flowers, herbs and vegetables
  1. Cindy says:

    Wow, You make all the hard work in farming sound like fun. Looking forward to starting my gardening and with all your helpful tips I know it will be the best crop yet. Thanks Peggy.

  2. Dear Peggy,

    I was just thinking about Madison Creek Farms yesterday, and then today I got your newsletter. I love your blog, and I will enjoy getting to “read the book first” and participate in that process.
    I went back through your old posts and was glad to find this one about starting seeds, as I just ordered some herb seeds and got one of those jiffy kits! This will be my first attempt at growing seeds indoors. I just could not wait till March or April when the plants start coming in at the garden centers, like I usually do. My husband noted that our home’s former owner left a shop light in the garage so he is going to bring it inside for me and set it up. I plan on posting about the process on my blog. Please visit my blog when you have a chance!
    Thanks and best wishes, and I was so sorry to hear about your mother-in-law.

  3. Marcia says:

    Just bought two of the Jiffy greenhouse systems today at Home Depot. I have a lot of heirloom tomato seeds that I plan to start in February – I am in Northern California so plan to move them to the garden the end of April. Glad you have had good luck with them. I also grew up on a farm, a dairy farm in Michigan.

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