Spring air smells like possibility.
Don’t you think?
There’s just something about the lengthening daylight and the scent of fragile green grass wafting through the air on a sunny spring afternoon that gives me goosebumps.
So many possibilities. So many projects. So many ideas and dreams floating through my head.
It’s the homesteading equivalent of a blank slate. It makes me feel like a brand-new homesteader with stars in my eyes all over again.
But there’s one part of spring planning that’s always bugged me a bit.
Not because I didn’t enjoy it, and not because I didn’t want to save a TON of money at the garden store not having to buy a boatload of vegetable starts… But rather because I had no where to put the things.
Back in the day, I slapped a board across our mudroom stairwell and called it good. It had the only south-facing window in the house, and considering the rest of our house was teensy tiny, it was my only option anyway.
Except it didn’t really work. I had extremely limited room, and some of the seedlings really needed grow lights, not limited sunlight.
But this year is different, thanks to our crazy remodel project. I finally have a real basement and space to grow stuff. I am positively giddy.
It occurred to me last month I needed to get my act together and figure out a seed starting system. In the past, (since I’ve only been able to start a handful of plants) I used my favorite paper pots and some repurposed serving trays.
But this year I wanted to start far, far more than a dozen or so seedlings. I’m wanting to do some hardcore seed-starting, my friends… And I didn’t feel like making 200+ paper pots. Ain’t nobody got time for that.
So I drew upon the wisdom of my gardener-extraordinaire neighbor, Jana at Celtic Prairie Farm. She routinely has a huge garden, and knows exactly what works in our area. Upon her wise suggestions, here’s what we ended up doing.
Our Simple Seed Starting System
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- Metal Shelving (Like these from Amazon)
- 4′ Fluorescent shop lights (We bought these from Menards)
- Small bits of light chain (may come with your shop lights)
- Jiffy peat pellets (I got this pack of 200)
- Trays (I grabbed this set of 10, but you can get creative and repurpose, too)
We looked at some table-style models (like this one), but decided to use some simple metal shelving we already had hanging around.
For starting large groups of seedlings, grow lights are much preferred to window light. We found these 4-foot fluorescent T8 lights at Menards and they just so happened to fit perfectly with our shelf, and they were pretty affordable too. Prairie Husband attached them to the underside of the shelves with a bit of chain.
Then I was left with the decision of which seed starting medium to use, since my paper pots weren’t gonna work.
After a whole lot of shopping around, I settled on Jiffy-7 peat pellets because they were cheap, easy to use, and didn’t take up a whole lot of space. I also grabbed some of these plastic trays from Amazon, but you could use other trays, too, depending on what you have hanging around. (I’ve used foil lasagna pans in the past and keep the clear lids on to create a mini greenhouse.)
Planting the Seeds
First, check out my seed starting guide post so you know exactly when to start what.
The pellets hydrate pretty quickly– place them in your tray and add an inch or two of water in the bottom. They’ll start expanding and should be ready in about 30 minutes. (Just keep an eye on them and add more water if needed)
Once they are sufficiently wet, plant your seeds, cover with a bit of plastic wrap (optional, but it helps provide a bit of that greenhouse effect) and keep them in a warm place until they begin to sprout.
After that, transfer them to the grow lights and keep the lights on them for 16 hours (or so) a day. Add more water if the little pots start to dry out.
I have broccoli, tomatoes, cabbage, and various herbs popping up so far. It makes me stupidly giddy every time I go downstairs to check them. Once they get a bit bigger, I’ll likely transplant most of them into bigger pots, and then eventually into the garden come May or June.
If you are going to transplant the little pellets directly into the garden, tear the netting a bit, as sometimes it can hamper the growth of the mature plant.
Who knows… after these go into the garden, I might just starting growing some barley fodder in the basement… You never know.
Now my only problem is that I have 50+ tomato starts, and my garden is FAR too small to handle all those. But we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it. Ahem. Go forth and plant!