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Get a jump on your garden: Start your seeds indoors

Home gardeners: Order your seeds. Now.

Or, better yet, go visit your local nurseries, see what they have in terms of variety selection and fill in any gaps with your favorite seed company online. Similar to 2020, the upcoming growing season looks to be just as crazy, as more and more people try their hands and hoes at gardening.

One of the bigger seed companies has even gone so far as to temporarily suspend all orders other than those by commercial growers (i.e. farmers). Many seed companies have already sold out of the more popular varieties; others are reducing the number of seeds per pack; and because of time constraints and limited workforce, some are even forgoing their germination testing (expressed as a percentage on the seed packet, seeds are put in the conditions that make them most likely to germinate and then see how many develop into healthy sprouts). So don’t dilly, or dally. Go get your seeds and start planning on where you are going to plant them.

Many of you also start your seeds indoors. This was my COVID-19 stay-at-home project in 2020: to set up a germination table so I could grow my own transplants. Come to find out, I also grew enough transplants for about 20 people (mental note: only grow what you need).

Why start your own plants indoors? Your choice and variety dramatically increase (as long as you can find seeds); after the initial setup costs, it will save you money; and it can give you a head start on the season. It will take up some space in the house (who really needs a dining room table), and some crops – corn, beans, cucumbers and peas, for example – don’t transplant into the garden well.

Start with finding materials:

Trays, flats, containers: No need to spend a fortune. Get a container of some kind to plant in, a tray to capture moisture and a “lid” to create a terrarium effect during germination. I start my seeds in smaller containers and then transplant them to larger ones about a month before planting outdoors. You can repurpose yogurt cups, deli containers, plastic fruit boxes (they come with their own lid) or even make your own out of newspaper, just make sure you add proper drainage. If you reuse old pots, make sure to sterilize them.Medium: Don’t use garden soil or even potting soil. Go to the local nurseries and grab seed starting mix. It’s sterile and light weight, which makes it easier for tiny plants to send out roots.Lights: Here is where you may have to spend a bit of money. If you don’t have that sunny, south-facing window, invest in either a combination of T-12 Cool Ray and Warm Ray bulbs, or better yet, the newer T-8 LED bulbs, which are 50% more efficient. Warmth: The best thing I bought last year were heat mats. Place them under your trays and keep them on until seeds germinate. Some people recommend leaving the heat mats until the plants are ready to be transplanted; however, I found that if I removed the mats once the seeds germinated, my seedlings didn’t get so leggy (long stem growth that can create weak plants). Don’t forget to record when you started the seeds, and I highly recommend finding an easy-to-read germination calendar to determine when to start your plants indoors. The one that I’ve used for years can be found at www.johnnyseeds.com.

Next month, I will lay out all the steps for how to begin the starts successfully and to grow healthy, strong plants.

Darrin Parmenter is the director and horticulture agent of the La Plata County Extension Office. Reach him at darrin.parmenter@co.laplata.co.us or 382-6464.

Darrin Parmenter