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Time to sow: How to get your seeds growing indoors

I hope many of you heeded my call last month to start buying your seeds.

I ended up finding some of the varieties of vegetables I like to grow through online seed vendors; I bought some from the local nurseries; and then I traded beer for seeds with a local farmer. Online, I was paying about 45 cents per seed for those that must have been scarcer; here in town, I was paying a six-pack of Ska beer for about 100 seeds, so as you can tell, it pays to shop locally.

For the peppers, tomatoes and flowers, I hope to start sowing the seeds soon. Unfortunately, an upcoming shoulder replacement surgery is throwing a kink in those plans. Peppers, which tend to be slow to germinate and grow indoors, should be started in the next week or so. My hope was to start the specialty peppers first, and then the last week of March, I would seed the jalapenos and shishitos, followed by the four tomato varieties the first week of April. We will see how much I can do one-handed, but hopefully, Beth and the kids will see the dismay on my face and come to my rescue if need be. I trust Beth will be excited to help, but the teenagers? Not so much.

As I mentioned last month, if you plan on starting seeds indoors, you need to have:

Containers to plant into.A sterile seed-starting medium.A sunny spot in the house or lights. (For lights, I am using T-5 LED full-spectrum lights. While that may sound super fancy, they are actually very common and easy to find and aren’t that expensive.) Heat mats for faster germination. Now, you are ready to go. Make sure your soil is moist but not soggy and place the seed either on top of the soil in a small indentation (for seeds that require light for germination) or insert the seed into soil at recommended depth. If somehow you have a plethora of seeds, feel free to place multiple seeds per cell and then you must thin once they germinate.

After sowing the seeds, water again (think rain, not drain – you don’t want to displace the seed), and ideally, you can cover your container with a plastic lid, allowing some air to circulate. Similar to heat mats, which provide heat from the bottom, the plastic lids or domes create a much more humid environment, allowing the soil to stay moist longer.

When you start to see the seedlings, remove the heat mats and turn on your lights. Lights should be about 2 inches from the top of the seedlings at all times, so you need to be able to adjust as the seedlings grow. Lights should be on 14 to 16 hours per day and there should be eight hours of darkness for proper growth. I would highly recommend buying a timer because I guarantee you’re going to forget at least once to turn off the lights.

If you use smaller-celled containers, you will probably have to replant the seedlings into larger containers. Just make sure that you dig out the seedling and soil (I find using a knife helps) and gently place it into the new home.

Seedlings have enough nutrients stored within the seed for them to germinate and put on a couple sets of leaves. When these leaves emerge, I fertilize with a diluted (one-quarter strength), water-soluble fertilizer once a week.

Don’t forget to start putting your seedlings outside during the day and early evening before you plant them in their final destination. This hardening-off process allows the plants to better acclimate to our harsh environment the first couple of weeks outside.

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