Growing your own food is a great way to encourage kids to try new foods and get outside! For many Canadian regions, now is the time to start planning your garden! New to growing your own? You’ve come to the right place - it’s seed starting thyme! (see what I did there?)
Seed starting - Materials needed:
- containers for your plant babies: you can use discarded plastic or paper cups, trays or boxes (If you go the DIY route make sure you poke holes for water drainage!)
- potting soil made especially for starting seeds or peat pods
- a spray mister (empty spray bottles are ideal)
- and of course, seeds!
Seed Starting Basics: Get to Know Your Planting Region
Find out when your last frost date is. What does that mean? “Frost date” really means when temperatures fall to 0°C or lower, which is cold enough to damage or kill tender plants. This date is different for different areas. You can check out the- farmers almanac to help with this.
Next, what do you want to grow? Will you buy seeds OR save them from fruits and veggies you eat? Want to learn about how to harvest seeds from foods you already buy? Check out this link here
Now that you know what you want to plant, you need to figure out how long it takes to grow from seed. This will help you determine when you need to start.
Check out these regional planting charts from West Coast Seeds here
Those of us with short growing seasons (hello Newfoundland!) will benefit from seed starting indoors during the winter and transplanting once the ground thaws. Things like broccoli, peppers and asparagus need to be started early as they can take the longest to grow.
Now that you’ve determined what you're going to grow, you have to figure out how you’re going to grow it.
What Container Should You Use for Seed Starting?
The internet boasts that you can start your seeds in eggshells, and egg cartons, however these options left me with mold and rot. I really liked the idea of it but it didn't work out the numerous times I tried.
I personally prefer peat pods and/or biodegradable ‘pulp’ cell trays for seed starting.
*NOTE* While I use peat pods (as they’re more common in my particular area) if you have access to coconut coir pots use those! They’re a much more sustainable option to peat.
Seed starting is a wonderful way to recycle. You can reuse just about anything! Here you can see re-using empty milk containers works. Just wash thoroughly before using.
I also had great success with paper cups leftover from my kiddo’s pre-Covid birthday party. You do have to remove the cups before planting in the ground but its a great place to grow seeds as it can give enough space until you’re ready to transplant. If you want to go the DIY route you can start saving toilet paper rolls to make your own seed starters Check out how!
Pro tip! - I like to germinate (sprout my seeds before planting) my seeds first. Why? Not all seeds grow. To save myself disappointment (and not waste a peat pod) I put all the my seeds on a damp paper towel in a closed food container. You can also place them in a plastic sandwich bag as well. This acts as a mini greenhouse. Set in indirect light and wait 5-7 days. Any seeds that will sprout will sprout and those are the ones you can plant!
Lets get planting!
Step 1 If you’re not using peat pellets then prepare your soil by expanding the peat pellet according to directions. If you’re using soil then begin by lightly misting it till its slightly moist. Plant seeds according to package (or if you scraped your own seeds the rule of thumb for planting depth is twice as deep as a seed is wide.)
Step 2 Poke your finger into the soil, push your seed in, lightly spray with a water bottle and place seed in the hole and cover lightly.
Place in bright light but avoid direct sunlight if covered.
Seedlings need moisture and consistent temperatures to grow. Most seed starting kits come with a covered tray so you can use that. If you’re using recycled containers then you can cover with plastic cling wrap. Don’t forget to label your seedlings!
Just like me in the winter, seedlings like to be warm.
So make sure to keep in a consistently warm spot until your seedlings sprout leaves.
Step 3 Check regularly and keep moist damp but not sopping wet.
Step 4 Once you see your little seedlings popping out of the soil you can remove the cover to let the air circulate around those little babies.
Seedlings need strong light to continue to grow other wise they may become ‘leggy’. This is a term to describe what happens when seedlings are reaching too much for light. They stretch out too thin, becoming weak.
You can sit them in a south-facing window or under a grow light if you have one.
If you live in a windier/colder climate you should consider putting a fan on rotate to strengthen your seedlings. Not only will the air help strengthen the tiny stem but air circulation will work towards counteracting any humidity that can lead to rot.
Once you try seed starting, you will find yourself waking up every morning and checking on your seedlings and their progress.
The hardest part is to be patient. And like children, all seeds grow at different rates.
Why are my seedlings dying?
‘Damping off’ is a fungal disease causing your seedlings to wither and die.
Make sure you use specific soil for seedlings which can help and check your watering practices.
What should my watering schedule look like? Watering all depends on temperature, humidity levels and they all vary so drastically with climate and location. Instead of focusing on a schedule, focus on the feel of your soil. When seed starting, water your soil when it is dry to the touch.
What do I do if my seedlings are getting too big for their container?
If you see roots poking out out of your container or cell tray then its time to transplant your growing seedling to a larger container until you’re ready to plant in the ground outside.
Seed Starting for the Whole Family
Get your kiddos involved! Gardening and seed starting is a great way to bond with your child, teach them new skills and encourage healthy eating! When they get to take part and are involved from planting and watching it grow, they’re more inclined to try a new food that they helped create.
Too early to start planting seeds for your area just yet? That’s ok!
Get your kids involved in planning their own garden layout! They can draw and colour fruits or veggies they’d like to plant and see grow. Never too early to start planning!
Have you planted your own fruit and veggies? Do you have any tips you’d like to share?
Will this year be your first time? Feel free to ask any questions and I’ll answer to the best of my ability or point you in the right direction!
About the Author
Heather is a STAHWM who lives in St. John’s NL. where she’s raising two humans, two dogs, a cat and a fish. In between chasing her hooligans and waiting for her Hogwarts letter, she enjoys knitting, crocheting and campy 80’s horror flicks.