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As fast as the snowdrifts grow so do the number of seed catalogs in my mailbox. The vivid pictures of flowers and vegetables are so tempting and they make it sound so easy to succeed with seeds… is it really? I have to say that while easy is a relative term there is something I can share with you that may help you gain a better chance of seed growing success… SWATTS. SWATTS stands for the 6 basic elements of growing garden seeds… soil, water, air, temperature, timing and selection.
Selecting a proper soil for seed germination is very important. A fine textured media is necessary, in most instances, to keep fine seeds from penetrating and becoming buried to deeply to grow. You could sterilize, sift and mix your own germination media but I suggest utilizing a prepackaged germination mixture that can be commonly found anywhere garden seeds are sold. Most contain no mineral soil at all and are combinations of peat moss and vermiculite. Be sure to pre-moisten the seeding mixture before filling your potting containers… a dry mixture will not absorb moisture willingly. Lightly compress the surface of the soil before sowing your seed. Look for package instructions for depth of seed planting. Many seeds prefer to be left at the surface where others may require a covering of media.
As with any plant, proper watering is essential for optimum growth. The first step with watering is the moistening of the germination media before containers are filled. After the seeds are sown, water can be applied from above with a fine mist or below with a drenching method. I prefer the drenching method where the planting container is held on the surface of warm water in a basin, sink or tub. Once the moisture begins to appear on the surface the container is slowly lifted from the water surface and allowed to drip-dry. Lifting too quickly can cause suction of soil and loosing your seed in the water basin. Allowing containers to soak too long can flood the seeding media and disturb the seed placement. This technique may require some practice but proves to be the most effective method for us. Once seeds have grown and been transplanted we then change to overhead irrigation.
Air movement is one of the details most often overlooked when starting seeds at home. Warm, humid and stagnant air is a perfect environment for the growth of both root and leaf fungus that can destroy young seedlings. A small fan (I am told a computer fan is excellent) is highly recommended to keep young seedlings healthy. Temperature control is another critical element in starting seeds at home. Lights, electric heat mats and plastic tents are common methods for household temperature control. Duplicating natural conditions may include periods of cool, heat and even freezing to facilitate seed germination. Disregarding temperature instructions on seed packages may kill seeds, perhaps delay germination and with others may make no difference at all.
Getting garden seeds to grow does us no good if our timing is off. Start too early and plants will decline from growing indoors under low light conditions. Many plants require a long season to mature so starting those items too late, with our short gardening season, may be a critical mistake. Timing is something best learned from others who have first-hand experience with the plant/crop you are looking to grow. Consult your local gardening professional for specific advice with crop selections best suited to your desires and capabilities.
In the end it is really fairly simple… some plants are easier to grow by seed than others are. Beginners will want to avoid some of the more challenging plants or at least have reasonable expectations for success. This is another example of where the advice of a professional may be useful to help you select seeds you will be able to grow well.
Now go outside and have fun in the dirt!