Growing plants from seeds is rewarding and builds self-reliance. The process requires more work and time than simply purchasing seedlings from a nursery but closely links a gardener with the cycle of life.
Seed and Germination
A seed is a "dry dormant embryo," according to Nancy Bubel in "The Seed Starter's Handbook." Some seeds require light to germinate. Place these seeds on top of soil or loosely cover with soil. Other seeds require darkness. Push these seeds into the soil and completely cover. Germination begins when the seed takes in water, the first step that starts the process of putting out roots below and leaves above soil. Water starts the processes in the seed's endosperm "the stored plant nourishment" that stimulates growth.
The visual part of germination occurs when a stem pushes through the soil. Two initial leaves called cotyledons emerge. Cotyledons are different in appearance from later sets of true leaves. The plant with cotyledons is anywhere from 1/4 inch to 1 inch tall at this time.
A seedling is officially called such when true leaves beyond the cotyledons develop. Transplanting seedlings to larger containers with more soil or to garden beds is done after true leaves have developed.
A seedling with vertical growth that sets leaves not too far apart is considered a young plant. The ideal distance between internodes -- the places on the stem where new leaves appear -- is short. Plants with long weak stems and long distances between internodes are not ideal candidates for planting.
Pound two wooden stakes into each end of a row in your garden. Tie string to the stakes to create a straight line. This will help you keep your row on track.
Dig a shallow trench directly under the string, which will then mark the middle of your row. Do not go deeper than 1 inch.
Lightly sprinkle well-rotted compost in the bottom of the trench. This will give tomato seedlings nutrients as they grow.
Place your tomato seeds in the trench. Follow the seed package directions for spacing between seeds. Do not plant them too closely or you will stunt their growth.
Cover the seeds lightly with soil. Keep the planting shallow so the seedlings will not have to work to reach the sunlight.
Mist the planted row with water. Keep the soil moist by watering every day until the seedlings have appeared and developed their first set of leaves. If the row dries out, the seedlings will most likely not survive.
Plant your sunflower seedlings in the spring, after all danger of frost has passed. If you live in a climate that doesn’t experience freezing temperatures, you can plant the seedlings any time of year.
Choose a spot to plant your sunflower seedlings that's protected from wind but still receives at least six hours of full, direct sunlight every day. If you’re planting the seedlings in your garden, make sure that they won’t overshadow the other garden plants as the sunflowers grow.
Plant your seedlings in well-drained soil. Bury the seedlings at least 1 inch deep into the soil, but no more than 3 1/2 inches deep. Space the seedlings 6 inches apart, planting them sprout side up.
Keep the area around the seedlings free of weeds. Water your sunflower seedlings every day to moisten the soil well and prevent it from drying out.
Reduce water in late fall when temperatures are expected to drop below freezing. Allowing the plants to wilt slightly protects foliage from the damage of frigid weather and dry winds.
Cover the entire bed with 3 to 4 inches of straw. Allow the mulch to settle for 24 hours and add enough straw to maintain an even layer of mulch at least 3 inches thick. Northern climates may benefit from a 4- to 6-inch layer of straw.
Add row cover or plastic on top of the mulch in areas that experience extreme winter weather for added protection against winter storms.
Remove plastic and mulch in the spring when the soil thaws and temperatures remain above 40 degrees F. Water to moisten the soil and keep the soil evenly moist to encourage a flush of new growth. Blooms appear early in spring and continue throughout spring and early summer.
Dig a trench that is at least 3 feet wide, 3 feet long and 3 feet deep.
Layer sawdust and manure, lasagna-style into the trench to create compost. The sawdust layers should be twice as thick as the manure layers. As the compost decomposes, it releases heat that will warm the structure.
Wet your manure mixture until it is as damp as a wrung-out sponge.
Cover the trench with 2- by 6-inch boards.
Turn each of the four hay bales on their sides. Stack them around the trench to create the walls of the cold frame. The ends of the hay bales should butt against one another in an L shape.
Place a 3-foot wide window sash over the hay bales to create the roof of the greenhouse.
Place seedling flats into the mini greenhouse by opening the window and setting them onto the boards that form the floor.
Add water to the shallow tray until it is half full. Dip the rockwool cubes into the water until the bottom half of the cubes is soaked. Do not allow the water to moisten the upper half of the cubes. Squeeze the cubes to remove excess water.
Place the seeds into the slots on top of the rockwood cubes. Use a toothpick or other small stick to gently push them to the bottom of the opening. Cover the seeds with perlite.
Place the rockwool cubes in a shallow tray and set it on a heat mat to the temperature required for your specific seeds.
Mist the cubes periodically to keep them moist. Do not allow the cubes to dry out.
Cut the cubes apart when the first sets of leaves have fully opened. Plant each cube in an individual pot containing potting soil.
Plant the seeds you wish to grow following the package directions.
Set up the fluorescent lights 6 to 12 inches above the growing containers.
Allow the seedlings to emerge in the pots or flats before turning on the lights. The use of plastic wrap loosely laid over the growing pots will encourage seed germination. Remove the plastic as soon as the seedlings emerge from the soil.
Keep the plants under the light for 16 to 18 hours daily if the seedlings receive no other natural light during the day. If natural light is available, you can cut the time back to 12 to 14 hours daily, during the same period that the seedlings receive natural light.
Keep the seedlings under the lights until time to transplant to larger pots or into the garden.
Fill seed flats with potting soil to within 1/4 inch of the top of the tray.
Set the trays on a level surface and water until the soil is moist to the touch.
Sprinkle or place seeds on the surface of the moist soil. Follow the seed package instructions for spacing the seed.
Cover the seeds with an additional 1/4 inch of potting soil.
Cover the entire tray with plastic wrap. The wrap does not need to be secure around the tray, just loosely covering.
Remove the plastic wrap from the trays when the seedlings emerge from the soil. Place the tray in a warm, sunny area to allow the seedlings to grow.
Keep the soil moist around the seedlings and thin the young plants according to the label of the specific seed type.
Transplant the seedlings into larger containers after two to three weeks growth or when the primary two leaves are established on the plant.