Kristi mentioned in the comments that she’s had bad luck starting seeds, and since it’s that time of year again, I thought I’d share my seed starting process. Because I’ve got a basement, I have plenty of space to start my own seeds.
My seed starting bench is an old steel garage shelf, above which I strung a cheap florescent fixture with grow lights. This one has enough space for four trays, which is usually about as much as I want to start at one time. Since the light is on an adjustable chain, I can hang it up high when I’m planting, or doing stuff, but then I can lower it way down so it’s right over the seedlings when they come up. They like the light close, that way they don’t get too leggy.
I also swear by my seed starter mats. These plug in, and provide just enough heat to warm the soil to 75 or 80 degrees, which is what tomatoes and peppers and most other warm-weather crops that you need to start indoors really need. They hardly use any electricity, and I’ve had almost 100% germination every year I’ve used them.
Once they’ve gotten a start, I move the trays to the set of garage shelving that you can see in the background of this shot. I looked at a number of kits online, but they were all too expensive, so I just suspended florescent fixtures with chains and s-hooks to the underside of each shelf, and filled them with grow-light bulbs. It didn’t cost me much since I had the shelves — I think the lights were about ten bucks each, and the bulbs were a little pricey — four or five bucks apiece and you need two per fixture. I also invested in a bunch of seed trays, some clear plastic lids, and an array of starter packs, all of which have lasted me for seven or eight years now.
I like starting my own seeds for several reasons. For one thing, I don’t have to worry about picking up any weird fungi or wilts from starts (last summer’s tomato blight on the East Coast started with Home Depot plants I believe). But mostly, I just find the whole thing kind of miraculous. This afternoon I was downstairs with 8 tomato varieties and (gulp) 32 different kinds of peppers. Trays filled with soil, a chopstick for a tool, two seeds to a cell, and in a week or so, there will be tiny little plants coming up. If you’re a person that has trouble sometimes believing that things can be okay, the annual ritual of planting seeds in your chilly basement, and watching them sprout, and nursing them along until they become actual plants, well, its enough to keep a girl’s sense of optimism alive.