Remember Groundhog Day on Feb. 2? The furry rodent predicted six more weeks of winter.
Based on what we experienced this past February, that rodent may be right. Thank goodness spring is in
sight; March 20th is the first day of spring. Now is the time to start thinking about planning vegetable
gardens and sowing seeds indoors.
Growing plants from seed is a lot of fun, and favorite garden varieties may be found as seeds, rather
than as started plants. A few seeds that can and should be started indoors early are the following:
Tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, broccoli, Brussel sprouts, cabbage and cauliflower.
A few supplies will be needed when starting seeds. They include a light source, seed starting soil-less
mix and containers, labels, plastic wrap, bottom heat, spray bottle and, of course, the seeds.
Growing plants from seed requires a reliable light source and bottom heat. A windowsill may, not be an
ideal location for starting seeds. Windowsills can be the coldest place in the house, especially at
night, and then the hottest during the day.
Sunlight in Ohio gains strength from mid-March through May. Sunlight through a window is relatively weak
compared to artificial light sources kept close to the plants. There are also many cloudy days of very
low light levels during an Ohio spring.
It is much better to grow seedlings under fluorescent lights than to rely solely on natural light. An
inexpensive set up is to hang a fixture with two cool white, fluorescent tubes. If you have a smaller
area or are growing a few seedlings, then the compact fluorescent bulbs will also work.
The newer light emitting diode or LED bulbs are also suitable for starting seeds. Install with adjustable
chains to keep light from two to four inches above the seedlings. If you are after the best lights for
producing seedlings, look for LEDs and fluorescent lights that include the cooler blue spectrum; these
will often be marked as 5000-6500K (Kelvin). These types of bulbs are usually more expensive than the
cool, white type. Plants need approximately fourteen to sixteen hours light per day, utilizing a timer
is an easy way of turning on and off the lights.
Seeds can germinate quicker and healthier when supplied with warm soil, obtained through a bottom heat
source. Indoor soil is normally 5 degrees F cooler than the air temperature. For seed germination, ideal
temperatures should range from 65 to 80˚F. consistent soil temperatures. Do not use heat mats, with a
timer. Electric heating mats specifically for seed starting, are available from many garden centers and
Start seeds in new small, individual containers. It is best to use divided containers with a single
seedling per container, rather than filling a larger container with potting mix and sowing many seeds,
because the seedlings’ roots will grow into each other and are likely to be injured later during
transplanting. Ideas for containers include plastic cell flats and egg cartons. Regardless of container
make sure they have drain holes for excess water to escape.
Soilless seed-starting mixes are usually composed of vermiculite and peat, without any true soil, and are
recommended for starting seeds. Commercially available, they are sterile, lightweight, and free from
weed seeds, with a texture and porosity especially suited to the needs of germinating seeds and tiny
seedlings. Fill containers with potting mix, and water the mix before sowing seeds. The potting mix will
settle down into the containers. Add more potting mix and water again, until the containers or cells are
Sow fresh seeds individually into each container according to seed package directions. If you are unsure
about seeding depth, a rule of thumb is to plant a seed four times as deep as its width. Identify each
container or tray with a tag. Popsicle sticks work great for this, mark with a permanent marker. If the
seed package says seeds need darkness for germination, cover with a few layers of newspaper until seeds
sprout. After the seeds have sprouted carefully remove the newspaper.
Keep the potting mix moist while the seeds are germinating. A spray bottle to water the surface gently
without washing the potting mix out of the containers may be useful. Making a tent using taller popsicle
sticks or plastic tags and covering with plastic wrap will help retain moisture in the soil during the
germination process. Remember to remove tent after seeds have germinated.
Seedlings draw energy for germination from nutrients stored in the seed. They do not need fertilizer
until after germination and they have several sets of true leaves. Seedlings grown in a soil-less mix
will benefit from a weak, general purpose water-soluble fertilizer mixed 1/4 strength. Fertilize only
once a week, and water as needed the rest of the week with plain water.
Information for this article obtained from University of Minnesota Extension Fact Sheet Growing Seed
and the Old Farmer’s Almanac Planting Calendar for Bowling Green, Ohio: