PROPAGATION TECHNIQUES: STARTING ANNUALS AND VEGETABLES FROM SEED
Using a Seed Starter System
I buy the APS seed starters with a growing tray of six or twelve 1.5-inch seed cells.
Other sized trays are available; these are most convenient for most seeds.
The picture on the left shows (from bottom to top): water reservoir, supporting pegboard
stand, capillary mat, planting tray and greenhouse cover.
The growing tray is raised over the rectangular water reservoir with the mat drawing
moisture up to the bottom of the planting cells.
The clear plastic lids maintain good humidity and warmth while seeds are germinating.
I purchase germinating mix from the same source so that I don't have to worry
about sterilizing soil. (One source is Gardeners' Supply Company.)
The containers get ragged and grubby, but last for several years,
if cared for and kept out of direct sunlight when not in use.
I occasionally have to purchase replacement greenhouse covers because they yellow with age.
Setting up the APS system:
- Dampen the soil mix slightly.
- Dampen the capillary mat and place it on the pegboard stand leaving the notch clear.
- Fold the extended part of the mat over the end of the stand and place the combined
pieces into the water reservoir.
Be sure the folded end of the capillary mat will reach down into the water when the
system is filled.
- Place the planting tray on the capillary mat and fill it with the soil mix.
Fill each cell completely. Gently press down the soil, leveling the top with
the edge of your hand.
Lightly tap everything down, making sure there are no air cavities.
I leave a tiny space at the top so water won't overflow and carry newly planted
- Fill the water reservoir (gently, now) and let everything sit until the top
of the soil feels damp.
This assures that the soil is making contact with water.
Don't 'top off' the water until seeds have been planted.
- Lightly depress soil to hold one or more seeds in each cell and drop the seeds
into the depressions.
If I am using old seeds that I haven't tested for germination (that is always
because I'm lazy about that!), I place more than one into each compartment.
If the seeds are large as Sweet Peas or Beans, I place one per section.
- Cover the seeds with a tiny bit of soil mix or grit.
You can use 1/8-inch or smaller gravel, volcanic rock (not perlite) or chicken grit.
- Gently firm and level the top of the soil.
- Be sure to label everything clearly.
I also identify the seed source and age and date the back.
I enter this information into my seed journal and update it when germination
takes place, when I transplant, etc. This provides information about timing and
failures for future years.
- Gently water the cells from above and cover with the greenhouse cover.
Move everything to a warm spot (I use my kitchen drain board) and fill
the water reservoir completely.
Check the water level daily.
- Most vegetable and annual seeds show their seed leaves within a few days.
A few may take longer.
After the first true leaves are present, remove the clear plastic cover.
- Transplant after growth seems well developed.
- I keep my systems by the kitchen sink and take them out to my plant room
(which seldom drops below fifty degrees F.) after the plants have developed
some roots and growth.
- I let them harden off a few days up to a couple of weeks and then transplant
them to four-inch containers or six-pacs and watch them carefully.
If a plant is especially small or tender, I may keep it in the kitchen a
little longer and may place the transplant container on top of the capillary
matting. This is definitely a judgement call.
Go to the top