Montgomery County Master Gardener Gary Cahn shared his extensive expertise on starting annuals and vegetables from seed with an enthusiastic crowd of gardeners. Club president Kathy Jentz brought packets of flower and vegetable seeds and Publicity Chair Melanie Isis brought seed catalogs to give away.
Here are some of the things we learned: one of the benefits of starting seeds is growing varieties you just can't find in nurseries, (see links at the end of this article), not to mention the psychic gratification of participating in this unfolding of new life.
You don't need fancy equipment, it doesn't have to be expensive, but it must be clean to prevent damping off disease from bacteria and fungus. If reusing pots and trays, sterilize them with a bleach solution. Use seed starter mix, it's lighter than potting soil and easier for the tiny seedlings to push up through. When the mix is dry, it is hydrophobic and very difficult to wet, so add water to the bag and knead for several minutes to make sure the mix is thoroughly dampened.
Now that you are ready to plant, it's very important to read the seed packet! Some seeds must be planted directly in the ground and don't tolerate transplanting, like root crops and corn. Some seeds need light to germinate and should be placed on top of the soil-less mix. Use a calendar to count back the number of weeks from the last frost date, usually May 15 in our area.
Keep the newly planted seeds moist and check them each day. Once sprouted, they will need light and some gentle air circulation. A sunny windowsill will not provide enough light. Place fluorescent lights within 1 to 2 inches of the seedlings for 16 hours/day. Any fluorescent (compact or shop light) will do--grow lights are expensive and unnecessary and incandescent lights will not work. An easy way to maintain this distance is to pile up old magazines under the trays. As the seedlings grow, remove a magazine to maintain the correct distance to the light source. Contrary to what you may think, seedlings do not need fertilizer for the first month or so.
Seedlings should not be transplanted from indoors directly outdoors, but need to gradually adjust to strong sunlight and wind. Harden off seedlings by placing them outside in a sheltered place for an increasing length of time each day for 10-14 days before planting in the ground. Finally, enjoy the fruits of your labor.
Some Seed Sources
Pinetree: www.superseeds.com (small quantities available; inexpensive)
Totally Tomatoes: www.totallytomato.com
Sources for heirloom, rare or unusual seeds:
http://www.seedsavers.org/ Just like the title says...
http://www.rareseeds.com/ Veggies, herbs, flowers
http://store.tomatofest.com/ Heirloom tomato seeds
http://www.heirloomseeds.com All kinds of veggie seeds
http://www.seedstrust.com/ Seeds for a sustainable future
http://www.halcyon.com/tmend/heirloom.htm "The Heirloom Vegetable Gardener's Assistant"
These are just a few interesting sites I found while "online gardening".