By Will Sulahian
Just because it is winter doesn’t mean you can’t plant and care for seedlings indoors! First, our PHS team recommends that gardeners purchase local, organic seeds — see more on this topic in Part 1 of our blog series, “Shop Now for Seeds.” Going organic is the healthy choice for you and the environment. You'll be preventing toxic runoff, water pollution, soil contamination, and death of insects, birds, and other organisms. By purchasing organic seeds, and following organic growing practices, you will be eliminating pesticide, herbicide, and fungicide residues from your food too. Once your seeds are in hand, we've included some tips below for getting your organic garden started.
Starting your seed growing indoors is a great activity to do alone, or with kids. By starting your seeds now, you will have healthy seedlings ready to plant outdoors according to the seed packet instructions. One of the most important aspects of starting seeds indoors is figuring out when to start. Sally McCabe, PHS Associate Director of Community Education, recommends getting a solid head start before sending them outside. "Read the seed pack to tell whether plants go out before or after the last frost, then count backward five to six weeks," she says. "Know your average last frost dates based on where you live. Refer to the USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map for frost dates in your region." She also suggests starting extra batches of seeds two weeks earlier and two weeks later, since frost dates vary from year to year. “This means you’ll have a lot more on your windowsill, but you’re going to have a more solid opportunity to have plants ready to go outside at the right time,” she says.
Having a clean and sterile environment is essential for both healthy and thriving plants. Make sure you thoroughly clean and sterilize any pots or containers that will be used for growing with soap, water, and even a small amount of bleach. Use a starting soil mix of your choosing, but do not bring garden soil inside as it can contaminate the space. Keeping things clean helps prevent issues such as “Damping off,” a fungus that can kill seedlings.
Make sure your newly planted seedlings have as much exposure to light as possible. “Keeping your seeds in sunlight leads to growth of shorter, stronger, and stockier plants,” says McCabe. Setting a timer can help you make sure your seeds are getting the recommended 12 to 14 hours of light a day that is necessary for optimal growth. Direct sunlight, supplemented by artificial growing lights, can foster growth. There are many different kinds of lights available, but Sally finds that fluorescent shop lights are inexpensive and efficient for starting seeds.
Now that your new seedlings are planted, follow instructions for their watering requirements. With the right amount of light, water, time, and love, your seedlings will soon be popping up through the soil.
Watching your new seeds grow is not only rewarding — you will be supporting PHS’s goal of creating a healthy, livable environment with access to fresh, healthy food for all. And remember to plant extras to share with friends, family, and food banks in your area to share in your seed growing success!