The seedling stage can be one of the most difficult aspects of growing for both beginner and experienced gardeners alike. Young seedlings are more vulnerable to over/under-watering, weather conditions, pests, and diseases than mature plants. When planting seeds outside, weather fluctuations and pests can cause havoc on seedlings, which can cause stunted growth or even death of the plant.
Here at the farm, we had difficulty with our first planting of broccoli. The weather forecasted cooling temperatures, however it remained in the high 100s for a few more weeks. Although the broccoli germinated and even created a set of true leaves, the high temperatures stunted the broccoli and they remained at their small size for over a month. Pests like bugs, rats, voles, and birds can all consume garden plants, especially young and tender seedlings. While there are many ways to
protect seedlings like protective metal cones over seedlings, bird netting, or shade cloth, starting seeds indoors can be a great alternative to direct seeding. Growing transplants indoors can be a great way to ensure you are putting larger plants into your garden at the right time.
Starting seeds indoors can have many benefits: larger transplants are easier to care for and have a head start, seedlings are more protected indoors, no pests or diseases from neighboring plants, and you have more control over their watering and sunlight conditions. Some downsides can be lack of space and lack of sunlight indoors. If you have a small garden it can be easy to start seeds on your window sills, however if you are looking for more space, adding grow lights can increase your ability to grow more indoors. Grow lights start at about twenty dollars and can be connected to one another. At the farm, we have a cold room at a constant 65 degrees that houses shelves of grow lights that we use to grow transplants, microgreens, and small plants. Grow lights can easily be attached to the bottom of a metal or wooden shelf. If you think you have enough natural sunlight, a good way to be certain is to make sure your seedlings are not stretching towards the sunlight. This will be evident if the stem of the seedling is particularly long or if the seedling is leaning towards the light source.
When growing seeds indoors it is important to monitor plant watering as well as sunlight. Because the seed is contained in a small area, overwatering can be detrimental to the seed. Seeds and seedlings can rot, attract gnats, or grow fungus if contained in soil that is too wet. Soil should be evenly moist but not dripping after being watered. In the cold room at the farm we use plastic seed plugs or small plastic pots placed in planting trays. When the seeds are first planted, they are watered with a misting bottle until they are large enough to tolerate being watered with a watering can. Over the weekend, to ensure seedlings do not dry out, a small amount of water is added to the bottom of the planting trays which allows the soil to absorb the water and remain moist for a few days.
Starting seeds indoors is a great way to get a head start in your garden, especially if you live in regions with shorter growing seasons.