Even though it is the middle of winter, I started my first batch of seeds last week. It may seem way too early to do this, but this is when I begin to start seeds for my farm each year.
In my zone 7a and in my own specific microclimate, I know that I am able to start seeds for flowers that may take longer to mature (perennials, rudbeckia) or for flowers that are able to withstand colder temperatures (hardy annuals or tender perennials).
That is a good reason to know your planting zone. Within that planting zone, it is helpful to know your microclimate. Once you are aware of how weather and temperature in your own growing environment fluctuate, you will be able to make an informed decision about when to start seeds for your own yard, garden, or farm.
On my list of flowers to start now are snapdragon, bachelor button, foxglove, rudbeckia, orlaya, money plant, and scabiosa.
Gather your supplies
Soil blocker (or cell trays, egg cartons, or anything in which you want to grow seeds)
Bucket or tray for soil
Cafeteria trays (not necessary if you are using cell trays)
Plastic tabs from produce or bread
Coconut coir or vermiculite
Begin by pouring the dry soil into your soil bucket or tray. Add water until the soil has the consistency of a thick batter. When you squeeze a handful of the soil, it should hold together but not be dripping wet.
Push the soil blocker into the tray with the wet soil. Push it in multiple times to make sure the block is filled with soil. Use your hand or the side of a trowel to scrape off the bottom.
Squeeze the handle of the soil blocker to release it onto your tray. Fill the tray with blocks of soil.
If you are using a cell tray, fill the tray with loose soil. Bump it against a counter or table to get ride of air pockets and settle the soil. Water the soil in with a watering can, hose, or faucet.
Pour the desired seeds into a small bowl. Wet the end of a toothpick and use it to pick up individual seeds, lightly pressing the seeds into the soil. Follow the directions on the packet for sowing seeds. If they need light, do not cover with soil. If they need to be buried, cover with dry and loose soil.
Label your seeds with a plastic tab, writing the variety of flower on the tab and placing it into the soil.
Place your full trays on heat mats, if appropriate for the seeds, making sure the thermostat is connected and set to 70 degrees. Place an acrylic dome over the trays.
You will keep the dome on the tray until the seeds begin to sprout to maintain moisture. Once the seeds sprout, remove the dome and place the trays under your grow lights without the heat mat. You want the grow lights to be relatively close to the seedlings so that they do not get leggy. Grow lights will need to be moved up as the seedlings grow.
Let your soil blocks mostly dry out before watering them again. Make sure to water the soil by pouring water into the bottom of the tray instead of on top of the soil blocks. If you pour water on top of the soil blocks, you risk destroying the soil blocks and displacing seeds. Use a watering can to gently pour water into the bottom of the tray, monitoring the blocks to make sure the water gets absorbed all the way to the middle of the soil blocks and there is no extra water in the trays.
Once a week, use a diluted fish emulsion to fertilize seedlings.
Before you plant your seedlings out, make sure to garden them off so they adjust to outside temperatures.
A few helpful tips for starting seeds indoors:
Use soil specifically for starting seeds.
Use the correct size soil blocker for the seeds you are starting. The 3/4" blocker works for most seeds while the 2" blocker works for larger seeds and seeds that need more space for their root system (sweet peas).
Use coconut coir or vermiculite to lightly cover seeds that need light to germinate. The coir helps maintain moisture but allows the seeds to germinate.
Use a small glass or paper bowl for seeds instead of metal as the metal will create static electricity.
Use sticky traps to trap any gnats or flies that may try to lay seeds in your soil.
Make sure to place heat mats on a surface that tolerates heat.
Sprinkle soil with cinnamon to prevent mold and fungus from growing.
Use LED grow lights to save on your electric bill.
Keep a towel nearby for spills from watering.
Mark your calendar or set an alarm to remind you to check seeds.