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BONNIE’S GARDEN – Starting Seeds Indoors

By Bonnie Pega
Bonnie's Garden

Every year, about this time, I get hit with lots of questions from people who have started seeds indoors. Here are some of the most common questions, I get asked.

The single most common question I get asked by customers who’ve started seeds indoors is, “Why are my seedlings long and floppy?”

Long, weak stems resulting from inadequate light is called etiolation. There is only one fix for this condition—more light. Seed trays should always be in the brightest window you’ve got. If you’re using artificial light then these work best in combination with the best window you’ve got—turn your artificial lights on 16 hours a day, seven days a week.

If you’re using just artificial lights, the recommended height for artificial light is just a few inches above the seed tray, raising the fixture as the plants grow. The lights are generally left on 16 hours a day. As always, light fixtures can vary so follow the directions that come with yours.

The second most common question I get asked is, “How long does it take for seeds to sprout?”

This question is best answered by consulting the back of the seed package. The package will tell you about it long it takes for the seeds to germinate. As a general rule of thumb, pepper and eggplants take anywhere from 10 to 25 days to sprout; tomatoes, around 7 to 10 days; basil and zinnias, 5 to 10 days. Green beans can sprout in as little as 3 to 5 days.

“How long does it take the fruit to develop/how long does it take to develop flowers?”

Again, the seed packet is your best source of information. Most members of the tomato family (tomatoes, peppers, eggplants) will start to bear fruit anywhere from 55 to 80 days after transplanting outside (based on starting inside about 6 to 8 weeks before the last frost date). Bush beans, on the other hand, will begin producing only seven or eight weeks after planting.

“Why did all my seedlings fall over and die?”

This is a condition known as damping off. Damping off is a fungus that attacks new seedlings. There is no treatment once you get it, but you can easily prevent it by starting your seedlings in sterile seed-starting soil or little peat pellets, making sure your trays have good air circulation. Always remove the clear plastic greenhouse lids once the seeds have come up. Make sure your trays are in an adequate amount of light; and thin seedlings properly (again, the back of the seed packet will tell you).

Now is a Perfect Time!

We have a great selection of seeds in and now is a perfect time to get long-season veggies (like tomatoes, etc.) and perennial flowers started.

To read more posts from Bonnie, visit our blog

5 thoughts on “BONNIE’S GARDEN – Starting Seeds Indoors

  1. Since I’m primarily a container gardener (& a seed hoarder), I start my seeds on damp paper towels inside open Ziploc bags. With this method I don’t waste time, space, &/or potting mix sowing seeds that might not germinate, & everything germinates in record time or faster. For instance, broccoli (“Aspabroc”) sprouted overnight, cauliflower (“Fioretto”) in 2 days, Swiss chard (“Bright Lights”) in 4, various 10-year-old tomato seeds in 6 – you get the picture. Afterwards I carefully sow each sprouted seed in a small plastic pot or 6-pack to grow on. The only seeds I don’t start this way are the really tiny ones like carrots, some greens, & others the size of a sand grain or smaller.

  2. Hi Bonnie–I sometimes “pre-sprout” a few seeds, but it’s less work to just direct sow. But it’s a great way to check the viability of older seed packets.

  3. I agree that it’s not a method for everyone, & is probably not one I’d use much if I were planting a larger in-ground garden, but for container gardening where one only wants/needs just one or a few of any particular variety, it is a time (& potting soil) saver.

  4. You’re absolutely right and it’s a big help for determining viability without planting a whole pack 0f four year old seed only to find that none come up—

  5. I never throw out any seeds until I’ve tested them & given them extra time to germinate. The viability of some can be amazing. Last year had a packet of 10-year-old tomato seeds (“Pineapple”), & while I only wanted 1 or 2 plants for my containers, because of the seed age I put 8 seeds in a damp paper towel. All 8 sprouted – lol!!

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