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Illinois Country Living

David Robson Extension Educator, Springfield Extension Center, University of Illinois

Yard & Garden

How to Start Your Own Seeds
It will give you cheaper choices and you can share

The dreary winter months are the ideal time to get a start on gardening, though lately most of us have been looking to garden centers, nurseries and big box stores to do the work for us. Maybe times are changing.

Not too long ago, the green thumbers would think nothing of purchasing seeds through a catalog company and starting their own plants for the garden. Vegetables were the primary seeds started, though some looked at flowers, while others attempted some perennials. The truly adventurous thought nothing of ordering the near dust-like petunia seeds and giving them a go.

Let’s face it - starting your own seeds holds several advantages over purchasing plants locally at some store, though there are distinct disadvantages as well.

It’s good to have choices

First, you can choose exactly what plants or cultivars to sow. You may desire a certain type or color unavailable locally. Let’s say you rightly dislike the color pink, while others foolishly think it’s the best thing since sliced bread.

Cheaper, too

Sowing seeds is also an inexpensive means of obtaining a large quantity of plants. The cost of raising 100 marigolds is much less than buying them. True, you may not need 100 marigolds. The good news is that most seeds can be saved for several years, so you don’t have to plant the entire packet in 2009.

Share with others

Or, you can work out an agreement with some others to share plants. Let’s say you raise 100 tomatoes, someone else raises 100 geraniums, another grows 100 cardoon, and a fourth person produces 100 salvia. Get together over coffee in April and share three-quarters of your stock with the other, ending up with other plants. Add or subtract the number of plants depending on the number of people in your group.

Four factors for success

Seeding success can be attributed to four factors: quality seeding medium, moisture, temperature and light.

Most homeowners use houseplant soil for starting seeds. Packaged mixes are satisfactory as long as the material is sterilized. If the mix isn’t sterilized or the package has been open, sterilize the soil by placing the moistened soil in a metal pan for 30 minutes in a 200 degree Fahrenheit oven. An old meat thermometer should register between 130 and 140 degrees. By the way, cooking soil does stink. Cooking bags used for turkey are a good option to contain the smell. Opening windows is another.

Houseplant soil should be loose and well-drained. If it isn’t, add peat moss, vermiculite or perlite. Some gardeners report success using individual peat pots for starting seeds. A common type is the Jiffy-7 pellet, which expands when wet. It looks like a cookie when dry, but doesn’t taste like one, though there is a lot of fiber in it.

Keep it clean and cool

Make sure your starting pots or trays are clean and sanitized as well. Run them through the dishwasher, or use hot soapy water.

Order your seeds and keep them cool. The refrigerator is a great place to store them, but make sure the kids realize they aren’t to be sprinkled on pizza rolls, nachos or cookies. To be on the safe side, store them with the vegetables where they probably won’t be found.

Next month, we’ll look at the actual techniques for starting seeds. That will give you more than enough time to get your transplants ready for spring planting.


More Information:

David Robson is an Extension Educator, Horticulture, at the Springfield Extension Center, University of Illinois Extension, P.O. Box 8199, Springfield, IL 62791. Telephone: 217-782-6515.


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