Starting seeds indoors (& in the greenhouse)

Instead of waiting for the weather to get its act together, we took matters into our own hands in the propagation department. With the addition of the greenhouse last fall, we’re able to start plants indoors very early knowing that they are afforded some safety later outside. So last Sunday, during a snowfall, we starting planting under lights in the basement. The snow was outside, not in the house, otherwise the carpets would get wet. As well, I managed to dig out the door way to the greenhouse and plant some radish seeds inside. With a temperature of 6-12°C inside, the radish should work out fine.

Reaching for the light

Reaching for the light

This year we’ve decided to grow some VERY hot peppers, and they need up to six weeks to germinate. We are growing Bhut Jolokia (ghost peppers), Moruga Scorpions (hottest in the world), Jalapeños, Yucatan White Habanero, bells, and Peter peppers (look it up, SNSFW). We’ve also started the tomatoes, Brussels sprouts and cabbage.

When planting seeds indoors, there are a few factors to consider:

1. Planting medium
Depending on the seeds you are starting, you may need to use a special mix. There is always the option of bringing soil in from the garden, but at this time of year the ground is solid and you can’t be sure what else you may be bringing in the house (bugs, disease, turds the cat left for you to find in the spring, etc). For peppers and tomatoes we used a soil-less medium, although a little more expensive, it’s worth the extra money to ensure our special pepper seeds actually germinate.

2. Light
This is a very confusing topic. There is a lot of information out there for what lights to use. You can buy special grow lights that are meant to offer better light for plants, but in actual fact, these lights are usually just overpriced and don’t necessarily do a better job than any other. Using cool white T8 fluorescent bulbs 8-12″ above your plants will stimulate them enough to grow. Cool whites offer the plants light mainly from the blue light spectrum. This light will not stimulate flowering as red spectrum does, but will instead help seedlings grow stocky and strong, ready for transplanting outside.

A light fixture, such as the aforementioned T8, can easily be hung from a ceiling by chain to allow for height adjustment as plants grow.

As in the outdoors, indoor plants need the lights to go out for a period each day. The darkness of night is an important part in a plant’s daily cycle. To keep the seedlings happy, plug the lights into a wall timer set to switch off over night for 7-8 hrs.

These tomatoes are only 4 months away from being salsa!

These tomatoes are only 4 months away from being salsa!

3. Water
Plants should be well watered but not kept drenched (more on that below). Always use water from the cold water tap and let it warm in the room with the seedlings before watering. Avoid using the hot water tap as the mineral deposits that collect in your hot water tank can be harmful to young plants.

4. Air circulation
To strengthen the root systems and stems of your seedlings, you must simulate the wind they would be subjected to outside. A simple fix for this is to set a fan on low in the room to  blow over the seedlings. Your plants aren’t looking for gale force winds, so moderate the flow through the fan’s placement in the room.

Using a fan also prevents the seedlings from damping off. Damping off is caused by seedlings being too wet which allows different fungus to grow and attack the young plants. The last thing you want is to see all your plants die from damp.

5. Heat
Seeds need a certain level of warmth to germinate and grow. All plants have different temperature needs and when growing different species together, you’ll have to decide what temperature will suit them all. We are growing all of our seeds in the same room where the quail chicks are kept. This room in always nice and warm for the chicks so it makes an ideal place to start our seeds. If you don’t have a room in your house like this, heated seedling mats work quite well. I suppose you could also try a space heater, but leaving these unattended always scares me a little. Early plants are of no use if your house has burned down.

For anyone who can’t be bothered with starting seeds indoors, we are selling started pepper plants later in the spring. If you don’t want the plant, just come by this summer and help yourself to some very hot peppers. You can have as many Moruga Scorpions as you can handle before you pass out.

Thoughts?