The winters may feel long for most people in zone 5, but to those of us 4 season gardeners, our winter is about two months long. I take December and January off, with only my houseplants to half-heartedly care for. Early February, onions and leeks are sprouting in my basement under lights, followed soon after by celery. And then by mid-march, my basement looks a little like this:
And then in April and early May:
Mid May is a little stressful as my plants hang out in the garage on windy, rainy spring days and then brave the elements as they harden off on the acceptable days. By the time early June comes, the empty nest feeling is pretty fantastic as I get to hand over their day to day care to mother nature.
Over the years, I’m fairly certain I’ve made all the seed starting mistakes you can make. I’ve loaded up on seed starting supplies and seeds, only to have dismal failures that didn’t last past their first day outside. Somehow I convinced myself that having a green thumb isn’t necessarily something you are born with and kept at it! I spent a winter reading books on starting seeds indoors, scouring the web for tidbits for success, and compiled all the info into a routine that has changed my gardening forever! I went from one shoplight to 15, 6 garden beds to 18, held seedling sales, and most importantly, filled Fremont Garden with a variety of plants not typically found at nurseries!
Over the past few years, I’ve hosted numerous seed starting workshops to share the knowledge with others. Most attendees have tried starting seeds indoors in the past but weren’t as successfully as they would like to be. Most had grown leggy plants that would die during the hardening off period or experienced damping off disease, a common fungal infection that causes the stem to narrow and the top to topple over.
Most attendees left the workshops realizing they needed to tweak a couple steps in the process, which would make all the difference! Here are the top 4 mistakes they were making:
- Insufficient lighting – a window ledge is rarely enough light
- Not adding light soon enough – young seedlings need light as soon as they emerge from the soil to prevent legginess.
- Insufficient ventilation – keeping the dome on prevents the air ventilation needed to prevent fungal disease.
- Too much moisture – watering too frequently also encourages fungal disease.
Here is a link to my seed starting handout, that includes the supplies I use, general tips for success, and a schedule for when to start seeds in Zone 5b.