Everything You Need to Start Plants From Seed
A foolproof guide to seed starting! Here's a way to boost your success rate, with little to no effort
I’m not above picking up a starter plant at the nursery every now and then, but I prefer growing vegetables from seeds. Here's why: It allows for the widest range of cultivars to choose from once plants sprout. While I’ve started seeds the low-tech way—a cup, some sterile planting mix, water, and time parked in a warm part of the house—it’s not the quickest process. This minimalist approach should yield sprout within eight to 15 days, provided seeds are kept in evenly moist soil in a room that’s between 75 and 85 degrees. The final round of this approach calls for placement on a sunny windowsill until it's time to transplant outside.
With a last frost date around late April, my Zone 6B garden has about 200 growing days, which isn't as long a season as I'd like. But it turns out you can speed up the growing process and buy garden time back!
The ($220) is a tiered system that starts seeds and keeps them watered and growing under lights until you’re ready to move them outside. The system’s shelf is big enough to hold three of the included seed starting trays for a total capacity of more than 70 plants in a footprint about 31 x 15 ½ inches. Overall the recycled plastic rig is easy to assemble, but the clips that hold the light in are a little fussy.
Here’s why the kit, combined with Gardener’s Supply ($55), is basically seed starting on autopilot: Once the tray’s planting cells are filled with the included soil mix and your seeds—I used a mix of heirloom and hybrid veggies including the famous tomato and sweet bell pepper from Burpee—they sit on a woven, carpet-like material. This "capillary layer" pulls water from a large basin beneath the cells to keep the soil properly hydrated. Fill each basin with about 48 ounces of water, cover the tray with its clear plastic top to trap the moisture, and you can forget about it for weeks instead of visiting it daily and spritzing water in to trap humidity.
When I tested this system, I loaded trays onto the frame and heating mat and nearly all seeds germinated in just seven days. The mat kept the seed-starting trays about 15 degrees warmer than ambient temperature. Once they sprouted, I removed the plastic lids, killed the heat, and turned on the Stack-n-Grow system’s pair of 36-inch-long, full spectrum T5 bulbs. I paired the grow bulbs with a digital timer (the one that controls my holiday lights) making sure the new sprouts could bask in the light for 13 hours daily. All I had to do was check on them periodically to raise the light level as the plants grew.
I’m about two weeks in and my plants are about six inches tall with multiple pairs of leaves. The system is easy to break down for storage and I plan to use it to grow cuttings later on. It may not be the cheapest way to start seeds, but this is a reusable system, and if you have a short growing season it can help you make the most of the time you've got.
Get your ($220) at gardeners.com