Seed Starting Tips and Tricks

Our wooden potmaker turns newspapers into perfectly sized and shaped, 100% bildegradeable seedling pots you can plant right in the ground. At Lehmans.com and our store in Kidron, Ohio.

Our wooden potmaker turns newspapers into perfectly sized and shaped, 100% bildegradeable seedling pots you can plant right in the ground. At Lehmans.com and our store in Kidron, Ohio.

The snow lies deep in the back pasture. The wind whines sharply between the branches of the pine trees and the days remain painfully short. But still, something is happening. I can see it in the changed slant of sun’s rays at 4:00. The chicks I hatched last spring are laying pullet eggs and the year-old Buff Orpingtons are gifting us with huge, double yolkers. Wood piles are shrinking and there is tubing snaking through the maple bush waiting for the first run of sap that will be boiled into syrup.

This is a busy time of year for us, outdone only by harvest but a lot of this work is done in the dreaming. What should I plant and when and where? I will confess that I am always too early. My impatience for something crisp and green outweighs my good sense.

 Amish Paste Tomatoes are fleshy, meaty and great for eating fresh or making sauce. Heirloom seeds available at Lehmans.com and our store in Kidron, Ohio.

Amish Paste Tomatoes are fleshy, meaty and great for eating fresh or making sauce. Heirloom seeds available at Lehmans.com and our store in Kidron, Ohio.

I have good luck with seedlings although I’m a bit reluctant to share my secret as people might well think me a bit odd. It’s the soil that matters, of course. It’s a living, breathing thing and only good soil will give you good seedlings. I start with 3 parts good garden soil, gathered last fall and kept in the greenhouse until February. Then I add 1 part compost. I get it from the rabbit hutch and from the chickens and from the grass-fed dairy farm up the road. It needs to be well composted. If it’s too fresh it will burn the seeds. I also add soil from my worm farm. I get about three trays a year. It’s not enough to make a huge difference in my garden beds but it’s wonderful for tiny, tender plants.

The last thing I add is — wait for it — the gel from disposable diapers. It holds water extremely well and releases it to the soil as the soil dries. My soil looks light and fluffy and I never suffer from root rot. Three cups of dry gel to a six gallon bucket of soil is about right. I would not purchase diapers just for this purpose, but I often find partial boxes and packages at tag sales. I snag them up and they go in my soil stash. My final trick is vegetable/egg shell water. This time of the year the freezer is getting low. I keep ice cube trays in there and add the nutrient rich water as it becomes available. When I get a full tray I pop out the cubes and begin again. I can thaw as many cubes as I need and water my seedlings with it. Plants love it.

Making seed pots has never been quicker, easier or more fun! Wooden Potmaker from Lehmans.com; also available in our store.

Making seed pots has never been quicker, easier or more fun! Wooden Potmaker from Lehmans.com; also available in our store.

This is a thrifty way to start seeds. Other ways are probably easier and more efficient, but my way utilizes what might otherwise get throw in the landfill. It’s a win-win in my book.I homeschool my daughter, Phoebe. One of our tasks is to make seed pots. She loves the little wooden mold that lets her turn out pot after pot from newspaper strips. They can go right in the soil without damaging fragile roots and enriching the soil as they decompose. I set my pots filled with good seed and good soil in the plastic trays that fruit and vegetable platters come in. I put the word out in December and in a few weeks I have a hug stash. The clear plastic top makes a dandy little greenhouse with some holes punched in the top and bottom for ventilation and drainage. The ones that don’t fit will find a cozy house in a baking pan with a plastic bag hat.

Looking for something different to grow this year? Try Dragon Tongue Beans. They're stringless, wide, and exceptionally crisp and juicy. Heirloom seeds available at Lehmans.com and our store in Kidron, Ohio.

Looking for something different to grow this year? Try Dragon Tongue Beans. They’re stringless, wide, and exceptionally crisp and juicy. Heirloom seeds available at Lehmans.com and our store in Kidron, Ohio.

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Kathy Harrison

About Kathy Harrison

Kathy Harrison is the author of Just in Case, Another Place at the Table, and One Small Boat. She is a national spokesperson for both foster parenting and family preparedness and has appeared on The Today Show, The Oprah Winfrey Show, and National Public Radio. She lives with her family in western Massachusetts.