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From Seed to Sprout: Master the Art of Starting Seeds

Rooted: How-tos, thoughts and stories from Brawley Seed Co.

Over the years, I've noticed that a lot of people are scared to start their own seed. Yes, it requires a few more steps than picking up something healthy and lovely at Brawley Seed Co. Of course, it does not provide the instant gratification of that same act. But, it can be a rewarding skill that will serve you for years to come and is cost-effective (something we all need in this economy). With a few tips and tricks, the crew at BSC will help you become a seed-starting aficionado in no time. 

Keep cool and learn from your mistakes. This might be the most important rule to any gardener or farmer, remain cool when things do not go as planned. It is easy to become discouraged when you are new to seed-starting or gardening in general. When we grow our own food, there are elements we cannot control and some we can. Failure will happen, so keep your calm and learn from your mistakes.

Choose the right container to start seeds in. Choose the right container to start seeds in. Here at the BSC we start our seeds in a large flat tray with drainage holes. (also known as a 1020 tray). Using this method, we can cut down on the amount of soil we use. Using seed trays allows us to space our seedlings properly and ensures good drainage. While there are a ton of ways to start seed, this particular method has served us well.  Other containers to consider: 1203/1206/ 50 count propagation trays. These trays separate into cells for sowing small amounts of various seeds. If you are looking for a way to recycle items in your home, consider using plastic milk jugs, egg crates, or vegetable/fruit containers.

Know this definition: Thinning

To pluck out seedlings that have grown close to one another once they have germinated. Thinning seedlings ensures successful mature plants.

Choose the right seed-starting medium. Choose the right seed-starting medium. Here at the BSC, we use Pro-Mix soilless potting mix. Our Brawley Custom blend includes sphagnum peat moss, perlite, pine fines and mycorrhizae, and a biological fungicide. The organic fungicide is Bacillus pumilus - Bacillus is a bacterium that produces an antibiotic which helps suppress root rot diseases caused by Fusarium, Pythium and Rhizoctonia. It also secretes biostimulant molecules (auxins) to form a biofilm around the root system that ensures its protection. We love this blend for its airiness, and functionality. It is the soil that we use for almost everything grown here at the nursery. We fill our flat an even 1-1.5 inch layer, we then lay our chosen seed on top and cover with a layer of vermiculite. We like this method because it ensures our seeds are not planted too deep. It also helps us keep our soil moist, wards off fungus, and protects seedlings from humidity and temperature changes. Again, this is not a steadfast rule but it has served us well. 

Seeds need heat. Most seeds need to stay somewhat warm to begin the germination process. If you are growing in a heated greenhouse, like we do at Brawley’s this is not so much of a concern. When growing in a home environment consider using a humidity dome and a warm windowsill. It will provide a cozy home from seeds to start the growing process. You might opt for a heating pad if no sunny windowsill is available.

Air flow is important. To avoid dampening off, give seedlings the ability to breathe . We achieve this by allowing the soil to dry out in-between watering. Good air flow helps to keep any fungal issues from arising. 

Consider your light source. Seedlings need sunlight to grow. Whether you are growing in a window sill or under a grow light, consider rotating your container every so often. This ensures all seedlings optimal light.

Utilize the great outdoors in the right way. When the time is right, weather, temperature, season, it will be time to move seedlings outside. When moving seedlings outside to be planted, give them a hardening-off period. This gives them time to get use to the sunlight and temperature of their new outdoor home. You can easily do this by moving them into direct morning light and extending this time frame to give them more direct light over the next couple days. This is important to growing strong plants for your garden. 

Feed your starts. Fertilize, depending on how long you have to wait until you can plant outside, consider using a liquid fertilizer at half strength when true leaves form on your plant. Our favorite liquid is : Fox Farm Grow Big

Know this definition: True Leaves

Cotyledons provide the baby seedling with food until the true leaves rise above them. The true leaves then make their own food through photosynthesis. True leaves look like adult leaves. Cotyledons are simple and nondescript. You want to see 3 – 4 true leaves before transplanting. In the picture to the right, the long leaves are cotyledons and the rounded leaves are true leaves.

Save leftovers and notes for later. Seeds have a long shelf life if stored properly. Store any left over seed in a cool, dark place protected from humidity. Keep notes on what worked and what did not work, and don’t give up.

Learning a new skill takes time but your friends at the BSC are here to help in any way we can. At the Seed Counter at BSC, you can find seed that is sure to do well in our region, as well as heirloom favorites and funky hard-to-find crops. As always, all seed and crops are NON-GMO. Check back on the blog for tips for transplanting crops.

While you're at it, also check out our growing guide to help you grow your best garden.

Life's a garden, dig it!

-The Brawley Seed Co. Crew

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