Step-by-step: Seed starting

Well, spring must be just around the corner because I planted my first seeds indoors this morning. The veggie crop I planted was Artichoke 'Imperial Star.'

Artichokes are something that few gardeners even think of planting but it's well worth the effort. This will be my third year of growing them. They are easy to grow and very prolific when it comes to providing us with lots of delicious artichokes to eat during the summer and early fall.

When it comes to starting your plants from seed, the process is pretty straightforward. I thought I would walk you through the steps: (remember that you can click on any image for a larger view)

1. Gather your supplies. You will need some type of seed-starting container, a flat or tray to set it in, a clear dome lid, seed-starting mix and finely milled spaghnum moss. Oh yeah, and some seeds! Since I knew I only want to grow about 10 plants, I chose a 10-cell size of Jiffy peat pots. These peat pots can be transplanted into a larger container or into the garden because the roots will grow right through them. If I'm planting large quantities of a seed, however, I tend to use a deep-root insert (available at well-stocked garden centers). I also used some Jiffy organic seed-starting mix, which I'd never used before. I'm pleased with the quality of it. I also buy Northwest Seed & Pet's germination mix which works really well.

2. Pour some seed-starting mix into a bucket and pre-moisten it with warm water. The goal is to have it be lightly moist rather than sopping wet.

3. Fill your seed-starting container with the seed-starting mix and press it down into the individual cells. I usually find the cells will be about 2/3 filled at this point. I check the seed packet to see what depth they should be planted (1/4" in this case) and if the level is about where I want it, I put a single seed in each cell. Then I add a little more seed-starting mix until the seeds are covered with about 1/4" of mix.

4. Here's where the finely-milled spaghnum moss comes in, which you can also find at well-stocked garden centers like Northwest Seed. There is a fungal seedling disease called "damping-off" which can wipe out a whole flat of plants in nothing flat. Research has shown that a thin layer of the spaghnum moss will prevent this from happening. I've never lost any seedlings to damping-off but figure an ounce of prevention is worth it. So sprinkle a fine layer of moss over the surface of your planting container.

5. Water the container a little more if you don't think it's damp enough. Cover the container with the clear dome lid. This will keep the humidity in the container at a constant level which really helps the seeds germinate. Your seed packet will tell you about how many days it will take for them to sprout. Label the container.

6. Place it in a well-lit area. I'm fortunate in that I have a 2-tiered grow-light set-up with a timer that turns on the lights at about 6 a.m. and turns them off around 9 p.m. You can also use a sunny windowsill although you won't get quite the intensity of light. Even so, the seeds should sprout just fine. Once they do, remove the dome lid and monitor the moisture in the seed-starting mix so that it doesn't dry out too much.

7. Refer to your seed packet for instructions on when to transplant the seedlings to a larger container or out into the garden.

The next seeds I'll be planting indoors are tomatoes and peppers on about March 15. I'll keep you posted on what to do with your seedlings as things start sprouting.