How do you typically start your seeds? I normally use Jiffy pellets, simply because it is convenient, and I have had great success. If you do a search on Jiffy pellets, it is not uncommon to see many threads dedicated to the cons of using these over other methods and mediums. In fact, I hadn’t realized how many people are anti-Jiffy pellets until a few months ago when I was on a gardening forum. The common complaint was the pellet would either be too wet or too dry, or that roots do not form well. I can see how these points could cause a negative experience.
Before I speak of my experience, I will say that I the refill pellets I purchased this year look different from the previous stash I picked up in the previous years. The mesh used to look like cotton.
The new batch have a more synthetic looking netting. I’m curious to see if this makes a difference. Will the roots come through more easily? Roots certainly had no troubles breaking through the cotton net.
I started out using the pellets because I had purchased the kit – tray with pellets and a lid to mimic a miniature greenhouse. The instructions were basic – add water to the pellets in the tray, and wait for the pellets to expand, just like in the Jiffy video. Once expanded, add the seeds.
My pellets don’t expand quite as quickly as in the video. I have also found that adding a little bit of water to the tray first, before placing the pellets in place, helps to speed things along. Pour water into the tray, but not flooding the tray. I can walk away and do something else. Usually I will have to add more water because the pucks are never expanded fully. Once they have all plumped up, I gently rip open the top of the netting. Even though there is an opening, I have always found it too small, and I worry that maybe when the seed sprouts, it will get tangled. After making the opening larger, I take a toothpick and carefully poke down the centre of the puck, churning the soil ever so gently. This is the spot that I will drop my seed into. By loosening the surround soil a little, I feel it fluffs it up, which may help the roots move through more easily. There is no science behind this. The soil in these pucks are very compacted. I’m simply doing what I feel is beneficial, and it has not had any negative effects.
Once I drop a single seed into an individual puck, I lightly use the toothpick to close up the hole. When I have completed seeding, the lid goes on, and the tray is set on the table by my west-facing window. Some people swear by heat mats, but I have had success without one. Germination time depends on what you are growing. I have noticed that most of the same things will germinate at the same time. For example, my chili peppers this year took around 10-12 days to germinate, whereas my Gazania’s came up in only three days. Note that I seeded the Gazania’s in a flat with soil less mix and placed it covered in my basement. The tomatoes started coming up within 6-7 days. Sadly, I did not take any time lapse photos this year. I remember going to bed on March 25th, noticing that nothing was happening with the tomatoes. On the morning of March 26th, there were 13 stems pushing through the soil – amazing!
The grow lights are turned on, and set to provide light for 12-16 hours every day. I have to prop the trays up on boxes, and lower the light to decrease the distance of the light from the seedlings. As they grow taller, I adjust the height of the light. I keep the trays covered most of the time. You’ll see quite a bit of condensation building up. To prevent things from getting too soggy, every few days or so, I’ll remove the lid and let the seedlings breathe. Take note that as soon as you remove the cover, the pellets start to dry. It seems very quick to dry, but remember how small the pellets are. At night, I will always try to remember to cover them back up. Once the majority of the seedlings grow tall enough that they are almost touching the lid, I’ll remove the cover permanently. At this point, it is important to keep any eye on your seedlings to ensure the pellets do not dry out. This is especially true if you have a fan blowing. I’ll usually water at least daily, sometimes twice daily.
As soon as the seedlings develop their first true leaves, it’s time to pot them up. Usually you will see roots poking through the mesh. That’s a tell tale sign that they are ready to move on up.
I start with 4-inch pots, and I add almost half a pot of regular, nothing fancy, potting soil. I will lightly spritz each with water from a spray bottle. Once they are filled halfway, this year, I have added vermicompost from my worm bins. I only add a thin layer. Before placing the seedling into the pot, I will spritz each one all around. Some people will try to remove the netting, but with the roots wrapped around, that’s a sure way to damage the roots. I just leave the netting on. Position the seedling in the pot, so that it is sitting flat on the vermicompost. You don’t want to create air pockets, something I learned when I was volunteering at Fresh City Farms. Fill in around the seedling with more potting soil. Lightly water, and label your plants!
I should mention that for tomatoes, plant them deep. You can also do the same with peppers. For tomatoes especially, this will help them grow strong as more roots will produce from the stem (wherever you’ve buried it). It’s very important at this stage to provide lots of light so that they do not grow lanky. By having the grow lights, your plants do not have to reach for the light, creating bushier plants.
I like to run my hands lightly across the plants. This year I have placed a fan by my plant table, simulating wind. Does it make a difference? We’ll have to wait and see!