Thursday, February 16, 2012

Start Tomato Seedlings and Others Easy!

All you will need for this little project is some Tomato Seeds, Disposable Frozen Food Trays (cleaned), Some Clear Plastic Wrap, A hammer and Large nail for punching holes in the Trays, and a light soil mix. A dark, warm closet would be nice but you can use a box under the bed if you want.The large Under-The-Bed Plastic Storage Boxes work great. Just put your trays of seeds in them, close the lid, put under the bed and laugh at the Cats. They can smell fresh soil a mile away!

1.  Prepare the Frozen Food Tray.

    Using the hammer and a large nail (10 penny spike is good) punch several holes from the inside of the tray out. Round out the holes. The ragged edge should be to the outside. This will provide drainage and a means to water the trays later on when the plants are up. You may grow them for several days in these trays before you have to transplant them into a bigger tray or individual pots. The Aunt Jemima Breakfast Frozen Food Trays work great for me. They are actually paper covered with a plastic seal inside and can stand several months of use before deteriorating. You can actually give them a coat or two of spray paint and they can last several years with careful use.

2. Prepare the Seeding Soil

I found a good mix from "Organic Gardening" this year and I have used their formula with slight modification. It looks like it will work great and closely resembles the one I usually use. You might pick up the complete article at:

              Rodale Seed Starting Soil Mix
  • 4 parts Screened Compost - ( I used Screened Cotton Boll) - Found at most Gardening Supplies.
  • 1 part Perlite ( I screened this too - To get larger chunks out that can harm roots when Transplanting.
  • 1 part Vermiculite
  •  2parts sphagnum peat moss and/or Coir - An "Eco-Friendly Peat Alternative made from Coconut  Husks - Also used to make Floor Mats, Door Mats and Mattresses!

I used a 24 oz empty Cottage Cheese Tub to measure out my Ingrediants. This amount seems to work well for me to make a sack full of mix.   I put the ingredients in an old Dog Watering tray and mixed it thoroughly.  I then added a half cup of water at a time and mixed until it had a nice damp feel to it through out.  I ended up with about 8 quarts of mix.  Which fit nicely into an empty 8 Quart
Perlite - Rezip Bag. I then glued a big white label to the front with the Seed Mix Soil name and formula. Rubber cement the sack area where you want to put the label and Rubber Cement the back of the label itself. Wait for both to become almost dry then stick down. I used a 3 X 6 notecard to make the label. Rezip garden product bags are great, because they keep the new mix moist and hold a reasonable amount of mix. I seeded almost 30 paper trays and used 3 sacks (24oz) approximately of my soil mix to fill the trays for seeding. I still have most of the Warmer Crops to seed and start so I will have to mix up a few sacks more. In just a week or two, most of the Cool Weather crops (Cabbage, Broccoli, Cauliflour, Spinach, Lettuce, Onions, Paisleys, etc.  should be going into the ground. If the soil temperature is 40 to 45 degrees they will be ok. A little protection might be in order for a few weeks if the night temperatures do not stay above 40 degrees. I will probably set them in the hoop-house as transplants in paper pots until I feel safe about the weather turning towards spring.

3. Load the Tray with Soil.

Load the tray with Seeding Soil Mix to about half full. Gently press it down. Don't forget the sides. Finish filling the tray to the top. Gently press the soil down again with a slight pressure of the hand. This is to press the air out of the soil a bit - not to seal it like concrete! G-e-n-t-l-y is sufficient.

4. Make Furrows or Poke Holes in the soil. 

Check your seed package. What is the recommended depth to plant the seeds. Use this same depth to plant the seeds in the trays. Disregard furrow width. Plant the seeds a minimum of 1" apart in a row. Make the rows about 3/4 to 1 inch apart. This is a pretty temporary home and in most cases, you will be soon be transplanting the small plants into a bigger and deeper tray or into individual pots so they have room to grow. When they become crowded, they will Stop growing and start crowding each other out.

I just used a pencil and pressed down 6 furrows in the tray to about 1/4 inch deep. The recommended planting depth for Tomato seeds. 

5. Seed the Furrows (or holes). Here you see a little of both.

I placed the seeds as you might be able to see about 1 inch apart. I want plenty of room to be able to "dibble" out the baby plants when it is time to move them to individual pots or a deeper tray. [ A Cake Pan with holes is good if you want to move to a larger and deeper tray for a few weeks. You can use regular potting mix for transplanting.].

6,  Lightly cover the seeds with a more seeding soil to the recommended depth. Again press the soil down gently to firm in the seeds.

7.  Label the Tray.

I've tried several methods. This seems to work the best. Use 3 x 6 card stock and cut a piece about 1" wide by as wide as the card (3"). Print the Plant name, date, and any other info you like. Run a strip of rubber cement along one end of the tray. Set it aside to dry. Turn the label over and apply rubber cement to the back and allow to dry a little. Press the label to the tray. This will produce a very good bond. If you want to protect the label from dampness just run a few strips of scotch tape across it. 

8. Gently Water in the Seeds.

Use a fine mist and dampen the surface of the seeded tray well. Short of actually trying to wet it down. I found these neat little watering spray bottles in the gardening section of the Dollar Store. They cost a $1.
Their easy to handle and hold about 12 ounces of water. Plenty good for our use. It is adjustable from a jet to a fine mist.

9. Use Plastic Wrap or a Freezer Bag to make a little greenhouse  and a warm, draft-free seed sprouting atmosphere 

Just slip it into a Freezer Bag of the right size and leave one end slightly open to allow fresh air to pass in.
I am using a foot square or sow of Plastic Wrap. I scotch tape the wrap from the under side on the back and both sides near the middle and leave the end loosely open for fresh air. I never have a "dampening-off problem. I also pull the trays out of the Freezer Bag or fold back the Plastic Wrap for an hour each day to the fresh air, then close the ends slightly but still leave a little air hole. Then put them away back in my closet cabinet specially built to hold plant trays. It also works as a small handy pantry when the plant sprouting season is over! You may see it in one of my other plant starting articles. Lettuce is one of the few plants that need a little light to sprout. The herb, Summer Savory is another. Most Garden plants in my experience do not.

10. The finished product!

Addendum: Feb 19, 2012:
The day after planting the Tomato Seeds, I seeded Cabbages. This is the result. 3 days later.

                A Close up of the Baby Cabbages Sprouting
Showing most of the tray with the center plants in 
focus. About 1/3 of the total has sprouted all ready.

Now I will need to rush them under a plant light and be sure they remain warm and damp and get plenty of fresh air. The sprouting will continue to finish very quickly. After the plants start sprouting well, I remove the plastic covering completely but they must remain out of cold drafts and still get fresh air. They still need lots of protection. I will set these under a lamp for a few days then place them in my planter where they will receive light, warmth, and protection from strong sun for several day or weeks of growth. When the plants seem to be getting crowded and have their "Real" leafs, I will be placing [transplanting] them into 2" pots. 

Addendum: February 26, 2012
This is how the Cabbage Seedlings look 10 Days Later:

These Cabbages are about Life-Size in this Picture
Appendum March 6, 2012: The Cabbage Seedlings are getting their true leaves and are going into pots tomorrow. I will put them in the Hoop House to adjust to muted sunlight for about a week then set into the garden. Likewise the Cauliflower, Broccoli, Lettuce and Spinach.

Thanks for stopping by! Your comments are welcome and you may e-mail me personally at RobertLee97@GMail.Com if you have any gardening questions. Your e-mail address stays with us. We do not market names!  I would especially like to hear more from the Wichita and Wichita Metro Area. Tell me about your garden. Let's compare notes!  I am looking to start an All Kansas Gardening Club.  Plant Exchanging, Sources, Vegetable and Plant Marketing, Farmers Market News. Etc. Your ideas are very welcome.

Cheers! Happy Gardening!


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