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Too Much of a Good Thing…

By Georgia Jallo, Boulder County Master Gardener

….can be wonderful, so they say.  But what if we are considering the typical packet of flower or vegetable seeds.  There are lots of them, and usually many more than the usual home gardener can cope with in a single season.  Especially if said home gardener has only 2 4′ x 8′ raised beds and limited time. And even more important if this anonymous gardener is usually successful in propagating each and every seed she/he sows.  Considering the miracle of the seed, it’s easy to get carried away by those darned seductive seed packets that promise such amazing things. Each seed holds a promise that something wonderful can happen with only a bit of soil, some water and a few rays of sunlight. It’s so hard not just to go ahead and start the whole bunch of them.

Rows of tomato seedlings lined up in rows

The equation is: too many seeds = lots of seedlings.  Although this is a better outcome than the alternative it means that you, the hypothetical home gardener, may be facing the happy dilemma of too many seedlings to fit into the available space. Remedies include offering the healthy seedlings to fellow gardeners, to friends, and to neighbors. Succession planting is a great option. Time is a factor here, and right now is probably the time to get those seedlings into the soil and fast.

You may have been hesitating to try your hand at seed starting.  The most important aspect beyond choosing the types of seeds you want to grow and the plants that will thrive in your own garden is TIMING—when to start those seeds either inside or outside.  Information on the packet combined with the average frost date is the point of departure.  Use a calendar and count backwards from that date.  Beyond that, there are a few helpful adjuncts that can make the process easier.

  • Soaking most seeds overnight or for several hours seems to speed germination, it can’t hurt
  • Save leftover seeds in their sealed envelopes in the refrigerator vegetable or fruit drawer (I have started seeds that are going on their 3rd year stored this way)
  • Be aware that some seeds want to germinate in the dark, some like to be scarified/nicked
  • Thinning: not for the faint-hearted but really necessary (remember there were too many seeds to start with)

More handy helpers:

  • Inexpensive shop lights on chains that can be raised or lowered
  • Heat Mats
  • Fan to circulate air
  • Seed-starting containers gleaned from the trash and water-tight trays to hold seedlings so they can be watered from the bottom

The preceding is obviously not a complete how-to, just some of the techniques that I have found useful so that ALL those seeds, too many or not, can fulfill their destiny.


Brief bibliography:

Starting Seeds. Barbara Ellis. Storey Publishing. 2010                                                                  Organic Gardener’s Companion. Jane Shellenberger. Fulcan. 20                                    (References to seed starting and seed saving)

CMG GardenNotes #137. Plant Structure: Seeds                                                                     PlanTalk 1840 – Starting Vegetable Seeds Indoors






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