All About Seeds...

           One of the best parts of gardening (next to eating the produce, of course) is planting the garden.   As a gardener, you have the option of purchasing started plants from a greenhouse or other retail outlet or buying seeds and
starting them yourself.

            From a budgeting standpoint, it is cheaper to start your own seeds.   It is much easier to purchase started plants but you are limited to what the greenhouse or store has to offer.   There are some techniques that can make starting your own seeds easier and more attractive to individuals with disabilities or limitations.   

            Seeds need certain conditions- warmth, moisture, light and soil to germinate and grow.   Many types of plant seeds require specific amounts of these ingredients and others will grow almost anywhere.  For specific variety selection, safe planting dates, fertilization and transplanting requirements refer to University of Kentucky College of Agriculture Horticulture Department and their on-line list of available publications at:   or contact your County Extension Office.

Starting seeds indoors

            Many gardeners want to get an early start so they can have fresh produce or flowers as soon as possible.   One way to accomplish this is to start seeds indoors in the late winter.    Fortunately, almost any container can be used as long as it provides for drainage.  Ideally, use containers that are clean, washable and at least 2½ inches deep for adequate root development.   Some possible recycled containers include aluminum trays, Styrofoam cups, any plastic tray that is deep enough and milk cartons.  Be creative and think of other products you use in your kitchen or home that can be recycled for planters.  Be sure that you don’t use any containers from chemicals that could harm the seed or be picked up by the plant. 

            Some gardeners may wish to purchase seed containers.   There are many shapes and sizes available which come in several materials.   The most common are containers made of peat or plastic. The advantage to peat is that once the plant is ready to go into the garden, the whole container can be transplanted without disturbing the roots.  For those who have difficulty handling seeds, pre-planted seed starters are available.  However, the choice of plant varieties will be limited.

After choosing the containers to plant into, select a ready mixed soil for planting.  This is much easier than mixing your own and safer than using outdoor garden soil and you eliminate the risk of contamination from weeds, diseases or insects.  For best results pre-moisten the planting medium.  Then squeeze out the excess water before placing in the tray. For those with a weakened grip, place the soil in the container and water from the top or place it in a pan of water and allow it to soak up from the bottom.

            Some tips to make seed planting easier include using seed tapes to plant rows quickly and easily, mix tiny seeds with sand and shake them out of a salt shaker and using a large magnifier to see small seeds.   Seed tapes are made from strips of newspaper or paper towels.  The seeds are mixed in a paste made from flour and water and placed at the appropriate spacing on the strips and then the tape is place on the growing media.  Other ideas include sifting light colored sand over the planted areas as you seed to remember which areas are seeded and thinning extra seedlings with nail scissors.  Be careful to keep soil moist but not too wet.

Starting Seeds Outdoors

            After adequately preparing the seedbed, the next step is planting the seeds.   Some tricks to aid in outdoor seed beds include using a seed sowing board and making a seed planting stick.  

            According to The Able Gardener , to make a seed sowing board, drill 1/8 – 1/4  inch holes in a piece of masonite painted a light color to make the holes more visible.  Place the board on the soil and simply drop the seeds in the holes.  Lift the masonite and sift the soil over the seeds.  

            For those who have difficulty bending or getting up and down, planting sticks could be the answer. A planting stick is a plastic pipe cut waist or chest high with a funnel attached.  Sharpen a dowel rod and tape it securely to the outside of the pipe allowing it to protrude 3 inches beyond the bottom of the pipe. Use the dowel to make a dibble of the proper depth for the seeds you are planting and drop the seed down the tube into the hole.  Another variation for those who use a cane is to attach the tube to the cane instead of a dowel.

 References and Resources
UK College of Agriculture Publications:
HO-56 Starting Plants from Seed at Home
ID-128 Home Vegetable Gardening
ID-36 Vegetable Production Guide for Commercial Growers
The Able Gardener  by Kathleen Yeomans, R.N.  A Gardenway Publishing Book Storey Communications, Inc. Pownal, VT 05261