Dec 17 2010

~HOW to Germinate Seeds with What Equipment~


When we seriously started to grow food, we had
limited funds, so made use of things we had on
hand to make our seed germination nursery.


5) HOW to germinate seeds

Dixie cups, egg cartons and tin cans can all be pressed into service to start a vegetable garden full of life sustaining nutrients. Fancy equipment and the “best of everything horticulture” is not required. Here is the set-up I used in 2008 to produce more food than we could eat that summer and fall. I had an old grow light that I put into a clamp-on shop light shade; used a piece of plywood on saw horses for a surface located near windows and placed the whole stand over an electric plug-in radiator to provide a consistent heat source.  You can see the thermometer I used to monitor the set-up on the table, just one that had been on the back porch for years. The fan provided air as tomatoes need air movement to sway their stems when they are germinating to grow strong.

Under the Dixie Cups, we had metal cookie sheets with sides from the kitchen. Over top of the Dixie Cups, we  covered the seeded Dixies with sheets of Saran Wrap plastic film to hold in moisture and create a small greenhouse. Each Dixie Cup had a Popsicle stick with the plant name and date the seed was planted.

Tomatoes like to be transplanted, in fact I usually transplant them four times by the time they have gone into the garden.  Working with what we had, tomatoes were started in Dixie Cups, transplanted into recycled tin cans, then into cut off gallon water jugs and finally placed into the garden where they lived until the frosts of autumn.

Here are tomato plants in the later stages of growth
before going into the garden, having been transplanted
into cut off water jugs from recycled tin cans. Although
the Dixie Cups in the photo hold other plants, they were
the first stage for the tomato plants as well.

If you are the frugal side of life, watching every penny, then this is the way to go for next spring’s seed germinations. Your money should be spent on seeds, a grow light if you don’t have one, a shop light to hold the grow light, a heat source and a thermometer. The rest of the equipment can be saved between now and then. Save various sizes of tin cans and larger cans or jugs dependable on what you have. A tip for those in hard straights is to take a walk around the neighborhood on recycling day and get what you need out of other peoples’ recycle bins. Buying a box of bathroom size Dixie Cups and the Saran Wrap type plastic wrap will complete what you need to germinate in the spring.

Now, when things get better financially, or if you can afford to invest now, here is the equipment I just LOVE for seed germination. Park’s Seed Company’s Bio-Domes. They are really great. Problem is, the first year I went to buy them, in February, when I needed them, it was way too late to get them.  They had been sold out since before Christmas! Now, Park’s Seed company seems to be ready for the demand, so they should have them, but don’t wait too long to order, so you are high on the wait list should they have any thought of running out.

With a 60 well Bio-Dome, you can start 60 plants at a time. That’s probably enough if this is your first attempt at serious food production.  But, if you are ambitious or experienced and want to try many types of plants, I can share that I own three 60 well Bio-Domes.  That’s because I like to start plants with different optimum germination temperatures, and three 60 well Bio-Domes allows me to have the flexibility to germinate at three different temperatures, all at the same time. So, read about Bio-Domes and see what interests you.

The Park’s 60 well Bio-Dome is a tiny greenhouse complete
with air vents and watering tray. It’s a heavenly nursery for baby
seeds. They will grow up to thank you by feeding you well.

Now, with the Bio-dome, you also will need to get a heat mat and an automatic temperature control or thermostat. You will need a heat mat and thermostat for each Bio-Dome you want to buy. Each 60 well Bio-Dome come with 60 Bio-Sponges that fit in the wells, but I would suggest getting an extra bag of refill sponges for each Bio-Dome. That way, when you move out and transplant your first batch of seedlings, you can start new plants right away by putting refill sponges in the newly-empty wells.

To go take a peek at the 60 well Bio-Dome, click here. To order more 60 well refill Bio-Sponges, click here. For the 20″x20″ heating mat that will hold two 60 well Bio-Domes, click here. Once again, if you want three 60 well Bio-domes like I have, I would get three heating mats, even if three heating mats accommodate six 60 well Bio-Domes, because that way you have the flexibility to move your Bio-Domes around and can put two of them together on a certain temperature mat if you would like. For the thermostat to accurately control the heating mat temperature, click here. Once, again, I would get a separate heating mat and thermostat for each 60 well Bio-Dome purchased.

Here is a video I found showing a gardener setting up an actual Bio-Dome system. As the film is accelerated, the busyness of the action might be nerve-racking, especially when he starts moving all of those wires around with multiple plugs in extension cords. I would suggest using using multi-outlet surge protectors rather than the extension cords. But, the video is well worth watching to get an idea of the ease of setting up the Bio-Domes themselves.

Setting up a 60 well Bio-Dome, heating mat and thermostat
system will make you feel SO GOOD about your seeds, you
will fall in love with them before they have even sprouted.

I haven’t mentioned the fluorescent bulb style grow lights the gardener is shown using in the video, but I use those as well. They are readily available from Lowes or Home Depot. I bought inexpensive fluorescent bulb style shop light banks capable of holding two bulbs and then bought grow light bulbs to place in them. They seem to be readily in stock, but come to think of it, maybe I should go over the lights in a future post to make sure everyone has what they need before the countdown to spring seed germination begins!

Coming tomorrow, Saturday, December 18: WHEN to Plant Seeds

Now, here is another book that you must ORDER RIGHT AWAY! The Park’s famous Success with Seed book written by Karen Park Jennings. It has been out of print and has just recently been REPRINTED. Now you can own one all by yourself. To preview Success with Seed, click here.

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