Tis the season for … seeds arriving! Little square packages full of potential.
I have friends who are embarking on new culinary herb gardens this year. New gardeners, new gardens. Woo!!!
If you are starting an herb garden, you may be planning to start your seeds outside and buy some plants — this is a tried and true method that works great. However, a couple of my friends have seeds and want to start them indoors. Our last frost date in Massachusetts is just too far away! So before I move onto a few tips for starting seedlings, one word about what herbs need: sunlight, well-drained soil and water. So if you are planning to put your green babies in the ground bear that in mind.
Onto seed starting: generally, you’ll want to start your seeds about 6-8 weeks before your last frost date. If you don’t know what that is, google “last frost date” and your zip code. With respect to gear, you can buy seed starting kits and there are mountains of types of pots and gadgets. What you need, at a minimum:
- a south facing/sunny window,
- pots/a tray of small pots
- good potting soil or seed starting mixture. Note on this: seed starting mixture isn’t high on nutrients. This is fine for the first few weeks, but I recommend a more nutrient-rich potting soil or organic plant food for the plants once they get going.
Very helpful to have:
- I have found a warming mat to be invaluable for seed germination; if your space is colder than 65 degrees F you’ll want one.
- a grow lamp for long, grey days and even weeks in the spring,
- a spray bottle is a great way to water–seedlings are delicate!
- A seed starting kit with humidity dome to keep seeds moist.
General procedure for starting seeds (any kind):
- Fill your pots/tray with seed starting mix or potting soil.
- Lightly cover seeds
- Lightly water. Misting seeds is a great way to moisten them without overwatering. Lightly watering is fine, too, though.
- Cover the pots with a plastic dome or plastic wrap to keep them moist.
- Store in a warm, sunny spot. Germination generally takes 2-4 weeks but can happen within 5 days, depending on which plant you are watching and waiting on.
- Pause to enjoy the feeling you have when the little green heads of your seedlings emerge.
- Once seedlings appear, remove the plastic cover and keep little plants in direct sunlight
- You can transplant once they are 3-6 inches tall, in a sunny spot — they prefer 6-8 hours of sunlight!
Some other notes I’ve collected on a few herbs with particular tastes:
For oregano: no need to cover seeds with soil. Mist them and cover the container with plastic and place in a sunny window. They should germinate in a week or so. If you are using a seed starting kit with a humidity dome this should do the trick in place of plastic. Oregano is a nice companion plant for beans and broccoli, because it helps fend off pests that like those vegetables.
For basil: Basil doesn’t like the cold; when it is exposed to temps below 50 degrees F or is sprayed with cold water it can develop spots. So keep the water room temperature when watering basil!
Most seeds just needs some heat and moist soil to germinate; they don’t need the sun until they pop their little green heads up. But Thyme and lemon balm like light to germinate, so be sure to stick these in a window or under a grow lamp.
Dill, parsley, and cilantro don’t really like to be transplanted so if you can plant them where you plan to have them grow, that might be best.
Rosemary wants compost-rich soil, please.
Some people buy too many seeds…
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