Starting Seeds in a Greenhouse for Organic Gardening

Starting your own seeds is a wonderful way to ensure that your plants are grown by the methods you think are best and is also a much more cost effective form of gardening. Plants can be grown in a variety of different places; you do not necessarily need to have a greenhouse. And you also do not need to have expensive greenhouse equipment to grow good food. Your plants will need some extra care with their environment no matter where you choose to keep them. Other than the basics of what a growing plant needs to thrive there are endless possibilities of seed starting methods out there and likely some you will create on your own.
Cost
Cost is always a factor in gardening. If you don’t monitor your expenditures you can find yourself spending more than you would at the Farmer’s Market. Your initial costs will be higher than successive years, because of the set up. When trying new things like different pots or seed be sure to start small in case it does not work out.
Seeds
Saving seed is an easy way to be cost effective; of course the first year you will need to purchase your seed. If you know others who garden they may be willing to share seed with you saving you from buying so much seed. People who save seed usually have more than they can plant. There are also seed companies that do seed exchanges and offer free seed like Seed Savers Exchange, many local libraries, extension offices, and community centers. There are numerous community resources if you know where to look. If you plan on saving seeds you will want to purchase seed that is organic and heirloom for the most successful plants. Some seed from hybrid plants will sometimes not germinate; and the ones that do will not be the same as the parent plant causing unpredictability in your harvest. I usually purchase non genetically modified seeds just for the fact that I know what they are and how they will affect our bodies. In my opinion there has not been enough research done on GMO’s to know the long term effects. It is also a good idea to seek out seed that is open pollinated.
Temperature
Temperatures for the plants must stay above freezing and below 80 degrees and they will need some air to prevent mold. If you start your plants later you may want to provide them with additional heat. We do not use additional heat unless there is going to be freezing temperatures. In the instance of a freeze we heat the greenhouse with a small, low heat, propane burner. Some people use passive solar heat by placing buckets of water in the greenhouse to heat during the sunlit hours; however, I found that open water in my greenhouse resulted in an early mosquito infestation. You can use heating pads under your plants to promote early sprouting; but, you have to be cautious about heating them too much and drying them out. I love to work in the greenhouse so my seeds get started fairly early.

Containers
When we first started growing plants I used whatever containers I had to start my seeds in. Every yogurt cup, plastic container, or pop bottle bottoms at the house or other people’s house I could scrounge was filled with dirt and seeds. While on this glamorous garbage crusade, I gained a sense of what was going to work and what was not. Most plants do not need very much space to start; with the exception of tomatoes. Tomatoes need to stay indoors for longer than other plants so they need more root room. Containers that are more than two inches all the way around are going to be adequate for most plants and three inches for tomatoes. Be sure your containers have holes in the bottom for water to drain through.
As I started to plant more, having better pots seemed to be a logical next step. I experimented with peat pots some because they seemed to be a good natural option. They were a disaster. My plants did not thrive in the peat pots because they do not hold water very well allowing the plants to dry out more quickly and the pots are not very stable if you need to move them. Peat pots do not dissolve well in compost so their disposal is also an issue. We try not to purchase plastic if at all possible; however, this year I made an exception for good plant pots. I shopped around and found a company in the United States that makes pots out of recycled material. The pots are durable enough to last many seasons lessening the impact on our environment. And the pots were not very expensive.
I use masking tape and permanent markers to label each plant. While this seems like a time waster, I have found it to be effective in monitoring my plants. Sometimes you will need to move plants around. When I have seeds that do not sprout I empty the pots so I am not wasting fertilizer on empty dirt. Having each pot labeled is very useful in relocation or if you have too many plants and want to share them with friends.


Soil
Most people who grow their own plants use sterilized potting soil. Like everything else in my life I feel the need to fight the tide of normalcy. We use organic material and peat from our woods to seed our plants in. I have several spots on the farm where an old tree has fallen years before my time and I will dig out under the tree scooping up all of the rich dirt and rotten tree bits.
The disadvantages of digging out your own soil are only two things by my thinking. The living dirt will have weeds in it. I don’t mind the trade off; I just have gotten good at recognizing what our weed seedlings look like and am religious about putting my chosen seeds in the center of the pots. Another disadvantage is a small amount of extra work digging. I have come to think of the digging in the same way that I think about all of our farm work…it saves me money in gym membership. We try to be smart about doing manual labor by using the right tools and not overdoing it; the work will always be there tomorrow and it will never really be finished. You have to come to peace with that or go crazy.
The advantages of digging out your own soil are overwhelming. The cost of seeding several plants can rack up quickly. Dirt you get from your own place is free. The satisfaction of knowing what is in your dirt can only happen when you know for sure where it came from and what has been put on it. Purchased potting soil can have all kinds of additives and it is packaged in plastic; and we all know plastic is not environmentally friendly.
Another enormous advantage is that my soil comes with mycorrhizal fungi already in it. Mycorrhizal fungi is a symbiotic fungus that protects plants from disease and gives them the ability to better absorb nutrients from the soil. You can purchase this fungus to put in with your soil; but, why when it already exists naturally. Using dirt for seedlings from the same area that they will be transplanted to creates less issues with root shock. To make the collection of my soil a little more muscle friendly we purchased a garden trailer for the 4 wheeler. That trailer has been one of my most effective farm purchases. I use it for so many things and it is a fun mode of transportation.

Fertalizer
Fertilizer is something I do purchase for my seedling; although, there are other options such as making your own fertilizer. We do use our own compost and animal dung for fertilizing outside. I have found liquid fish fertilizer to be the most effective for young plants. It smells incredibly bad so usually I do all of my other work in the greenhouse and then I fertilize and run out of the greenhouse. The smell mostly subsides after a few hours. After sprouting I typically fertilize once a week.
Hardening
If you have a very enclosed and warm place that you keep your plants you will need to get them used to the outdoors. This is called hardening the plants. Basically you expose the plants to the outdoors in larger increments of time over the period of a week and you start to water them less to simulate their outside conditions. Start the first day with a partially sunny location for a few hours and increase until you are leaving them out at night as well. When the week of hardening is up your baby plants are ready to be on their own.
Helpful Websites
http://www.seedsavers.org/csrp – Seed Savers Exchange is a non profit seed library

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