Every year around mid-January when all the holiday hype REALLY has worn off and the weather is just depressing, I get a little gardening bug buzzing inside me and feel the urge to draw elaborate plans and make to-do lists for my upcoming outdoor masterpiece. I usually only make it as far as a few extra pots scattered here and there before both the money and the enthusiasm dry up, because, as easy as they make it look in the magazines, gardening is A LOT of work. So this year, in an effort to make my outdoor dollars stretch a bit farther, I decided to try starting seedlings indoors, to avoid having to pay full price for plants later in the season.
I bought one of those peat pellet trays (mine has 72) for a reasonable price - I want to say around $5 or less - and it really is as easy to get it started as it looks in the picture. I measured 2 quarts of warm water, as directed into a pitcher and poured it on the dry pellets (shown above). It got pretty splashy, so I had to go slow and was glad I'd chosen a "safe" spot at the kitchen table.
They expanded almost instantly. I was surprised. I didn't have to pour off any excess water, because they soaked it all up and I could feel the heat radiating off of them - weird. I wonder if they were "drier" to begin with because my tray is actually 2 years old (never got used last year)? Oh well, they seemed usable enough once watered. The next step was to "carefully" peel back the top of the netting (it does rip easily) and "fluff" up the dirt inside. These things are only about an inch and a half wide, so I used a chopstick, to make it a little easier. This part took about 30 minutes.
Next, I opened my seed packets, one at a time and poured the contents onto a saucer for easier access. I quickly determined that I would need about 10 trays to plant all the seeds, so had to settle for 1-2 rows in my starter tray per seed type. Some of these little buggers are impossibly small, like the size of a seed bead. I found it best to pick up one at a time and rub my fingers until it fell out over the spot I wanted.
Occasionally, one went astray. Thank God for tweezers!
Finally, all the pellets had been seeded. Most of the seeds were small, so I put 3 in each pellet (directions recommend 2-3). With the larger, zinnia seeds (slightly smaller than sunflower) I put 2 per pellet. About an hour. Pressing the seeds into the dirt and covering them "lightly", as directed, took another 15 minutes or so. All together, this was about 1.75 hour project.
As you can see, I have ambitions to have access to both fresh herbs all summer long as well as a variety of colorful flowers. I suppose it's a good thing that I wasn't able to get ALL the seeds started at once. If I start a new batch outside in about a month when the risk of frost is gone, perhaps I will have another burst of blooms later in the season when the first ones have faded. I usually try to pick plants that have long bloom periods though...I'll have to check and see if there are any shorter ones that it would be worth planting several times. Then I just have to remember to do it!
Since, I will have no clue otherwise what is what when these pellets start sprouting, I made myself a chart, complete with pink mark so I know which end is up (see corresponding on above photos), and wrote down which seeds I'd planted where.
The directions said to cover the tray with clear lid and place in a warm spot, out of direct sunlight (wonder why?) until all pellets have sprouted. So I chose the only out-of-the-way/out-of-sunlight/warm spot I could think of, which happens to be under my printer cart in my office, in front of the heating vent. When I pulled the tray out this morning to take a pic, there was a lot of condensation on the inside of the lid. I hope that's a good sign.
Update on 3/2/2010: OK, I never got around to finishing this post because the results were, frankly, depressing and not worth blogging about. I waited as long as I could to transplant the seedlings (a few weeks at most), but they quickly outgrew their little greenhouse. Next, I transplanted them and acclimated them to the outdoors for a few hours each day, just like the instructions said (and every non-newbie gardener knows to be proper). Then, when it was warm enough, I left them outside for the summer. I watered only when the soil was dry (hint: over-watering is the biggest plant killer) and I used an all-purpose liquid fertilizer occasionally, as directed. The big payoff for my meticulous efforts? What seedlings didn't die within a few weeks, remained scrawny and pathetic all summer until I finally gave up, dug them out and planted store-bought versions when there was just enough time before fall for me to enjoy them.
Maybe it was just a stroke of bad luck. Maybe I should have gotten a more expensive brand of starter pellets, or seeds. Who knows? But, I won't be going this route again. For people like me who HATE spending lots of time on worthless projects, it's better to leave some things to the professionals.
On a side note, I did pick up a couple of plantlings from a lady at a garage sale last year that have absolutely thrived in my garden. That's saying something about home-grown goodness!