In the Garden:
Western Mountains and High Plains
January, 2013
Regional Report

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Uniform, bright light produces strong and healthy seedlings.

Starting From Seed -- Easy, Inexpensive, and Fun

The beginning of a new year is a good time to think about new beginnings. Even in the depth of winter's cold and shorter days, I'm already planning the coming season's garden.

Starting your own plants from seed is inexpensive, easy, and fun for all ages. Seeds are miracles waiting for the right conditions to develop and grow. There's a spiritual and emotional aspect of starting plants from seed that, even after many years of sowing seeds, still leaves me awestruck.

Spend Less Money, Get More Choices
With six and twelve packs of annuals costing from $4 to $6 each, you can save money by starting your own. If local garden stores carry a limited selection of transplants, starting seeds makes it possible to grow the varieties you want. Purchasing greenhouse-grown plants is easy, but often you'll find the same few varieties offered each year. For something more unusual or new, start the plants yourself.

Grow Heirlooms
If you're into growing heirloom, open-pollinated varieties like Grandma did, such as 'Dragon's Tongue' bush beans, 'Moon and Stars' watermelon, 'Brandywine' tomato, sweet William, and sweet peas, you can save seeds from your best plants and grow them again the following year. I like to grow and experience all the fragrances, tastes, colors, sizes and shapes that my Italian family did years ago.

Timing Your Seed Starting
One important aspect of starting seeds indoors is timing. Too soon, and plants become leggy, weak, and outgrow their containers before it's time to plant outdoors. Too late, and seedlings are small, need more coddling to survive in the garden, and plants may not mature in short growing seasons.

The key planning date for starting seeds indoors is the last expected spring frost date. Check with local garden centers or your county Extension office for the date for your area. Most seed packets include information on how many weeks before the last expected frost to start seeds.

The Importance of Good Light
Good light conditions are essential. I use inexpensive, two-bulb shop lights with one cool-white and one warm-white tube for supplemental lighting. I hang these lights with S-hooks and chains, which lets me adjust the fixture so the bulbs are always an inch above the tops of the plants as they grow. I also place an electric heat mat under the seed starting flat to provide the right temperature for proper germination. Remove this heat mat once seedlings are up.

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