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Starting Seeds Indoors

Many of our summer plants we start in our greenhouse. This means we can start them from seed earlier, and we can grow them to a decent size before putting them outside with all the dangers that come from the outside world (deer, stray nights of frost, heavy rainstorms). However, several challenges come with using an indoor space to start seeds, especially if you are trying to have a decent-sized permaculture operation. 

Greenhouse and Indoor Growing Challanges

As per permaculture principles, we mostly use materials we already have and as pictured below, these trays are divided into pretty small planting sections. Greenhouses are excellent for planting in the winter when it is often cloudy and temperatures are freezing. However, in the spring season, when temperatures fluctuate so much, one night we have to turn on the heating lamps, and the next day we have to leave the door open in trepidation of the plants overheating. If you are starting your seeds indoors, just in your house, there is not as much to worry about as far as temperatures reaching a point that will cause plants to wilt. However, the smaller the planter size, the more you must water it since it can dry out very quickly. We learned this the hard way when one day we left the plants for maybe 5 hours and came back to many of them had died and the majority of them wilted. Granted, it was over 120 degrees in the greenhouse when that happened, but the small size of the planters made it all the worse. 

Another challenge with small planters is separating the sprouts when, inevitably, out of the ten ones planted with two to five seeds each to ensure some grow in each, five saplings grow in one planter while none sprout anywhere else. As the seedlings start growing, this does not pose too much of a problem. However, eventually, they will get big enough that they begin to compete with one another for nutrients, sunlight, and water. Different plants require different care when transplanting since they grow at different rates and to different heights. 

A bunch of Spinach sprouts in one planter container that need to be transplanted.

We have had to transplant seedlings in our greenhouse because of their proximity very often. Plants we have separated include collards, kale, other winter greens, tomatoes, eggplants, squash, and various herbs. Although there are tricks for certain plants (such as nightshade, which can be cut at the stem and left in some water to regrow roots), we have untangled ours all in the same way with an excellent survival rate.

Separating and Transplanting Seedlings

Even though saplings are short, their root systems can run deep. So, when separating seedlings, make sure you dig up the whole root system. If you have small planting containers like us, it is effective to loosen the soil by squeezing the bottom of the plastic tray. If your seedlings are in ceramic or terracotta pots, you can use any long sharp object that allows you to loosen the sides of the soil from the edge of the container. Even though one of the seedlings will go back into the pot it started, take out all the seedlings you need to separate. Not only do some seedlings get leaves and stems tangled, but very often, their root systems are also in-grown. However, as long as you transplant them early enough, the plants are easy to separate once both the plants and their root systems are carefully removed. 

Where you plant them after depends on your timeline for outside planting. If the seedlings still have a long way to go and grow relatively slowly, you can replant one of them in the same small container and the rest in similar sizes. However, plants like squash grow extremely quickly and need more soil to expand their roots. Read more about proper pot sizes for starting seedlings. 

To Water or not to Water

Transplanting disturbs the root systems, and often plants can go into a bit of a shock. However, that doesn’t mean they necessarily need a significant amount of more water. To stimulate root growth, you can let the seedlings get a little dry before transplanting them, and when transplanted, use moist/pre-watered soil to stimulate root growth in seek of the moisture. Of course, keep an eye out for wilting and water well once the soil begins to lose its moisture. 

Many of our plants for summer we like to start in our greenhouse. Not only does this mean we can start them from seed earlier, but we can grow them to a decent size before putting them outside with all the dangers that come from the outside world (deer, stray nights of frost, heavy rainstorms).

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