General process to build your own seed starting rack:
Decide where you want to put your rack. It is best if you can place it in front of a window that gets good light as this will enhance the productivity of your rack. I can also say, it is really nice if you can place it in a permanent location. Ours was built with screws so it can be taken down an reassembled, but frankly, since I am four season gardening, I just keep it up.
Consider how much space you need for seed starting. Small scale home gardeners may not need much. My rack holds 14 seed trays and that is not enough for all I grow. Most folks can get away with one bank of lights which will cover two to four standard sized seed trays. A double bank will give you space for four or five seed trays.
I prefer to use found wood instead of buying new since so much is thrown out these days. We used wood found in a dumpster in back of a store, and some left over from a job.
Build the thing. It can be as simple or complicated as you make it. I have the advantage of having a partner who is a contractor, so he built and wired switches for me.
The best way to show you how we build it is in photos .. so here you go …
We love these folks more and more each year. Every time I open their catalog, it makes me happy. Their mission statement sort of covers why: “.. to preserve our shared botanical heritage and grow a new era of sustainable culture and ecological wisdom. We support independent, regional agricultural initiatives that foster vibrant, sustainable economy, and true food sovereignty.”
They carry only open pollinated varieties that ‘grow true from seed”, meaning when you save seed and plant it, you’ll get the same variety. Although they are not 100% organic, they support small farms who cannot afford organic or biodynamic certification. They provide seed from their network of skilled regional growers and independently-owned North American seed producers. That often means you are supporting small family farmers when you buy seed from Sow True Seed.
Want custom printed seed packets for your special event, business or fundraiser? You can get them from Sow True.
Sow True Seed has an impressive, very well rounded section of seeds, which can be hard to find from companies who don’t carry loads of varieties for each plant. It is obvious they really take care in varietal selection. This is a standout aspect of Sow True. They could easily be your only seed company and you’ll have a great garden.
Some of our favorite selections include: Jericho lettuce, Ashe County, Red Ruffled and Tangerine pimento sweet peppers, Hearts of Gold melon, Red Acre cabbage, Snowball self-blanching cauliflower, Ronde de Nice summer squash, Blue Hubbard winter squash, and Bush Pickle cucumber which is great for containers. They also carry Tam Jalapeno, a variety we grew years ago to make salsa for those who can’t take much heat.
Sow True Seed also has a fun selection of Seed Collections for those just starting out or wanting some inspiration. Their catalog provides useful information on throughout, including companion planting information, making the catalog a valuable resource.
Please support these folks, as they are a wow of doing the future right. Plus how awesome is there name?
Each year we review seed catalogs and pick our favorites who meet our criteria for supporting biodiversity, organic gardening, local communities and provide safe, non-gmo seed.
What’s not to love here? Seed Saver’s Exchange is an easy place to start every year because they not only house the largest privately held seed back of open pollinated seed in the US, but also manage the largest seed exchange. They carry heirloom, untreated, non-hybrid, non-GMO seeds. They also have hundreds of certified organic varieties.
Reading their catalog is a walk through history. Each varietal description is the short story of its history..
Chioggia Beet: “Pre-1840 Italian historic variety, introduced to the U.S. before 1865. Uniquely beautiful flesh has alternating red and white concentric rings …”
Grandpa Admire’s butterhead lettuce: “From the family of George Admire (1822-1911) a Civil War veteran who migrated west to Putnam County, Missouri during the 1850s. Bronze-tinged leaves form loose heads….”
Not hooked yet, check out Trophy tomato: “Introduced in 1870 by Colonel George E Waring, Jr, of Rhode Island. Sold for five dollars a packet (equivalent to eighty dollars today). Gardeners paid the exorbitant price hoping to win the $00 grand prize at the local fair.” …
In addition to these great stories come an amazing diversity of high quality seed. Become a member and you have access to literally thousands of variety, all open pollinated, so if you save seed from the plants you grow, you know you will be the same variety from the seeds you saved.
Some of our favorite must have varieties are: True Lemon cucumber, Emerald Gem melon, Listada de Gandia eggplant, Christmas Limas, CiCicco Broccoli, St Valery carrot, Cherokee Purple, Moonglow, and Tommy Toe tomatoes to name a few.
Supporting Seed Savers’ Exchange is one way to vote with your dollar in favor of preserving our seed heritage and biodiversity. As we said, what’s not to love.
Fellow gardeners take heart that spring will come and the snow will melt! In the meantime, starting seeds indoors helps keep the winter blues away.
Here are 5 simple steps to successful start your plants indoors:
Choose high quality seed from a reputable seed company. For a list of the companies I recommend, click here. See prior posts under Seed Companies for more on choosing a seed company.
Pick crops to start indoors that transplant well like tomatoes, peppers, squash, melons and cucumbers. Read your seed catalogs or the back of seed packets to see if that type of plant is good started indoors.
Use quality seed starting mix. Either choose an organic mix from a reputable company or make your own with peat, vermiculite and perlite.
Give your seedlings lots of light and warmth. You can set up a simple home seedling rack with 3’ shoplights over a shelf that can hold 5 seedling trays. Building it yourself will save you money.
Start your seedlings at the right time. Seed catalogs and packets will tell you when to start your seedlings. For example, cucumbers, melons and squash are generally started 3 to 4 weeks before they will be planted out. Remember to add in time for hardening off. For more on this, see my upcoming post.
The easy answer is to purchase your seed from one of the companies on our Recommended Seed Company List. This works great if you have come to trust our process of evaluating companies.
I am not an “activist”, it is has never been my interest or my bent, yet I do “vote with my dollar” and so choose to support companies who have the values I consider important. To that end, each year I research companies, read a pile of seed catalogs and compare varieties and plant lists of those folks I know and trust and those I don’t.
It has become clear that in addition to the current 13 criteria we use to evaluate a company, two more need to be added. Here are our additional criteria and why we added them. See the first 13 criteria.
Does the company sell varieties that are owned by companies who engage in genetic modification of seeds?
One company in particular, who was on our list for years, has staunchly continued to offer a small percentage of varieties owned by Monsanto. Granted, most of these varieties were not bred by Monsanto, but were bred and owned by companies who Monsanto bought a few years ago. For those like us, who do not want to support companies who engage in genetic modification of seed, the act of buying from a company who buys from a company who engages in genetic modification of seed, is indirectly supporting companies who engage genetic seed modification. Prior Unity Garden does not support this activity. Therefore any company who buys seed from companies who create GMO seed will not make our list, even if they have signed the Safe Seed Pledge.
You may be thinking, but if they signed the Safe Seed Pledge, then they are not selling GMOs, right ? Generally speaking, you are correct, they are not selling genetically modified seed, but they can still sign the Pledge and sell seed that is not genetically modified from companies who make GMO seed. Doing this practice now excludes a company from being on our recommended seed company list.
Does the company actually grow the varieties they sell?
There are ‘seed houses’ who are resellers of seed only, buying seed wholesale and reselling it. They may grow some of it, but do not really have field trials, so are not really in touch with the varieties they are offering.
We have found the seed quality and reliability from these companies to swing wildly and these companies do not have people you can talk with about growing specific varieties they offer. While this may be fine for some folks, we find it frustrating when evaluating specific varieties for growing traits our clients have requested. In effect, you become the testers. Because we want to recommend the highest quality seed companies how offer the highest quality seed, we will not be putting companies on our list who do grow all or most of the varieties whey offer. These companies simply cannot support what they sell to the high degree other companies can.
In some cases, a company will offer seed from a variety of local farms and this is a practice we love seeing as it supports small local farms and seed. In this case, the seed house may not trial every variety, but their partner farms are growing seed and this practice has proven to be an excellent marker of quality seed, in part because the farm’s name is on the seed. These companies do make our list. Granted, most of them also test all or most of the varieties they offer.
Who owned the company?
As large Agribusinesses buy out smaller companies, this question is becoming more important. It used to be seed companies be handed down through generations of a family. Now, it is good to know and sometimes difficult to find out. Often the Agribusiness does not want their ownership known.
Call the company, see what is written in the catalog and website. The point here is avoiding supporting agribusinesses who engage in generic modification of seed.
Companies who are owned by large agriculture businesses will usually sell varieties they own, so knowing what those varieties are, helps you discern if you want to support that business or not.
Ok, I have been getting such a great response to this series of posts, I’ll keep going into August ….
Are you someone who has hesitated to start your own plants ? Here are three really good reasons to try it.
1. Save money. Really, you do save money by starting your own plants. A seed packet that can last you for years can cost the same amount as one plant.
2. Variety diversity. Think about how many varieties of tomatoes you see in the store. How many from your local farmer’s market. Consider this, the Seed Saver’s Exchange Member catalog has about 4000 tomato varieties– that is variety diversity. You won’t get bored, you get to try loads of cool stuff and eat a much more diverse yummy diet – what is not to love about that ?
3. You control what happens to your garden plants. Most people I work with want to know their plants are not grown with GMO seed, are not given chemicals as infants and given proper organic nutrition as they grow up. Unless the plants you buy are certified organic, or you know your local plant grower well, you are taking your chances.
Growing from seed is not hard, especially the crops most people love like tomatoes and cucumbers. Some plants grow really easy from seed right into the garden, like lettuce.
Want more Foundation ? Consider the Foundations Course. We start in August, so sign up soon so you don’t have to wait anther year for garden success !
The second quarter moon phase extends through Monday – so if you want to get an early start on seed starting, now is a good time so seeds germinate quickly.
What do we start now … tomatoes if you want to set them out in walls-o-water to get a jump on the warm weather (although this year we many not need to 🙂 We also start marigolds from seed, because they love hot weather and take a bit of time to get big, starting them now will give you a longer marigold season.