In this article we’ll introduce the concept of an indoor garden started at home on your counter-top. With these indoor starter gardens you can either keep them on the counter-top or transplant them outdoors.
GETTING STARTED GUIDE: TABLETOP GREENHOUSE
First you’ll want to select seeds which will be compatible with either an indoor garden or that will create starts for transplant to your garden. This is a very individual choice which will take some research and consideration of your personal preferences.
Planting the seeds
The easiest and most successful way to start your indoor counter-top garden is with a miniature greenhouse. You will need a clear plastic cover, and a watertight reusable tray with peat pellets. When you are ready to plant, soak the pellets in warm water until they expand to full size. Then gently open the top of the pellet and slightly rough up the surface to prepare it for the seed. Sow the seeds on the growing medium, taking care to sow at the correct depth for the individual seed. Cover the seeds carefully; for seeds that need light to germinate, simply place on the surface of the medium and gently press to make contact with the soil.
When your seeds are placed in the pellet, carefully and gently water them in. A too vigorous initial watering can actually float some of the seeds to the top. If this happens, just gently press them back to the correct depth. Then cover the planting container with the clear top to help maintain a consistent moisture while the seeds germinate. Check your germinating seeds every couple of days, they should stay consistently moist but not soggy.
Each seed has its own preferred temperature range for germination, but unless you are placing your seeds in an unheated space, the temperature in your home will be fine for starting your seeds. If you’re growing a large variety of heat loving plants such as peppers, eggplants, or tomatoes that prefer a higher germinating temperature, you may purchase a small seed heating pad to place under your growing kit. But these seeds will germinate at a lower temperature, they may just take a little longer peek out.
When your new seeds sprout, their most important requirement will be light. Careful attention to proper light will give you sturdy, healthy looking little plants; inadequate light will result in thin and spindly plants that will have spent their time stretching to find it.
Growing plants need about 10-12 hours of light per day. If you are fortunate enough to have a window that provides you with consistent light, a windowsill greenhouse may allow you to start your seeds with natural light. Watch your sprouting plants carefully, and turn your greenhouse often to give a more consistent light exposure.
When you are starting your seeds in the short days of early spring, or you don’t have a window that will give you adequate light, then artificial light may be your most consistent and worry-free solution. A 48″ two-bulb plug-in florescent shop light fixture costs around $20 (or much less than that at your local salvage yard); one warm and one cool flou rescent light tube provide the proper light spectrum. Add an inexpensive plug-in timer to turn the lights on and off, and you will have a compact growing space to start of garden full of plants, and that you can use for season after season.
Keep your growing seedlings moist but not soggy, and grow on until they have at least three to four sets of true leaves and are large enough and the weather warm enough to plant outside. This will vary by your plant, of course, but most seedlings will need to be transplanted into 3-4″ pots before they are ready to be placed in the garden or in their final containers. Plants in peat pellets will begin to grow roots outside of the pellets very quickly, often within a week after sprouting. It’s best to transplant them into their pots as soon as the roots begin to show, to avoid damaging the emerging roots. You can use biodegradable peat or paper pots or reusable plastic pots. Fill with moistened potting soil about 2/3 to the top, enough so the pellet, when set on top of the soil, will just reach the lip of the pot. Then carefully place the peat pellet in, gently press additional potting soil around it so that there are no air spaces, and water well.
For an article on making your own paper pots for transplanting your seedlings, go online to newspaper seed starter pots.
When your plant is ready to be placed outdoors in a container or planted in the garden, it’s best to spend a few days getting it used to the new light and temperature. This is called hardening off. You can place the plants in a cold frame, or in a sheltered, shady spot outdoors seven to ten days before your transplant date. Under a tree or even on your back porch is fine. Leave them for three to four hours and gradually increase the time spent outside by an hour or two per day, and bring plants back indoors each night. After two to three days, move the plants from their shady spot into morning sun, return them to the shade in the afternoon. After seven days, the plants should be able to handle sun all day and stay out at night, if temperatures stay around 50 degrees F. Keep an eye out that the soil doesn’t dry and bake the plants, if the weather is warm. Try to transplant on a cloudy day and be sure to water well after planting.