My fingers are crossed that my second batch of seedlings will fare better than the first. Being a rookie means sometimes making a rooking mistake. This is the first year I have tried to start seeds indoors under grow lights. After reading several articles I decided to disregard the advise that was given in each and every article I read. I decided not to disinfect my plastic six pack containers. I barely rinsed them off, and my seedlings paid the price. They damped off, dead as a door nail. Beside using dirty trays, I also think my seedlings were over watered. That definitely contributed to the fungal problem that causes damping off.
I had to start over, determined to get all those fabulous heirloom seeds to grow. Back to the internet I went, and after further research I decided to make seed pots out of newspaper instead of trying to disinfect my plastic trays.
Unlike plastic, the newspaper allows the soil to "breathe" which is healthier for the plants. Seedlings like to be moist, but not soggy. I learned that lesson.
I made a couple of other changes which also helped to get better germination this time around. First of all, I pre-moistened the soil before I put it in the pots. Such a simple thing made a big difference as the soil was evenly moist already so I didn't feel like I needed to water them so heavily to get the soil wet. I also made sure to lightly pack the soil to eliminate any air pockets and I filled the pots almost to the top so that the light wasn't blocked by the rim of the pot. I put my little paper pots into an aluminum roasting tray and marked them with wooden popsicle sticks.
This time I placed the trays on heating pads, on the low setting for 14 hours per day. I turned the heating pads off at night since the trays are inside our home where our thermostat is set at 74 degrees F. The seeds responded to the warmth and sprouted. Last time without the heating pads I had about 2/3 of the seeds germinate. This time almost every seed germinated, they loved the warmth.
Last time I tried to water the pots from below by pouring water into the trays and placing the plastic six packs in the water. The soil absorbed the water from below but it became soggy. This time I have been watering with a plastic bottle that held dishwashing soap.
This was something I remember seeing my grandmother use to water her seedlings. It creates a small and gentle stream of water that is easy to control and does not disturb the delicate seedlings.
I find that I have an easier time controlling how wet the soil gets if I water this way, although all those internet articles say to water from below. I hope I don't live to regret using this method, but my grandmother's garden was amazing so I'm taking her advise. She didn't have an internet, just good ole common sense.
Keeping the trays loosely covered with plastic wrap helped to keep the moisture from evaporating. Once the seeds sprouted I removed the plastic, and placed the trays under the grow lights for 15 hours per day.
The seedlings look healthy and the paper pots are holding up well.
Because I had a low germination rate with my first batch, this time I decided to plant 2 seeds in each pot and they nearly all sprouted. The time is coming soon that I will have to thin them by snipping one seedling. That is so hard for me to do. After all, these seedlings have been nurtured and lovingly tended. I just dread it. At least this time I have some seedlings to thin! They survived and I learned a thing or two about starting seeds indoors.