One of the cheapest ways to garden in Oklahoma is to grow your own transplants from seed. Starting vegetable and flower seeds indoors isn’t as hard as you might think, and broken down into steps, the process is even more straightforward.
In the central part of Oklahoma, the transplant date for warm-weather crops is around April 20th. To know when to start tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants, or any other seeds for that matter, check your seed packets and count back the days from the transplant date.
Use good-quality, potting soil without extra fertilizer. Try potting soil from your local nursery. Often, they make their own mix of locally-sourced ingredients or can steer you to a good low-nutrient one. You can also use seed-starting soil, but it’s finer, sifted soil and may wash away when watered from above. Water from below for best results.
Choose your containers. Use recycled containers, or purchase Plant Growing Trays (No Drain Holes) and Seed Starter Trays, plus Plant Labels. Plastic to-go containers with lids like rotisserie chicken and lettuce containers also work well. For seed-starting trays, the Jiffy BC390507 Plant Start 72cell Dome Trays are deep and encourage good root growth. To keep plastic out of landfills, store and reuse containers after disinfecting them for at least ten minutes in a ten-percent bleach solution. Don’t forget plant tags and a water-resistant pen like a Sharpie. Also, don’t use Jiffy pots. They wick away moisture from your seedlings, and I can’t ever keep them watered enough.
Filling containers with moistened potting soil eliminates air pockets and helps seeds adhere to potting soil. If your tap water is chlorinated, consider using distilled water or let it stand 24 hours before using. I have well water so this isn’t a problem for me.
Now, comes the best part, seeds. If you’re already a gardener, you received loads of seed catalogs in January. Try not to overbuy. You’ll probably only require one packet of seeds per variety, and you’ll have leftovers. If you have a small garden, try the trio packages of seeds, like the Asian Eggplant Trio, from Renee’s Garden Seeds. If you plan to grow eggplant, it needs a heat mat to germinate like this VIVOSUN Durable Waterproof Seedling Heat Mat Warm Hydroponic Heating Pad 10″ x 20.75″ MET Standard. To pick up seeds more easily, wet your finger and touch the seed you want.
Push seeds down into the soil with your finger–the larger the seed, the deeper it’s planted. Some seeds require light to germinate so check your seed packet when sowing. For recycled containers and square seed trays, scatter seeds across the top and cover them with soil. Later, after your plants have true leaves, gently prick them out and place them in bigger pots. Top seeds with grit or vermiculite. It helps keep the soil moist, keeps seeds in place, and seems to slow fungus gnat egg production. Water seeds again and top them with clear plastic lids or Glad Press’n Seal plastic food wrap. In a few days, your seeds will spring into action, and you can remove the plastic. Wait until plants have their second set of leaves, which are their true leaves. The first two “leaves” to emerge from the seed are the cotyledon and are part of the seed’s embryo. Loosen the wrap as plants grow, so it doesn’t squish them.
Place containers under lights, or in a south-facing window. Even with the window, they may become leggy. I use cool and warm spectrum fluorescent light bulbs from the hardware store. You can buy pricey grow lights, but they aren’t a requirement. Here’s a post I wrote about my seed-starting station. If growing in a window, turn your plants every day to grow straight and strong. Ace gardener, Monty Don from the UK’s Gardeners’ World, suggests covering cardboard with aluminum foil and bending it to make an L-shape. Tuck one end under your container toward the window directing reflected light from the foil onto your plants.
As plants grow, transplant them into larger containers and begin hardening them off on a warm day. Place plants in a shaded spot on sunny days to keep them from burning. This is very important. Start with taking them outside for an hour and then increase the amount of time each day for a couple of weeks before actually planting them outside.
That’s it! You’re now on your way to growing your own transplants. If you try it for yourself, you’ll find it cheaper than buying plants from the nursery. Plus, is there any job better than starting seeds? I don’t think so.
If you’d like to read about starting tomato seeds, here you go. Also, here is a link to the best and easiest vegetables to grow in Oklahoma. If you’ve just started gardening in Oklahoma, maybe these garden questions and answers will help.
See you soon!