The Seedling Tray and Starting Seeds
A seedling tray is usually a black tray that is about 10-11inches wide by 20-22 inches long. These are the trays you see at your local garden center holding the six packs of young plants of one kind. The ones at the garden center might have holes or a weave in the sides and bottom to let the water drain out. For starting seedlings indoors, however, you want this same size, with no holes.
These trays can be used to hold six packs for different types or varieties of vegetables. Say you have hot peppers, sweet peppers, beefsteak tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, and broccoli and eggplant seeds you want to start in the house. One tray can hold 12 of the six packs, so all of these would fit into one tray.
You would still have room for 6 more pony packs or six packs. If you are square foot gardening, you might want to start your lettuce and squash in the remaining packs. That way you can plant them exactly in the spot you have designated.
You will be able to space them evenly when you are working with plants, and not waste any seed by having to thin out the ones that come up in the wrong place. Small seeds are easily scattered and shifted by moving the soil and water.
Germinating Your Seeds
In my experience, the best way to germinate vegetable seed is to soak it for a few hours (3 or 4 hours unless very old, then up to 5), and then plant it in moist (not wet!)potting soil in the 6 cell pony pack. Label the pony pack, and then put it into the tray.
Unless you have very high humidity in your home, I recommend using a germination dome. Most kits come with a 2 inch clear plastic dome that sits on top of the seedling tray. This works well to keep the soil moist, without risking over-watering and rotting the seeds.
A 7 inch clear plastic dome lid works well to keep the humidity and temperature of the soil up even after germination. Be sure to use one with vents, so that if the humidity gets too high, you can allow some to escape without exposing the seedlings to drying out.
Plant Grow Lights
If you have started seeds before, and have lights and the tray and other supplies, the taller dome might be all you need to keep them really thriving.
For those who are new to starting seedlings indoors, a light set like the Hydrofarm Jump Start, above on the right, will be a good system to start. It is large enough to cover 2 trays. It does a great job without being complicated and really expensive.
You will still need to purchase a germination kit separately, and the tall dome if you want to add that protection. They sell a smaller unit, but if you are into gardening, you are better off purchasing the larger one. You will wish you had later, if you go with the smaller unit. There are always more varieties of tomatoes or peppers you will want to try.
Some people like to use peat pots to start their vegetables, because they can be put right into the ground when planting outside. I am in a dry climate, and they dry out too quickly for me. Also, plants do best if they don't have different layers with different water holding capacities around their roots, so I prefer to use regular potting soil.
Follow the instructions on the seed packets as to how deep to plant the seeds. Many vegetables require some light to germinate, so when it says not to plant the seed too deep, that is the reason.
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