Thursday, January 20, 2011

Seed Starting isn’t As Hard As You Think It Is

You are likely bombarded by gardening magazines and catalogs that tell you oh, if you are going to start from seed, you need all of these supplies, and the price tag alone is enough to put you into shock!

Peppers and tomatoes, among all of them, are the worst culprits by far. If you have done your research, you know that tomatoes and peppers need an average germination temp of 75-90 degrees, preferably from bottom heat (best results are achieved by bottom heat IMO). The catalogs tell you to buy seed heating mats. Well, if you've ever priced these out, they can cost a pretty penny! They usually average $30+ for one of a decent size. Now before you stroke out at the price tag, there is a much easier solution!

I personally use heating pads. Yes, the ones made for people! They work just as well, and come in every shape and size imaginable, and they are often 1/2 price or less! However, if this is the way you want to try, make sure you do your tests first! Rule number one above all, NEVER leave them on when you are not at home where you can check on them once in a while. I can't stress that enough; I never leave ANYTHING that produces heat on when I leave the house, it is not worth the risk!

Second of all, always do a test run. Get your seedling tray, fill the cells with your choice of soil, but do not plant the seeds just yet. Put it on top of the heating pad, and before putting a dome lid on, put a small thermometer (or even two if you want to be extra careful and want to average out the difference). Let it run for an hour or so, and check the temp. This will allow you to know what kind of temp you are going to be looking at, so you can adjust accordingly without damaging your seeds.

I find that about 85 degrees does wonders for tomatoes and peppers. My tomato seeds all sprout between 3 and 5 days, and the peppers take about 5 to 8 days. A much faster time frame then most seed packets tell you! Something else I have found extremely helpful, is to add a few sprinkles of cinnamon to the top of the soil every week. Cinnamon has natural antifungal/antibacterial properties, which means it easily prevents damp off if applied regularly. Bye bye No Damp!

About the Author
Megan McDonald is a garden blog writer for Heirloom Garden Girl. Megan’s garden specialties are tomatoes, peppers, heirlooms and organics. She is a contributing writer for Mike the Gardener Enterprises, LLC, who operates the largest Vegetable Gardening page on Facebook and the widely popular Seeds of the Month Club.


  1. I know how you feel about the price of the seed heating mats. What I don't get is when you look at the price of a single tray mat runs $30-35.

    I can go to Mill's Fleet Farm and by a Jiffy Greenhouse Kit that comes with the tray, greenhouse dome, 72, peat plugs, and the very same heating mat for $17-21 depending if I catch it on sale!! A heck of a lot cheaper then through a catalog.

    Also, when buying refill peat plugs, don't order online or through the catalog!! Go to WalMart. Jiffy Peat Pellets in a 72 count pack runs less than 5 bucks where in the catalog I am looking at wants $10.50 for 100 pellets.

    I always grow more than I need so I have backups for loss due to pests, or weather. Then, what is left goes to friends or people who would love to try a garden for once.

  2. I'm with Dingo in growing more than I need. We either offer them to local schools for their gardens or to our neighbors. Great way to break the ice and start talking over the fence!

    About the human heating pads, my concern would be the inevitable dripping from the dome of the tray. The seed heating mats are designed with this in mind. Any issues with this in the other heating pads?

    And, lastly, cinnamon is a great idea for a fungicide. I usually spritzed with chamomile tea (home grown) as it too is a fungicide.

    Thanks for the great blogs!