As mentioned in the Garden Plan section, Montreal has a short growing season, so you may want to start your seeds indoors. This also ensures good germination and can help protect your seeds from prey. Some vegetables, such as radishes, carrots, cucumbers, and squash, can be challenging to transplant, so it is important to know your vegetables – we suggest trying to seed start all your vegetables so that you can develop your techniques and see what works for you.
WHAT YOU NEED:
- planting mixture
- container with good drainage
- heat mat
- fluorescent lights
HOW TO DO IT:
- Check the timing for the vegetables you want to start
Each family of plants has its own needs and considerations. For details on exactly when to plant which vegetables click on the vegetable names in the Seeds and Seedlings section. In general, start leafy greens 3 weeks before planting (mid-March), start tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants 6 weeks before planting (mid-April), and start cucumbers, beans, melons, and squash no more than 1 week before planting (mid-May). Most flowers and herbs need to be started in February.
- Prepare your planting mix
There are several recipes floating around for seed starting, but we prefer to use worm castings or compost to grow our seedlings in a rich, fertile environment right from the beginning. The beneficial microorganisms found in fully finished, sifted compost – and even more so in worm castings – take care of any fungus. For starting seeds we use our custom soil blend (1/3 compost, 1/3 peat moss and coconut coir and 1/3 organic gardening soil — pre-fertilized with natural, organic fertilizers), with a sprinkling of worm castings.
- Find containers with good drainage
You can use toilet paper rolls, yogurt containers with holes punched in the bottom, or “cell packs.” If you are reusing a plastic container be sure to sterilize it with hot soapy water or a weak bleach solution. We like using CowPots or toilet paper rolls – as opposed to peat pots and fibre pots – because they can be planted directly into the garden, reducing transplant shock. We have found that peat pots and fibre pots don’t actually break down as is claimed.
- Soak your soil mix
Next, place your container with the soil mix in it in a tray of water for at least an hour, then pour the water out and place your container back into the empty tray. Your mix should be moist, but not soggy. If you need to water again, pour water into the tray, not on top of the seeds.
- Plant your seeds
A great rule of thumb for planting depth is three times the width of the seed. For tiny seeds like lettuce or carrot simply sprinkle them on the surface of your potting mix.
As the sun coming through your windowpane will be too weak to grow sturdy seedlings, your set up should ideally be on top of a heat mat and under some fluorescent lights. Instead of buying an expensive specialized growlight, try rigging something yourself by using a shoplight fixture (around $17 at the hardware store) and both a cool and warm lightbulb. You should fix the light about 15cm (6″) away from the plants.
- Bottom heat
For successful, quick germination you need your soil mix to be up around 27⁰C. The best way to achieve this is using a heat mat, which provides bottom heat to your seedlings (set the seedling tray right on the heat mat) and keeps them warm. Otherwise you can keep them in a warm place like on top of an old refrigerator. Cover the tray with plastic until the seeds sprout and then uncover it right away.
- Hardening off
A final step before moving your seedlings to their new life outdoors is acclimatizing them. You can harden off your seedlings by putting them outside in the shade for a couple of hours each day over a three-day period, lengthening the amount of time and direct sunlight they get each day.