Hibernation is ending for the gardeners of Calgary! I think we’re all eager to start something, right? Get our hands in the dirt and watch something grow! Now is when want to start planning those garden goals especially if you’re looking to start your plants from seed. In today’s blog, we’re going to talk about seed starting in Alberta: timelines, how to read seed packets, the supplies you’ll need, and best practices to ensure the strongest plants for the upcoming spring season!
Some seeds should be started inside before you transplant them in the garden, and some seeds are okay to start outdoors. On average, Calgary’s last spring frost occurs on May 29. That information is key when you’re picking up seed packets at Golden Acre because that will dictate when you should start each seed variety. A great resource for a general idea on veggie planting in Calgary, is through our friends at West Coast Seeds here.
How to Read a Seed Packet
Seed packets carry a lot of helpful information, but it’s presented in a different ways depending on which brand you go with. Below, we’re included some samples from West Coast Seeds and McKenzie Seeds, two of the more popular brands we carry at the store.
West Coast Seeds: Their information is located on the back of the seed. They cover when to start (Timing), How deep to plant, how far apart from other seeds, and even when to harvest. Their packets even come with a handy ruler on the side to take the guess work out of spacing.
McKenzie Seeds: On the front, bottom left corner of the packet, you’ll see light requirements, maturity height, and if that plant is edible. On the back, you’ll see a helpful table telling you how long it takes to germinate (Days to Sprout), how deep to plant (Seed Depth), how far away from other seeds to plant (Seed Spacing), how far the mature plant will spread (Spread), and when you can expect to see blooms (Bloom Period). You’ll also see photos depicting if you can start them directly outside, or if you should start inside and transplant later like these petunias pictured below. At the top of the packet, there’s also helpful information on when you should start the seed (“Plant directly in the garden” or “Start indoors 6-8 weeks before last frost”)
If you are struggling to read a seed packet while you’re at Golden Acre, we have a seed expert who comes in every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday who can help you decipher their meanings and offer suggestions on suitable seeds for your garden.
How to Plant a Seed
This is the fun part!
Last year, Colin covered seed starting on GAKidsTV which is making a comeback this spring! Catch his interactive demo on starting seeds here.
What you’ll need if you’re starting indoors:
- Containers – we sell both Peat & Plastic
- Growing Medium – Seed Starting Soil or Peat Pellets or Coconut Coir Pellets.
- Heat Source – Heat Mat
- Light Source – Grow Light
- Water Source – Spray Bottle
- Coverage – Trap moisture with domes
- For one simple kit that comes with a tray, dome, and light, we recommend the Nanodome Mini Greenhouse in store!
Note: If you’re having a tough time choosing between plastic and peat, the main difference is in transplanting to the garden. Peat allows you to plant directly into the ground without removing the pot. Downside is it’s single use. Plastic gives you containers year after year.
Step 1: Growing medium
Once you have your containers set up in your workspace, get your growing medium ready.
Peat/Coconut Coir Pellets: Set them in a tray and fill with water so they start to expand.
Seed Starting Mix: Poor directly into the container leaving a little room at the top. Gently pat down (Don’t compact it)
Step 2: Drop a Seed
Familiarize yourself with the specific needs of each variety of seed. You’ll need to look for that width and depth measurement.
Peat/Coconut Coir Pellets: If you’re planting something like microgreens, sprinkle some seeds into the hole. If you’re planting something like a pea or sunflower, place on seed in each hole. You don’t need to fill the hole with a soil. They’re fine just like that!
Seed Starting Mix: If you’re planting something like microgreens, sprinkle the seeds on top and lightly cover them with soil. For a larger seed like a pea or sunflower, drop one seed at the recommended width and depth. If you’re using a segmented container, that usually equates to one seed per section.
Step 3: Water
Use a spray bottle filled with warm water to saturate the soil. This will ensure the seeds aren’t displaced. Make sure the seeds are kept moist while they’re growing!
You could also looking into getting a “self watering” growing kit. You simply just fill the reservoir beneath your seeds, and the water will saturate the included fabric piece that will keep your seeds moist.
Step 4: Add-ons
Seeds require two things to germinate: Water & Warmth. The two W’s.
A helpful tool are heat mats which are place under your seed trays. They give seeds that consistent warmth needed to help them burst out of their seed coat. When you begin to see that green sign of life, consider adding a grow light. We carry lots at Golden Acre, including ones that can screw into a lamp you may already have around the house.
A grow light can help lengthen the day especially at the beginning when our days are still so short. If seedlings don’t get enough light, they can become weak and more lanky. Try leaving a grow light on for 6-8 hours over top of them and they’ll grow nice and strong.
You could invest in a dome which is placed over your seed trays to trap moisture. This can reduce the amount of watering you’ll need to do and ensure seeds are getting that consistent moisture. Remember to give your seedlings some fresh air though. Some domes come with vents so you can easily do this.
Step 5: Seedlings Maintenance.
As your seedlings mature, watch for overcrowding. You may need to thin out some of them to give the stronger seeds access to more nutrients, water, and room. This is especially common when you’re growing things like carrots.
I hope this has been somewhat helpful in your quest to grow your own flowers and food! It’s rewarding, fun, and an ongoing learning experience. If you need further assistance, we’re here for you at Golden Acre both in store, and online through Facebook and Instagram. Reach out! Tag us in your growing adventures so we can share with the community!
Have a fun,