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Growing your own plants for your garden has several advantages.  

There is a wider selection of varieties including using organic seeds, hybrids that are best for your area, and heirlooms.

If you are planning a large garden, it is much less expensive to start from scratch.

You don’t have to worry about a nursery having the plants you want when you want them.

By putting the seedlings in a cold frame for several weeks before planting in the ground, you will have large healthy plants that do not need to be acclimated to full sun when you set them out in the garden.

For seed starting in the desert southwest, you will need a south facing window, which will provide adequate sunlight to grow seedlings up to their first set of true leaves.  For my area (elevation of 3200 feet), I start my seeds in early February for garden planting the first week of April.  I also made a reflecting screen that sits behind the plants to ensure as much sun as possible. This screen can be as simple as aluminum foil taped to sturdy cardboard, forming a reflecting shield on both sides and the top.

I use a seed propagation warming mat to keep seeds at a warm 85 degrees, and a seed starting plug system which has worked well for me for many years.  The plugs are made of sterile peat moss, and set in Styrofoam ‘cells’, which keep seeds moist at just the right level so they germinate without worry of damping off disease.  I plant at least 2 seeds per plug, and snip off the weakest seedling if both germinate.

seed starting

  Seed starting system using plugs.


   Propagation mats keep seeds warm so they          sprout quicker.

Make sure you mist the seeds daily or more often as needed with warm water a 1 or 2 drops of liquid fertilizer (per gallon).

Once the seeds have germinated and formed their true first leaves (the second set that forms), and have well established roots, you will need to boost them up to a larger container (a 12 oz Styrofoam cup with a hole poked in the bottom works well and lasts for many, many years) filled with regular potting soil.  To ensure strong seedlings, you need to have the strongest sun possible. From here they go into a cold frame until it’s time to plant.  If you do not have a cold frame, you can place them outside during the day and bring in at night. Be careful they don't dry out.

If you used a purchased cold frame, the most important thing to remember is that it cannot have glass for a lid.  The intense southwest sun will fry your tender seedlings in hours.  I use a piece of heavy floating row cover, which provides sun, but does not build up heat as glass does.

See Article 11, Building Your Own Cold Frame if you want to build your own.


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