The Violet Fern

A Colorful Tale of a Garden in the Making

Project: Seed Start


Each and every year I end up starting seeds indoors — even if I don’t want to! I don’t have enough light. The sprouts grow into pale, stringy wisps of stems with tiny, sad, drooping leaves. But I simply cannot wait another month to start something growing so I persuade myself over and over with my own privately written propaganda, repeat that 30 second advertising spot, “The Amish don’t have fancy grow lights. They must start seeds before the last frost date. Their farm stand opens in what, May?” “This year will be better. I’ll set them up closer to the southwest window somehow. Rig something up right over the heater, yeah, that’ll warm ’em up good, too.” “Farmers having been starting seeds indoors for generations, before  grow lights.”

Then April showers rain down and the skies remain foggy, brooding. Even I am stretching, searching for some sunshine. Where is spring? The local sayings are shouted about, “We have two seasons here, not four – summer and winter.” “We don’t have spring here, we have flood and mud.”

And each year, from sheer will, a few seeds will successfully, miraculously transfer to the garden and make it, enough so that I repeat the process again in the following spring. But many do not and I reassure myself next year I will save up and buy the coveted 3-tier lighting system from Gardeners’ Supply. It’s really not all that much … yikes, imagine how many plants I could buy with that price tag … (daydream).

Well this year, I have invested in a grow light. Not my first wish 3-tier stand from Gardeners’ Supply, but a scaled down economical version that I pulled off for just under $50. At first I thought to rig some sort of stand from leftover lumber that would rest on a table from which I could hang a shop light, but that would require my favorite contractor. Scheduling the contractor would also require time, time that might, most probably, would slip away. Then aha, why not just hang said light from ceiling? It will be over a table so no one will unsuspectingly walk into it. Will I really mind a couple of hooks in my ceiling the rest of the year? And so be it.


I chose the corner of my kitchen table because I want to be close to my seeds, catch their every spurt of growth, talk to them, coax them. Close to water. Close to that southwest facing window, too, just for good measure. The light is just your average shop light tricked out with plant grow bulbs, suspended with chain, all purchased from the hardware store.

I placed cut up paper towel rolls, and some leftover seed starting coir pots from last year in various trays, my favorite being an old Le Creuset stoneware dish with a hairline crack that I no longer trust for baking. I mentioned last year to my brother-in-law how I came across the idea of reusing paper towel rolls as seed starting pots and this winter he showed up at my place with a garbage bagful! Go Rob!

recycled pots

I am also using a coconut coir seed starting mix – one brick makes a good size bucketful. Coconut is a conscientious choice – I try to avoid purchasing unsustainable peat moss-based products. I made markers out of some scrap foam board leftover from framing paintings.


I like to plant in accordance to the cosmos. I use “Stella Natura’s Biodynamic Planting Calendar” as my guide. It is too smart for me, but I do grasp the concept of planting (and harvesting) when the moon is waxing (the gravitational pull on Earth’s water is greater) and waning (when Earth’s water is receding), and even a planetary trine or two. If I am having a “big brain day” I may read through one of the very in-depth essays. Over the course of a few weeks using this guide, I have planted root, leaf, fruit, and flower. Nearly all my seeds have sprouted with the exception of the peppers – I might try adding a heating pad under the tray to encourage them to sprout, or try planting again on a fruit day during a full moon.


Green! It’s green!


Some of these I will have to pot up, such as the tomatoes who prefer warmer days. Some I will transfer directly to the garden such as the Brussels who won’t mind a little chill. Then there are the seeds that I simply direct sow into the garden such as the lettuces, radish, spinach, kales, collards and peas when it is still cool.  Beans, cucumbers and squash I direct sow well after last frost.

I hope this project brings my seed starting to a new level. I also hope it encourages you to start your own seeds if you have never tried, or inspires you to try again if you haven’t successfully raised seeds in the past. Let’s grow!


Author: Kathy Sturr

Cultivating art, growing soul, and creating plant-based food in the beautiful 1000 Islands, New York and Cedar Key, Old Florida.

5 thoughts on “Project: Seed Start

  1. I have been starting mine on my grow cart in spurts…peppers sprouted but I used a lid to keep in heat and moisture and a heat mat. I have more to start in the next few weekends…flowers started too. I also use the coconut coir starting mix…I need to check out that planting calendar though.

    • I envy your grow cart Donna! It is something I will keep working towards. I did have a lid on one of my trays but it seemed too wet. Maybe now that it’s dried a little I should put it back on. One year I didn’t refer to Stella’s calendar – I quickly went back. I hope to have time to study some of the stars this year, too, if it ever warms up!

  2. Right now, my peripatetic lifestyle doesn’t lend itself to seed-starting, but this is something I am looking forward to when I retire. (And I have been wondering how I would ever possibly use the remaining 2 1/2 coir bricks from the pack I bought last year. Now I know! )

  3. Pingback: What’s Growing: Purple Majesty Millet | The Violet Fern

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