Outdoor Photo Credit: Western Living

6 Essential Seed-Starting Tips for the Garden

Vancouver gardening expert Jordan McDonald gives us the skinny on seeds.

What’s the ultimate organic farm-to-table produce? Your farm-to-table produce.

Starting your own seeds, says garden guru Jordan McDonald, gives you complete control over what you’re growing and what you’re putting into your body. Here’s his list of essential tips to kick-start your urban garden.


1. Sunlight will dictate what you can grow

“If you have a shadier area,” says McDonald, “you don’t want to be trying to grow tomatoes, peppers or corn—any of the warm-season vegetables.” Fruits also require a lot of sunlight to ripen and develop sugars—instead, the garden expert advises sticking to greens like lettuces, herbs, spinach, Swiss chard and kale for north- or east-facing patios and plots low on the sun factor.

2. Sourcing the right seeds

Now that you know what types of plants you’re after, McDonald likes to buy seeds from a reputable source and a local source if possible. West Coast Seeds is his brand of choice: it offers a wide selection, has certified organic options and collects seeds that are grown in our region and adapted to Raincouver’s climate. Tip: Some seeds are duds for myriad reasons, so plant in numbers.

A seed-starting tray with a lower water-containing reservoir, a capillary mat that wicks water from the reservoir to the soil above, and a transparent cover to minimize evaporative water losses
Garden guru Jordan McDonald from Habitat Garden in Vancouver recommends a seed-starting tray like this one from Lee Valley Tools to make seed starting a snap.

3. Choosing the vessel

During the coaxing-seeds-into-life stage, you have a few options. Any material of container will do while you pray for germination, but one of McDonald’s top tips is to keep constant moisture on your little seedlings. If they dry out they won’t germinate, so you can also try covering them with plastic wrap to ensure high humidity. He also likes to start with them indoors, which gives you more control during this time when seeds are small and sensitive. A self-watering windowsill kit is a great option for worry-free seed-starting, like the Lee Valley Self-Watering Seed Starter.

4. Start with the right soil

“I’ve had a lot of people ask if you can take soil out of your garden, but I definitely don’t recommend it because seeds are so sensitive,” explains the local garden guru. Bugs, bacteria, fungus and more can be living in your soil—McDonald says even one slug egg in your pot could destroy all your seeds in one night. “So it’s better to buy a sterilized seed-starting mix or a really light potting mix.”


5. Seeds have sprouted—hooray!—now what?

You don’t need a lot of light when seeds are germinating, but once they’ve actually sprouted you need to move them to a bright window. Cut out the guesswork of north facing vs. west facing with a great light meter. This will measure the actual amount of light coming in over an eight-hour period. “I wish I would have known about this thing five or six years ago,” laughs McDonald.

6. The relocation game

Once the seeds have sprouted and are in their bright window, rooted to the pot, it’s now time to move them outside, but they’ll need time to adapt to the different climate. To avoid transplant shock, McDonald says to leave seed pots outside for a couple hours at a time (“give them a little taste of what it’s like out in the real world”) and then bring them back in, repeating the process for a few days if you can. Going from an Ottawa winter to Hawaiian summer in the same day can be hard on a person, and it’s hard on plants too.

MORE: 6 Tips for the Perfect Container Garden

MORE: How to Create a Beautiful Balcony Garden


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