How to Start Seedlings Like a Mainer

A crop specialist from the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association on how to start your garden.

To begin, of course, you need to buy seeds. Johnny’s Selected Seeds and Fedco Seeds are the two most well-known companies in Maine. “Or save your own,” says Caleb Goossen, a crop specialist for Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association (MOFGA). You’ll also need a container or seedling trays. Then there’s the soil itself. Goossen recommends compost-based mixes, such as ones from Vermont Compost Company, Living Acres, or Coast of Maine. Many of our garden favorites—tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers—are tropical plants, and getting the seedling to pop up out of the soil may not happen with-out the right temperature. While your house may be warm enough for you, “if you’re a frugal New Englander keeping the thermostat down,” Goossen says, it won’t be warm enough for your seeds. Goossen starts his seeds in the dining room because that’s where his woodstove is, but if you don’t have a room that is very warm, you can invest in a waterproof heating mat. For light, Goossen recommends using a couple of LED shop lights and keeping them only a couple of inches above the leaves of the seedlings. Finally, after babying your seedlings until they’re ready to be transplanted outside, which varies by plant and where you live in the state (check the growing calendar on MOFGA’s website for details), don’t just put them out into the harsh world. “They will get sunburned, and the tops will dry out, and they could just straight-up die,” Goossen says. Instead, move the seedlings outside several days in advance of transplanting in a semi-protected area so they’re getting some sun and wind without getting crispy. But if all of this sounds like too much work, you can always just buy seedlings, Goossen says. “It’s not the end of the world.” There will be lots of seedlings available at your farmers’ market or local garden store.

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