Were it not for the prolonged Arctic weather here, I would have begun planting my seeds right after Valentine's Day. However, it doesn't hurt to wait until the nighttime temperatures lift up into the twenties. I'm watching the temperature because this year Keb and I are setting our trays of planted seeds outside. The idea is to catch three weeks of "natural refrigerator" temperatures while the seeds are absorbing moisture from the planting mix or other causes; then to wait for germination when the temperatures warm up enough.
Here's the starting setup in our basement yesterday.
There's a plastic tub full of last year's planting mix. I use Burpee bricks of coconut coir which I get at Home Depot in late February. I put the brick into a bucket, add a generous 4.5 quarts of tap water, wait a few minutes, and then massage the decomposing brick into a moist bucketful of light and fluffy planting medium. I make two batches of coir at a time and dump the material into a plastic container like the one pictured here.
Then I put on a face mask and pour an equal amount of Perlite into the container and mix it well with the coir to make a fluffier planting medium. The face mask is important because Perlite makes a fine dust when poured or worked. Once worked in, the mask comes off.
I have a supply of 5.5" square pots saved from previous trips to the nurseries, some water to add to the mix I stored over the fall and winter, and some 8" plastic stakes on which I have stuck labels identifying the seeds I'm about to plant. I use a Brother P-Touch label maker with 1/2" TZ tape, black print on a white background so that I can put this year's labels over last year's labels on saved plastic stakes. Everything is reused until it wears out.
Last year I planted 4 rows per pot and it was tricky separating the seedlings when it came time to transplant them. This year, I'm using more pots and more mix so that I can have only 3 rows per pot. I have a handy 4" tool for smoothing joint compound or applying spackle to a wall. You can see it in the background. I use it to define the rows in the planting medium.
Seeds go informally into each row, nestled close together. You can see them in the middle row there. I sort my seeds alphabetically. If a numbered seedling is a pod parent, its number is the first part of its name, so all the numbered seedling seeds are planted first in my system. The pollen parent is listed after the pod parent. If you can read my labels, the pod parent at this stage of planting is 13-116 Truly-TX which is shorthand for TRULY ANGELIC X TEXAS BLUE EYES.
Here's a picture of 13-116 followed by a picture of MAYA BLUE.
Sometimes I have only a few seeds from a cross I've decided to plant, and sometimes the packets with only a few seeds are next to each other in my planting sequence. The result is a pot with a lot of plastic labels!
I care enough about the chances of success to bother with the inconvenience at transplant time.
This year I'm planting more than twice the number of seeds for which I'll have space for transplanted seedlings. I'm allowing for some losses due to poor germination (once in a while a particular cross doesn't germinate at all), and also for my intention to discard wimpy seedlings when I'm ready to transplant. The runts would be shaded by more vigorous neighbors, so they would never develop. Seedlings I plant this year will come into bloom in 2015. I'll make final selections from this crop in 2016 and compost all the rest.
There are at least 36 seeds to a pot, 8 pots to a tray, 16 trays to hold about 4,600 seeds. I got half the job done yesterday.