Starting Seeds With Your Little Sprouts

From the 2-part FarmLife™ series “How to Grow a Gardener, Teaching Children to Dig Gardening.”

By Lynn Coulter | Photos By Jamie Cole

Starting seeds early in the season is a great way to get kids invested in the family garden.

Starting seeds early in the season is a great way to get kids invested in the family garden.

When your kids or grandkids say there’s nothing to do because they’re stuck inside this winter, try letting them sow seeds for the spring garden. Planting, watering and watching for sprouts to appear is easy, fun and inexpensive, and with a little encouragement, your child’s interest will grow along with the plants. By the time the weather warms up again, you may find you’ve raised a new helper for your garden.

Start by gathering seed catalogs, or go online together to find mail order seed sources. (We’ve listed some below, to get you started.) Guide your little ones, but let them decide what to grow. Remember, this is supposed to be fun, so don’t stress over odd choices.

If you ‘re using saved seeds, let your child test them for germination by rolling up 10 seeds in a damp paper towel. Put the towel in a plastic bag, keep it out of direct sunlight and check it daily until the seeds sprout. That will give you an idea of their viability. For example, if 7 out of 10 seeds sprout, their germination rate is about 70%. (See below for typical germination times for various plants.)

If you’re ordering new stock, help your kids read the packets when they arrive, so they’ll know how and when to plant. If you’re growing fruits or vegetables, talk about how many plants your family needs, so your kids don’t overdo it.

Shop together for a seed sprouting mix and starting pots, or make your own. Paper cups and empty margarine tubs or yogurt cups make good seed-starting pots. Older children can cut up cardboard tubes or plastic soda bottles. Give them wooden stakes or Popsicle® sticks to mark what’s growing in each container.

Have the kids gently water their seeds. If you purchased a seed starting kit, use the plastic cover to maintain humidity. Otherwise, let them cover the containers with plastic wrap. Remind them to check it often (they’ll remove the covering when the seedlings are up).

Help the kids move their containers to a location that stays 60-80˚ F during the day, and 10 to 15 degrees cooler at night, if possible.

After the seedlings develop two true leaves (the ones that look like the plant’s mature leaves), have the kids move their containers outside to a sheltered location for a few hours each day, and move them back in at night. Gradually increase the seedlings’ exposure, until they’re acclimated to the outdoors. When the weather is suitable, your kids can transplant into the garden.

Keep it fun and your children will learn some great life skills, so they can raise their own foods and flowers one day. Best of all, you’ll enjoy spending time with them and sharing what you know!

Typical Germination Times for Quick-Sprouting Seeds:
Vegetables and Fruit:
Watermelons and corn – 5 to 7 days
Lettuce and cucumbers – 7 to 10 days
Radishes – 3 to 5 days  (typically sown outdoors, rather than started indoors)

Zinnias, Cosmos and Mexican Marigolds – 5 to 7 days
Bachelor buttons – 7 to 10 days

Seed Sources (most of these mail order sources sell a variety of seeds, but we’ve listed some of them by their specialty):
For tomatoes:
For peppers:
For lettuce:
For heirloom flowers:
For flowers, fruits, vegetables, and herbs:,, and

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