Herbs from Seed

Cilantro and basil are short-lived herbs that make a lot of sense to grow from seed. Both plants bolt when temperatures rise, producing flowers and seeds (that you can save for next year). Once the plant has bolted it is pretty much done for the season in terms of leaf production. Growing additional seedlings at 2-3 week intervals can ensure you have a constant supply. I start the first round of herb seedlings inside to give them a head start in our short growing seasons, but the large cilantro seeds are easy to sow directly in the garden as well. (or you can put gone-to-seed cilantro in your compost and have it everywhere the next year!) This batch of seedlings is an experiment for my winter herb garden in the basement.

For herb seeds, I like to use shallow trays filled with a wet sterile seed starting mix. When the first set of true leaves appear I will transplant them to soil blocks or pots. Repurposed take-out containers work well. I use the lids on top to retain moisture and underneath to catch spills. Poke some drainage holes - some plastics behave better than others.

Use soil that is already wet - see my post about using ProMix. If you use dry soil, your seeds will shift around when you add water. I decided to plant cilantro, basil, and cutting celery all in the same tray to save space. Sometimes this works out great, but can be a problem if your seeds germinate and grow at different rates. I use toothpicks to delineate the planting areas. If you aren't confident about identifying your seedlings, there is no shame in labeling things.

You can see the cilantro seeds (sometimes called coriander) sitting on top of the soil on the left. When I'm happy with the spacing I will push them just under the soil surface.

Rule of thumb: the larger seeds get planted deeper and farther apart than small ones.

Cutting celery is a fun herb I just started growing in the past two years. The plant looks and behaves like parsley but smells and tastes like celery. It is fabulous chopped up, stalks and all, in soups. The seeds are really small! I sprinkle and gently pat with my fingertips to make sure the seeds have contact with the soil.

Basil seeds look like tiny mouse turds. I sprinkle these on top of the soil as well. At this point you can mist everything with water from a spray bottle and put a cover on your tray. Find a warm spot and let it sit.

After a night on our radiator you can see how much moisture the cover retains. The basil seeds are already getting busy. They have a natural coating that turns blueish white and slimy.

24 hours later and the basil has sprouted. If the roots don't find their way into the soil in a day or two I'll "help". I don't see much activity from the celery or cilantro, but they are usually slower.