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Jerry's Foolproof
Seedstarting System

Jerry Gryniewicz has created a system that allows him to grow large numbers of seedlings without a lot of fuss.
Jerry Gryniewicz approaches his sprawling garden with a painterly eye, but he starts his seeds with the organization and attention to detail of an accountant.

It all starts in his basement in the middle of the winter. He sets up his array of 24 grow lights and proceeds to plant 40 different kinds of annuals, all of which he times precisely to be ready to plant in his garden the last week of May.

The payoff for him is a 14,000-square-foot garden in his backyard in northern Vermont. There he grows perennials and, especially, annuals from zinnia to cosmos. Mown grass paths connect his garden beds with a neighboring meadow.

Tips From Jerry

Be organized.
Start seeds in APS units for successful germination.
Water from below with capillary matting.
Use full-spectrum SunLite Bulbs.
Keep the lights just two to three inches from the plants.

"I work full time and don't want to be overwhelmed," said Jerry. "So over the years I've developed a system that enables me to grow large numbers of healthy seedlings without too much work or fuss."

Here's how he does it:

Step 1: Organize seed packets
Before he starts, Jerry organizes all of his seed packets by how many weeks before planting he needs to plant them. He lines them up neatly in a narrow box.

"Let's say it's eight weeks before I plan to plant outside, I just reach into the right section of the box and pull out those seed packets that I need to plant that week," he said.

Step 2: Plant seeds in APS trays

The APS-24 seedstarting system.
Jerry plants all of his seeds into APS-24 seedstarting units. This system includes a plastic dome that keeps moisture in and capillary matting so you water the seedlings from below.

He puts each newly planted APS tray into his "germination chamber". This is a warm section of his basement in which the grow lights are close together and there is wood on three sides.

"Even though the packets say it will take 7 to 10 days to germinate, the seeds germinate in more like two days," he said. "I credit the APS trays. They take in the warmth and hold it in the soil longer, so the seeds germinate really fast. Without the APS trays, I could never start so many seeds, so successfully, with so little work."

Once the seeds germinate, he places them under one of his grow lights fitted with full-spectrum fluorescent light bulbs. He keeps the light just two to three inches from the seedlings and puts the lights on timers, so they go on and off automatically for 16 hours a day.

Step 3: Transplant into peat pots and water from the bottom
Once the seedlings are well established and have produced their first true leaves, Jerry transplants them into peat pots. He then puts the peat pots on top of the bottom half of the APS tray along with the capillary matting.

Capillary matting enables him to continue to water the seedlings from the bottom. That means the seedlings get a constant supply of water (without being over watered), and Jerry is free to do other things and even go out of town.

"I can get by with adding water to the plants every third day," he said.

Step 4: Plant, plant, plant
The last week of May, Jerry is ready to plant. He takes the week off from work and creates his garden.

Recently he has turned from creating new garden beds to creating new garden designs. Last year, he planted masses of blue ageratum and red and white zinnias in the shape of a French flag in honor of his grandfather who had died 10 years before. He has also mown grass paths to form the shape of a butterfly. Inside the butterfly shape, are plants like milkweed to attract monarch butterflies.

"I try to plant something new and try out new designs every year," he said.

An artist's garden
He calls his planting style impressionist. "I'm interested in how the colors meld together and look different up close from how they look from far away."

To express this further, he takes photographs of sections of his garden. He then manipulates the photographs on his computer to create what he calls "impressionist images." To see some of these photographs visit Jerry's web site.

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Last updated: 10/24/15