Starting Seeds Indoors

by Erin LaFaive, Horticulture Educator, Eau Claire County UW Cooperative Extension

Do you want to get ahead of the growing season? Do you want to plant vegetables that need a longer growing season? Do you want to grow a plant that you can’t find in the stores? A solution to these challenges is to start your own seeds indoors.

Many plants do better if started indoors, since it gives them a jump start on the growing season. This is especially the case in northern Wisconsin where the growing season is shorter and some seeds have a difficult time germinating in the early season. Tomatoes and peppers are a great example of plants that need longer growing seasons than northern Wisconsin can provide.

Any type of container can be used to start seeds as long as it is sterilized before planting and has drainage holes at the bottom. To sterilize pots, soak the containers in a 10 percent bleach mixture and thoroughly rinse. Single celled pots are sold in stores and generally only a seed or two are planted in one cell. Mass-sowing seeds are done in flats that do not have dividers and they require transplanting after the seedling is bigger.

Use a seed starting mix or other soil-less indoor plant mixture. These types of soils have been sterilized and contain smaller particles so the embryos have an easier time pushing through. In addition, they are light weight and drain well. If you want to create your own mixture use a pasteurized mixture of equal amounts of soil, sand, vermiculite or perlite; and peat moss.

Moisten the soil before you add it to the containers. It shouldn’t be soggy. The general rule for planting depth is four times the thickness of the seed. Also, check the seed packet for recommendations. Some seeds are very small and hard to see. In those cases, mixing the seed in sterile sand can help you see where you are spreading the seed. Very small seeds are simply sprinkled over the top of the soil. To cover seeds use vermiculite or a layer of screened potting mix you are already using over the seeds. Leave about a ¼ of an inch from the top of the container to allow enough room for the vermiculite.

Cover the planted seeds with plastic leaving an inch to an inch and a half gap. The plastic helps to keep the soil from drying out and traps some heat. A heating source underneath the seeds will speed up germination. Place them in a window with moderate light but not in direct sunlight. The temperatures should be 55 to 60 degrees Fahrenheit at night and 65 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit during the day.

Keep the soil moist, but be careful not to overwater. Using a spray bottle works great for tiny seeds because a strong stream of water may move the seeds around too much. Even a stream being poured from a glass of water can be too strong. Watch for the growth of mold which generally looks like white fuzz on the soil surface. When the first seedlings appear, take off the plastic. This is also the time they need stronger light so they require a south facing window or artificial lights.

My plants are lopsided! My plants are spindly! This can be prevented by turning the container as the seedlings grow and by giving enough light. Fluorescent lights are another source of lighting. They need 16-18 hours of light. One warm-white, 40-watt bulb and one cool-white, 40-watt bulb used together are adequate for seed starting and seedling growth. You can also use fluorescent lights or grow lights.

Gradually acquaint the seedlings to outside by first starting with an hour and working up. The seedlings are not use to fluctuating temperatures, wind, and the sun and this gradual introduction prepares the plant for new conditions.

These are general indoor seed germinating rules. By reading the seed package you will likely find more detailed information on seed depth, germination time, and any other specialized requirements.

A Green Week

by Kenton Whitman

Going ‘green’ can sometimes seem like a lot of work, but with scientists developing a better understanding of our impact on the planet’s ecological systems and mainstream media beginning to champion ecological awareness (think the movie Avatar), it’s getting more difficult to ignore the part we all play in the Earth’s health. Still, when it comes to making conscious choices that are environmentally responsible, sometimes it takes a reminder or a special commitment in order to break out of our usual routines. You can have fun and develop more earth-friendly habits by celebrating a Green Week.

Each day of a Green Week gives you a way to incorporate a small change in your life – but also gives you the option to ‘Get Radical’. The most surprising and delightful thing about a Green Week is that it can challenge the common idea that ‘going green’ requires sacrifice. The truth is quite the opposite – the changes presented here can actually make your life easier and more enjoyable.

Take your family on a Green Week adventure. It’s not only good for the planet – it can help you reduce stress, discover fun local opportunities, and make new friends. You can create your own Green Week, or use the Green Week suggestions below.


Find a creative way to make your home energy use just a little greener. Try washing the dishes in a tub by hand instead of using the dishwasher (a great opportunity to practice mindfulness), or reading a book (alone or have a family reading hour) instead of watching television. These sorts of actions often have the additional benefit of getting us to slow down, which reduces stress and helps us live a little more in the present moment.

Get Radical!
During the winter, it can be fun to have an ‘electric-light free evening’. Once it begins to get dark, don’t turn on the lights. Instead, use some beeswax candles. Notice how the soft lighting creates a different atmosphere, perfect for a romantic dinner or a night of quiet relaxation. You can order beeswax candles at Wolf Honey Farm in Baldwin. Contact them at (715) 684-2095 or visit them online at Honey Hill Apiary out of Maiden Rock (715) 448-2517 is another great source. You can purchase their candles at Menomonie Market Food Co-op (


Replace one household product with something green. Last year my wife and I replaced our dish soap with a greener variety. We were delighted. The almond scent smells so delicious that I want to eat it, and it works just as well as the conventional variety – without all the extra chemicals. You can implement a small change by replacing a single incandescent light bulb with a compact fluorescent; or try replacing your soap with a locally made variety, such as Fruit of the Vine soap out of Hudson ( or soap from Coon Creek Family Farms out of Mondovi (715-834-4547). Both are available at Just Local Food in Eau Claire (715-577-5564). Green replacements might cost a bit more, but they usually work better, last longer, and are better for you and the planet.

Get Radical!
Green up one room. For the kitchen there are excellent replacements for dishtowels (think bamboo), scrub sponges (using loofa instead of artificial scrubbies), dish detergent, and cleaning agents. In the dining room, napkins and placemats can be replaced with hand-made ones (a fun excuse to learn to knit), and china sets from overseas can be replaced with local pottery. Dunn County Pottery makes beautiful pottery in Downsville (, and Willem Gebben’s studio is worth the trip to Colfax, WI to find gorgeous and affordable wood-fired pottery (715-962-3660). You can purchase internationally acclaimed masterpieces of both artistic and functional design in River Falls by visiting McKeachie Johnston Studios (


Donate to a cause. In today’s economic climate, many non-profits are having trouble funding their programs. Even a fifty-dollar donation can make a difference. The Nature Conservancy ( gives you the option to direct your dollars toward protecting lands in the ecosystem of your choice, protecting specific coral reefs, or even protecting habitat for particular species, such as the Northern Jaguar. Closer to home, we have the ability to help purchase and protect wild lands with the West Wisconsin Land Trust. They’ve protected over 25,000 acres, and are always adding more. Visit them at

Get Radical!
Find a non-profit that you like and then email your friends and see if everyone would be willing to pool donations to a certain group. Even small contributions, when multiplied by all your friends on your email list, can make a huge difference.


Learn about an endangered species. You’ll get a peek into the life stories of some of the planet’s most rare and interesting individuals. A great starting point is, and even provides a state-by-state interactive map. Or do a Google search on a specific species and you’ll likely find videos and fun websites that will teach you all about the species’ habits, lifestyle, and habitat. If you prefer books, try one of author Sy Montgomery’s Children’s Titles—books that are perfect for kids and adults alike. She writes about species such as the Golden Moon Bear, the Pink Dolphin, and the Snow Leopard.

Get Radical!
Using the website above, learn about one of the endangered species that is within driving range, and then plan a quest to see if you can photograph one. In Wisconsin we can go searching for wolves (we’re much more likely to find their tracks, but it’s still fun to look), Piping Plovers, Hine’s Emerald Dragonfly, the Eastern Prairie Fringed Orchid, and many more. Tread lightly, as many of these species have delicate habitats!


Visit your library. Long before it became popular to reduce, re-use, and recycle, libraries were veteran re-users, making a single copy of a book available to thousands of readers. Today, many libraries have extensive collections of DVDs as well, so you can not only pick out a book for the weekend, but take home a movie or two. Sometimes a walk up and down the aisles will surprise you when you find an old book that you read years ago, or see something on a subject that has recently piqued your interest. You can even explore your library from home using the MORE library system at Using your library card, you can request books to be sent to your closest library, renew books, or browse titles.

Get Radical!
Do you have special skills or knowledge that would be interesting to library patrons? Libraries are often looking for volunteers who can present programs to their after-school groups or for the community in general. If you know about local wildlife or have environmental education to share, give them a call and see if they’d be open to having you do a presentation. My wife and I often give snake presentations for community groups, including libraries. Call your local library to see if your area of expertise might make a fun and informative educational program.

The Weekend

Have some outdoor fun! It might be difficult to believe, but simply enjoying the outdoors is one of the best things you can do for the planet. In his book Last Child in the Woods, author Richard Louv outlines numerous studies and tons of anecdotal evidence that show the profound effect the outdoors can have on our psyche. For stress relief, excitement, relaxation, or education, there is nothing like getting outside. Best of all, unless you choose to visit to a fee-charging park, it’s free!

Plan an outdoor adventure during your weekend. Take your camera and capture some photos, find a quiet place to meditate, or go for a hike. When we’re active participants in outdoors activities, we feel more connected to the environment, and we feel inspired to consider our actions in the context of how much impact they’ll leave on the natural spaces we’ve learned to enjoy. In the Menomonie area, Hoffman Hills has a wonderful sledding hill and cross-country ski trails, and the Red Cedar trail offers beautiful cross-country skiing. In Eau Claire, Pinehurst Park and Oakwood Hills have sledding hills, and wherever you live, there are plenty of free parks nearby where you can get out to enjoy nature. For a small fee, you can also explore places like Willow River State Park or Kinnickinnic State Park – truly spectacular natural areas with plenty of room for adventure.

Get Radical!
Try a day-long excursion, or, if you’re feeling really radical, an overnight camping trip. These longer-term outings let us settle into nature in a way that shorter visits often don’t; time slows down, we begin to notice more, and our worries and concerns are seen from a new perspective. This time of year, pack along some hot cocoa and hearty food, sit by a frozen river, and watch the winter animals going about their daily lives. You’ll reconnect with nature and gain a new passion for life.

There are hundreds of other Green adventures to be had. You can start a nature blog, visit a farm, lead nature hikes, or volunteer at State Parks. Whatever Green adventures you choose, realize that even small changes can make a huge difference.

Kenton Whitman was catching snakes and turtles by the time he was out of diapers. A writer and wilderness survivalist, he shares his love of nature through outdoor classes and one-on-one outdoor tutelage. He writes a nature blog at, keeps a journal of his outdoor adventures at, and writes a bi-weekly nature column for the Dunn County News.

Safer Lawns

Most of Canada has banned the majority of common lawn and garden pesticides still in use in the United States.

The documentary movie, A Chemical Reaction (, focuses on the origin of the anti-lawn pesticide movement in North America. The documentary movie tells the story of one of the most powerful and effective community initiatives in the history of North America.  It started with one lone voice in 1984.  Dr. June Irwin, a dermatologist, noticed a connection between her patients’ health conditions and their exposure to chemical pesticides and herbicides.  With relentless persistence, she brought her concerns to town meetings to warn her fellow citizens that the chemicals they were putting on their lawns posed severe health risks and had unknown side effects on the environment.

The movie—through its narrator Paul Tukey, the founder of—asks a simple yet complex question: “If these products are banned in Canada, why do we still use them here?”

A Safer Alternative
Chickity Doo Doo™ Organic Fertilizer is derived from 100% chicken manure. It contains all the desirable benefits that have made chicken manure extremely beneficial to vegetable farmers and organic gardeners for decades. As individuals become more conscious of traditional synthetic chemical fertilizers and the long-term damage they cause to the environment, the demand for family-friendly and environmentally safe products continues to grow.

Find it in our area at:
Chippewa Valley Growers – Eau Claire, 715-839-8448
Grinde’s Garden Center, Inc. – Eau Claire, 715-833-2292
Down to Earth Garden Center – Cadott, 715-289-4567
Klinger Farm Market – Chippewa Falls, 715-288-6348