Starting Seeds Indoors and the Quest for Homemade Sauerkraut

I used to hate sauerkraut when I was a kid. I thought it smelled like boiling, smelly socks. Now I love it! When I started growing vegetables, I was so excited to plant cabbage, and tons of it, so I could make and can sauerkraut. The first year I planted cabbage, it grew really well and I successfully made and canned sauerkraut. It was a little salty, but still pretty good!

It must have been beginner’s luck though, because the next year, I planted more cabbage, in a different spot (a completely different bed) and it got mowed down by cutworms. The year after that, I rotated it again and planted the seeds in cutworm collars (paper cups with the bottom cut out). They grew, but didn’t head up. I researched why that happened and found conflicting advice. They either got too hot or too cold or were deficient in some mineral. I was told I could have mounded soil up at the bottom of the plants, up to the leaves and that might have helped. To summarize, cabbage is a bit of a mystery to me, but I keep trying to grow it. I am determined to have homemade sauerkraut again!

This year, I thought I might try starting the cabbage indoors to see if that might help. I was thinking it would give the seedlings a chance to get a head start before I put them outdoors.

I had some seeds leftover from last year, so figured I would give those a try.

Rodale’s Ultimate Encyclopedia of Organic Gardening has a good, detailed entry on seed starting.

There is also a good seed starting video on Territorial Seed Company’s website.

DO NOT do what I did, the first time I started seeds indoors, and plant in seed starting mix and then up pot to seed starting mix. Seed starting mix is sterile, light and fluffy and allows for good moisture retention and drainage, but provides no nutrients. Once a seedling has it’s first set of true leaves, it needs to be transplanted to potting soil, so that it gets the nutrients it needs.

Plants that don’t like to be transplanted, such as squash and peppers, can be planted straight in potting soil.

The only have space I have to start my seeds is in my basement, so I opted for buying a seedling heat mat and grow light, since it is chilly and dark down there. Once the seedlings have emerged too much heat can cause them to droop and fall over. There is a temperature gauge you can buy for the heat mat, but I don’t have it. I read that cabbage likes cooler temperatures, and also noticed that a couple of my seedlings were getting droopy, so I have already turned my heat mat off.

I bought all my seed starting supplies at McLendon Hardware in White Center. They have all kinds of different flats and pots to choose from.

You can also make your own pots by wrapping strips of newspaper around a glass jar or aluminum can and then folding the edges under. There is also a paper pot maker you can buy. Paper pots are nice because they are cheap to make and can be planted straight into the garden!

Keep the propogation dome on until the seed germinates. The seedlings need air flow, so don’t forget to take it off once you see the seedlings.

The light will need to be moved up as the seeds grow. I bought a grow light that is already on a pulley system, but you can also make your own. I have seen lights rigged with a chain and adjusted that way. If the light is too close it will fry the seedlings. If it is too far away, the seedlings will get long, leggy and weak. I try to keep it around 2-3 inches away when the seedlings are still young. The distance can be increased as the plants grow.

I have to turn the light on in the morning and off at night, so that is a good time to check the soil moisture. I water from the bottom (pour water into the tray under the cell tray), with room temperature water. I only water every couple of days, when the bottom tray is dry. This helps prevent “damping off”, a fungal disease that can grow on seedlings and is caused by overwatering.

These seeds were planted about two weeks ago. They germinated in just a few days!

They are looking good so far. There may be sauerkraut this year after all. Anyone have any other seed starting or cabbage growing tips?

5 thoughts on “Starting Seeds Indoors and the Quest for Homemade Sauerkraut

  1. I wanna try starting tomato seedlings indoors. I think I’ll pop in a seedling tray thus weekend. Have you tried this with tomatoes? Got any tips for me?

    1. My tactic for starting seeds indoors, is to only grow things I want a lot of (and have a lot of room for) or that need a head start time-wise, like cabbage or sometimes squash. I usually only have space to plant about 6 tomatoes plants total and usually want a variety within those tomatoes, so I always buy my tomato starts at the Seattle Tilth plant sale. So I have never started tomatoes indoors, but I assume it would be just the same. Try it and if you do, let me know how it goes!

  2. I will monitor your progress, I also have had such challenges with cabbage. Left it out this year. I have a 5 gallon fermenting pot if you ever want to borrow it.

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