Spring, It is time to start seeds!
What do seeds need?
1) Dirt- good dirt. Seed starting medium is best, it is light and has good drainage which is essential for seed starting. Seeds need oxygen and a heavy soil will prevent roots from breathing and will trap too much water. You can see in the above photos seeds started in plastic pots, biodegradable pots and peat pellets. I have to say I do NOT recommend the peat pellets, I find they dry out too fast and are hard to keep at a consistent moisture.
2) Water- seeds must imbibe water (absorb). Once they do they must then stay at a moisture level that will not allow the roots to dry out or be too wet and cause mold or disease.
After initial watering of soil, spray seeds with a spray bottle. You can place plastic wrap lightly on top or use a cover that many seed starting kits come with. Be sure to watch that it isn't too moist.
3) Light-every seed is different, some require light for germination and will be planted quite shallow, others do not need light until they have sprouted. After they have germinated they will need 10-16 hours of light a day. Natural sunlight is best but artificial light will also work. Grow bulbs are available at most retail stores now.
4) Temperature- warm, at least 55-60 degrees consistently. 70 is even better, usually sunlight and room temp is sufficient but heat pads for plants are great for getting things going. Use caution.
Seeds do NOT need fertilizer. They have all the nutrients they need to get started built right in. Fertilizing will not be needed until planting time, and definitely not before the first true leaves appear. What is a true leaf? Your seedling will have one set of leaves that isn't identifiable. when the first set appears that is distinct to the plant, like a definite tomato leaf shows up, that is your true leaves.
What went wrong??
Common problems with seed starting.
Damping off- this is when your perfect cute little seedling all of a sudden falls over, looks healthy on the top but the stem just withered, almost looking pinched. This is a fungus caused by too much water and or poor circulation. It will happen! Remove the dead plants and carry on. You may spray the area and remaining plants with diluted chamomile tea.
Etiolation- or S T R E T C H your little plant becomes very tall and thin. Not good, height is not what we are aiming for, healthy plants are. If your seedling is stretching it needs more light! Also place a fan on low nearby or lightly brush your seedlings with your hand a couple times a day, this simulates wind and will help toughen up the stems.
Phototropism- you will see your plants all turned in the same direction, toward the light, this is natural but you have to remember to turn your plants every couple of days, this again will help to strengthen your stems.
Once your seedlings have begun to grow....it is time to thin, you aren't doing yourself any favors by keeping 7 seedlings in one peat pot, Thin! down to one at most two.
Out to the Garden
When it comes time to plant, you have to spend a couple weeks hardening off . When days are warm, about 45 degrees place your plants out in a shaded area out of the wind. Repeat the next day. Continue by adding a little time each day, in the second week add some sun and a light breeze is ok. Keep an eye on the plants and move if they show any sign of stress. Gradually increase time in sun and on the day before planting let them spend about 8 hours in the garden spot they will be permanently. Before planting be sure your soil is warm enough, plants go through some shock when they are transplanted and cold soil will kill them. At this time you can fertilize, be sure if you use granular nothing touches the roots and liquid does not touch the leaves. Water them in well and you may place cans or buckets (with the top cut out) for wind protection. I use water walls and highly recommend them!
Hint: if you have those leggy plants, dig a trench and plant the stem sideways all the way up to the first true leaves. The plant will correct itself and be much healthier. Remember a skinny stem is not a strong stem.
Square Foot/ Wide Row Gardening
What is it? Some of you may be familiar with the concept of square foot gardening, rather than placing seeds or plants in single rows....you place one per foot, in blocks of 4 feet or even 8 feet, keeping about a 2 foot wide walking path.
Wide row gardening is broadcasting your seeds in more of a section or row of about a foot wide.It also includes placing seedlings closer together. This means rather than thinning one row with a beet every 6 inches, you will have a 3 foot by 3(example only) foot beet patch, which then can be thinned along the entire growing season, eating baby vegetables and or leaves the whole time.
What are the advantages?
- more yield, up to quadruple
- less weeding once plants have established
-natural canopies, this helps with the weeds and holding in moisture which means less watering
- you may get quite a jungle to navigate!
- keep a closer eye on disease, pull or treat diseased plants immediately
- be sure you have good air circulation in your garden spot to help keep molds or slugs from taking over
Nothing grieves me more than to see a garden patch that is 3/4 dirt. The rows may look nice and uniform but oh! the wasted space!
Draw on graph paper your garden dimensions. Decide the plants you want to use. Tomatoes, peppers, cabbage, broccoli, and similar plants will need the foot to themselves, so in a 4X4 plot you can have 16 of them. Use supports, cages and if it makes you nervous to have so many in a small space, only place 8, its ok. It's your garden do what you like. Keep in mind pinching suckers on the tomato plants will keep a little more order in the garden. A sucker is a branch that is developing in the Y of two other branches.
Next look at the other crops you wish to plant, beets, carrots, lettuces, greens, these can be in the wide row, maybe you want 4 sq feet of lettuce, 2 of carrots and 2 of spinach.
Grow up! yep it is time. take cucumbers, squash, even pumpkins vertical. Use cages, old fences, garden sculptures and trellis! Most fruit will not hurt the vine at all.(exception being Hubbard squash, jackolantern pumpkins, large watermelon etc. these will need old fashion planting according to package directions.) If you get a monster, make it a sling out of old nylons, tie it to the trellis or cage and give it support until it matures.
Keep walking paths. If you garden is only 8 sq feet you won't need to, or if you have several plots with natural paths among them. If you have more than 8 feet either way, make on your graph paper about an 18 in walking trail.
Once your layout is done. Prepare your soil and plant!