Monday, March 14, 2011

Seed Starting

It's time to think about tomatoes! And peppers, and eggplant, and herbs. Isn't it always about tomatoes, though? If you start your favorite veggies from seed, now is the time to stir up some soil-less potting mix and sprout your garden indoors.

Most seedlings need 6-8 weeks to establish before we set them out. The frost date in northern Virginia is May 10. Some nurseries, and even some garden publications, claim it's April 15. Unless you have a cold frame or plan to protect your seedings with floating row covers, it's best to play it safe and set your seedlings out around Mother's Day.

To start seedlings indoors, use  a good soil-less mix containing equal parts vermiculite or perlite and sphagnum peat. Before planting, moisten the soil-less mix until it sticks together (this is a great activity for little hands that like to make mud pies). This cuts down on the dust and reduces the amount of water you'll need to add after planting. The seeds are easily washed away, so it's best to use a spray bottle to water gently, when needed, after planting.

Many seeds require light to germinate. A florescent shop light with one warm white and one cool white bulb should be suspended a few inches above the seedlings. If the seedlings don't get enough light, they become leggy and don't establish strong roots.

Any number of containers work for seed starting. You can go with the standard plant tray or peat pot, or you can get creative and use recycled materials. We did a little of both.

Cardboard egg containers are the perfect size and are biodegradable. Styrofoam egg containers work also; just be sure to poke holes in the bottom for drainage. Tear off the top of the egg container to use underneath for drainage, and cover the seedlings loosely with cellophane.

We also used berry containers for herbs. Herb seedlings like to grow close together for support, so it's ok to sprinkle the seeds in a circular pattern throughout the container. Close the lid, and you've got a mini-greenhouse!

Another way to make biodegradable pots is to cut 8 x 2 inch strips of heavy newspaper (or use 3-4 layers of regular newspaper). Wrap the strips around a  mug and tape the ends together. Fit the paper pots into a wooden or plastic flat and fill with potting mix. Again, cover them loosely with cellophane or a clear plastic bag to allow for condensation.

Many seedlings require warm conditions to germinate, so I find it useful to use bottom heat.

Once seedlings emerge, remove any plastic covering. Watch for the first true set of leaves to appear (usually the second set of leaves), and transfer the seedlings to larger containers with more fertile growing medium. At this point, I like to spray with a foliar fertilizer, like Organic Neptunes Harvest Fish and Seaweed Fertilizer. 

1 comment:

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