Sunday, January 29, 2017

Indoor seed starting tips

Aerogarden hydroponic seed starting system
Sunday, January 28, 2017

What are the tricks to successful seed starting?  The most sure fire I have found with a gadget is the Aerogarden with the seed starting tray.  I have almost 100% germination rate with it.

With the Aerogarden hydroponic seed starting system, I don't even have to worry about using a heating pad for the warm season crops.  The drawback is the investment in buying the unit, seed starting tray, and plugs.  It is easy to take the seedlings and just plant into larger pot or directly into the garden when they are the right size for transplanting.

You can also start seeds in pots you make yourself with newspaper, toilet paper cores, paper towel cores, or paper cups and sterile, organic seed starting mix.  A nifty way to do it is to cut used paper towel cores into sections and line with old newspaper.  You can plant the whole thing or push out the newspaper insert and compost the core.
Paper towel cores with paper towel bottoms
Another option is to use peat pellets and peat pots.  Peat is not a renewable resource, but there are substitutes for it now on the market.  Just read the labels.  I just bought ones made with coir at Lowes.
The key is using sterile seed starting mix, pots, containers and trays.  You can make your own seed starting mix with peat moss or coir (renewable), compost, and vermiculite.  Just be sure to heat the compost to at least 150 degrees to kill any pathogens before using to start seeds.

Newspaper seed starter "pot"
Place the seeds in the starter mix in the pots and allow to wet thoroughly from the bottom (watering from the top can dislodge seeds).  Using a weak fish emulsion for the first watering is said to help prevent dampening off.  After fully saturated, they are ready to put in a catch pan.  Make sure any catch pan that you use has been thoroughly washed in a bleach solution so all pathogens are killed.  Mine has a water reservoir in the bottom of it that wicks the moisture up under the seedlings.
I put my seed starts in a plastic tray with a clear plastic lid in a sunny window that I have had for years that you can buy at any big box store.  Keep moist, but not wet, and with the clear cover on until seedling emerges.  Once seedling emerges, remove the clear lid.
Some recommend using a small fan to blow on your seedlings to help them strengthen their stems, making them stronger transplants.  I have killed many transplants by accidentally crushing their fragile stem.

Make sure you label your seedlings as soon as you plant them; you may think you will remember 2 months from now what was where, but likely not!  Now is also a great time to start keeping a journal.  Start tracking what you planted when so you can review next year what worked well to repeat and what didn’t work so well to tweak.

For larger seeds, and seedlings, either start directly in the garden.  I start peas and green beans directly in the garden bed.  Other larger seedlings like squash and tomatoes, choose a larger pot to start them in or transplant from the peat pods to a small pot before transplanting to the garden.

Your seedling’s first leaves are not “true” leaves, think of them as baby teeth.  The second set of leaves are their true leaves.  They are ready to be hardened off when they have their first set of true leaves.  Seedlings must be hardened and not just thrown outside.  You take them out a little at a time, gradually increasing their exposure to sun and cold, only during the daytime.  I try and plant when there is a warm spell forecasted to minimize the shock.

There are great selections of herbs and veggies at nurseries and big box stores nowadays so you have many options, including heirlooms,  just waiting until spring is officially here and picking up what looks good at your nearby store in a couple of months.  Your local gardening centers will also carry the varieties best suited for your area.  This is also a great back up if your first seed starting adventure goes a little awry...........

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