Saturday, September 9, 2017

Outdoor seed starting tips

Saturday, September 9, 2017

This is a great time of year to start cool loving greens like lettuce, spinach, kale, mustard, and chard. Peas, carrots, broccoli and cabbage also enjoy cool weather.  What are the tricks to successful outdoor seed starting?  

You have several options for outdoor seed starting.  You can start directly in the garden, start in coir pots, or start in regular pots and then transplant into the garden.  

Be sure to follow the directions on the seed packet for how deep to put the seed.  For 
Days to Harvest", add 2 weeks for fall planting as we are getting less daylight as the weeks go by in the fall.  A risk with small seeds and seedlings is their ability to break through a hard crust of soil.  Large seeds like peas I will start directly in the garden because they are strong enough to push through even mulch.

Small seeds, I like to start in a pot, sowing thickly.  As the seedlings emerge and get to a sturdy size, I will then move from the pot to the garden.  I just find it easier to keep an eye on a seeding pot and keep it moist rather than the garden this time of year.  Don't keep the soil constantly wet or the seeds will rot before they have a chance to sprout.

Use a trowel to dig small lines into the soil for planting greens

You can start small seeds even in mulched beds.  Just trowel a line in the mulch down to the soil, plant the seeds, and then cover lightly with potting soil.  Potting soil will not get a hard crust like mulch or regular dirt.  Keep moist until the seedlings are a sturdy size, then water as normal.

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 coir pellets and coir pots.  Peat is not a renewable resource so I like to use coir, a renewable substitute for it now on the market.  Just read the labels.  I just bought ones made with coir at Lowes or you can order on Amazon or eBay.

In the spring, I use 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. You can heat the compost to at least 150 degrees to kill any pathogens before using to start seeds.  In the warm fall days, I just plant into regular potting soil in pots.

Newspaper seed starter "pot"

Water the soil thoroughly and then plant the seeds.  When you water before the seeds come up, be sure to use a gentle spray so you don't wash the seeds away.

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.

Small seedlings
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 get used to the sun if you are starting on a covered deck or porch.  You take move them to a spot where they get more and more sun,  gradually increasing their exposure to sun.  I try and plant into the garden when there is rain and clouds forecasted to minimize the shock.

Sturdy seedlings, ready to transplant into the garden
There are fall transplants also available at nurseries and local hardware stores like broccoli and cabbage if you just want to pick up and plant right now.

I like to save seeds from my best producers and replant.  Seed saving-fun, easy and a cost saver

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