Sunday, August 8, 2010
Starting seeds is actually an easy process, but success only comes through many years of trial and error. The obvious advantages are the cost savings and the variety as opposed to purchasing seedlings at the garden center.
Most vegetable and annual flower seeds need to be started 6-8 weeks prior to your last expected frost. The exact timing can be found on the seed packets, but 6 weeks is usually a good rule of thumb. Never sow seeds deeper than twice their diameter. For small seeds, place them on the surface of the growing medium, and then lightly sprinkle the mix over the seed until it is barely covered. Water from the bottom to avoid disrupting the seed germination process.
Seedlings need to be in simulated sunshine for at least 14 hours per day. They also need 8 hours of dormancy for good growth. You either need to invest in fluorescent bulbs called grow-lights which are as close to natural light as anything sold on the market, or substitute these with less expensive bulbs. By using one cool and one warm white fluorescent in combination, you will achieve the same effect.
If given the correct conditions, namely adequate moisture, strong light, and healthy soil, the seeds will germinate and grow to maturity with few or any problems. I grow my seedlings in seed trays with individual cell packs. After sowing the seeds, I cover them with a pre-fitted plastic dome. This is critical to keep the soil moist and the humidity high. But once the first seedlings sprout, it is important to remove the cover to avoid damping-off disease. This is a fatal fungus disease which only attacks young seedlings, and is caused by inadequate air circulation and non-sterile soil. That is why I advise all those who start seeds indoors to only use sterile, soilless mixes composed of vermiculite, perlite, and sphagnum moss. These mixes can be purchased at any reputable garden center.
Once the seedlings develop their second set of leaves, you can begin supplementing the plants with a diluted solution of fertilizer. Since you want to keep the nitrogen and salt levels low at this stage of growth, I highly recommend staying away from the chemical mixes. Rather, use a seaweed/fish emulsion formula at ¼ the recommended level. This will help the plants’ development and also help ward off disease. You can purchase these organic formulas at most garden centers or through online websites.
Posted by Ron at 8:25 AM