Sprouting new garden plants from seeds: tips from an old pro
Guest post by reader Kay C.
You don’t have to spend a lot of money at the nursery buying seedlings for your spring garden. With some advance planning, you can sprout your own seedlings at home, which is cheaper and will provide the greatest variety. Here are some of Kay’s best tips.
Each year I mix up a few new varieties. I love the Black Krim Tomato it has an awesome sweet flavor. It’s pretty hardy weather wise but it’s really susceptible to blight.
I live in North East Massachusetts so I usually start my seed starting process in Mid February. I use the peat moss pellet trays by Jiffy. You can get them at Home Depot or Lowe’s for about 8.00 each.
Just wet the pellets down according to directions. Let each pellet absorb water for a few minutes then take a spoon and open the mesh on each pellet.
Sort out the seeds you plan on planting by how long they take to sprout. This will determine which plants you will put together.
I then label the trays so I know which row has what plant in it. Then I will poke a hole in each pellet ( the seed packs will tell you how deep) . Depending on the seed I will either put 2 or 3 seeds in each pellet. 3 for smaller seeds 2 for larger (cucumber or pumpkin)
When the whole tray is full place the clear dome back on top and tape in place then put in a warm dark place. I have a hallway on my top floor that is dark and has a corner of baseboard heat my seeds love it.
I then stack the trays on top of each other. My garden is decent in size and I gift plants so I usually have about 5 trays of seeds.
I then keep an eye on the seedlings. The peat pellets should always be damp, but the taped on plastic greenhouse domes should keep the moisture in. When the majority of the tray is sprouted, uncover the tray and put it in direct sunlight. I use a TV table and put it right up to a window this will hold 2 trays this way. Every other day rotate which tray is closest to the window pane.
Keep the trays like this, watering them carefully every other day. You want them only slightly moist not wet. Don’t let the peat moss get dry. I just take the tray to the sink and turn the water pressure on a little and use the water sprayer. It’s easy and fast.
Once the plants have 2 sets of real leaves (besides the leaves that sprouted) you can transplant the seedlings. For Tomatoes, zucchini and pumpkins I go to the dollar store and get one gallon pots, all my other plants go in the large party cups you can get at any party store, target, or grab the leftovers from family parties. I think they are 20 oz or so. They are the perfect size for all the other plants.
This is where you have to pick your plant. Where you planted 2-3 seeds earlier you may have 2 -3 plants. Oh no. Well pick your champion. Pick the biggest leaves, greenest plant or just go with your gut but pinch the others off. The 2 plants will not be happy together.
Some plants may be “stemmy”. Say you have a tomato with a really long thin stem. When I transplant it I will put a tiny scoop of dirt in the cup then I put the pod in the cup then I will fill the cup to the top. Don’t try to bend the stem it will most likely snap. (I’ve learned this the hard way)
This year I splurged on growing lights. Don’t bother. The cups I put on the window sills grew better. So I literally line every window sill in my home with cups of plants. The cups I use fit perfectly. By the time the fear of frost is over your plants will be huge! You will be the envy of the neighborhood.
The important part is getting your plants use to the outdoors (hardening). Day 1 take the plants outdoors and put in the shade and in a less windy area of your yard for a 2-3 hours. Day 2 another shady spot out of the wind increase to 6 hours. Day 3 -7 the same. Then slowly start allowing them to be exposed to more direct sunlight.
Some suggest the hardening process should take up to 2 weeks some say a week. I usually go towards the 2 week limit; watching the plants and weather. If it’s really warm or cold adjust how long the plant is outdoors.
If the plant starts to look white don’t worry just take it back indoors. It’s usually either windburn or sunburn and the plant can easily heal itself. It just means that the plant was not ready to be exposed directly to the elements yet.
I would say on a whole from a pack of seeds I usually see a success rate of 70%. Every once in awhile I will see a whole pack of seeds do nothing so you can get a “dud” as I would say. That’s why when picking a veggy I usually get a few varieties.
Also always keep the envelops your seeds come in,when you go to plant them follow the planting guide. It’s tempting to fit more plants in but you will regret it when you are in peak season and trying to squish in between your plants.
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