March 12, 2014
It was so nice to be outside on Saturday. The sun felt so nice. Who would have thought we would be singing the praises of 40 degree weather!
In last week’s column, I told you that this week I would be telling you how to start your own flower and vegetable plants indoors.
Let’s start with a few vegetables that you should not start indoors. The vast majority of vegetable plants that grow under the ground do not transplant very well. This would include beets, carrots, parsnips and turnip. Interestingly enough, you can start onions indoors and move the plants outside. Every rule has its exceptions.
Generally speaking, you want to start your plants from seed about 8 to 10 weeks before you are going to put the plants in the garden. If the vegetable plants you want to start are things like cucumbers or squash, you will only need to start them about 4 weeks before you put them into the garden. These plants are vine type of plants and they grow fairly large very quickly and will out grow their pots. The same would apply to beans and corn started from seed. They too grow quickly and will only need the 4 weeks to get to transplant size.
Let’s assume that you want to start some tomato plants from seed. You will, of course need some tomato seed. You can start the seed in peat pots, plastic pots or cell packs. The cell packs are those plastic 4 or 6 packs that are sold at garden stores with started plants around the end of May. You can buy those empty cell packs at garden stores. If you have pots or cell packs that you saved from last year and you want to re-use them this year, it is very important that you sterilize these containers before you re-use them. Sterilizing the containers prevents the disease called damping off. This disease attacks the stem of the plant and causes the plant to rot right at the soil line. To sterilize the pots, you would first wash off any soil and then soak the pots in a mixture of 1 part bleach to 9 parts water. Let the pots soak in this solution for 10 to 15 minutes and then rinse the pots in clean water. This should prevent the damping off disease.
The soil that you use to start your plants from seed is called, interestingly enough, seed starting soil. If you look at seed starting soil, you will notice that there is no dirt in the soil mix. The dirt would introduce the damping off disease into the potting mix. Seed starting soil is available in several different size bags. Your containers will be filled with the seed starting soil and then the seeds are planted into the soil.
Before you plant the seed, take a moment to look at your seed packet for the proper planting depth. There are some types of seeds that need light in order to sprout. Some seeds are planted ¼ inch deep, some deeper. Setting the seeds at the proper depth will insure that the seeds sprout properly.
Your plants will need strong sunlight if the plants are going to grow nice thick stems. If you have a south facing window, you should be fine. If you don’t, you may want to consider using a grow light system. The light emitted by the grow light is very close to the light spectrum of natural sun. These lights will give you plants that are not weak stemmed. Grow lights are usually “on” for about 12 hours per day. Your plants will also need temperatures in the mid to upper 60’s to grow properly. If your house is warm enough, your plants will be fine. Otherwise you can use a heat mat to keep your plants warm. Pots or cell packs are set on the heat mat and the mat keeps the soil warm.
Once your plants have sprouted and they have formed 2 sets of leaves, it is time to begin a fertilization schedule. You should use a fertilizer that has a fair amount of phosphorous. Phosphorous will help in the formation of roots and will also help the plants to form strong stems. How often you fertilize your plants will be determined by the requirements of your plants and the type of fertilizer that you are using on your plants. Just follow the directions on the package.
Once the planting season has arrived, you will need to get your plants acclimated to being outside. Your plants will need to get use to being out in the sun and wind. This process of getting the plants acclimated is called hardening off the plants. You do this by putting the plants outside for 10 minutes of so the first day and then bringing the plants back inside. Each day you will be increasing the amount of time the plants spend outside. Once the plants are outside for say 4 hours at a time, you should be able to plant them in the garden. You will need to remember that many of your plants could be killed by a frost. If you have timed things right, you will be in the warm days and nights of May. However, if the temperatures are going to get cold, you may have to cover the plants at night.
Well that’s a quick overview of how to start plants from seeds. We carry, in our store, all the things that I have mentioned. As always, if you have questions, you can stop by the store.