Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Introduction to Seed Planting 101

Calypso Bean Seedlings
We all have planted seeds at some point in our lives. I’m talking about the ones you buy in little packets at the grocery or a local garden center… (not the abstract ones you hope the recipient will somehow pick up on as they walk away).  After years of thinking I should be able to do this in a flash of the reflected light in my living room, I came to learn I didn’t have a clue as to what I thought I was doing!  A friend on an organic farm in Oregon actually sent me a whole ‘how to’ package with seeds, on what to do a few years ago. Barb & I were talking basic lettuce then.  Within a month, I claimed first rights for the brown thumb club in seed starting.  Finally, I achieved success at it this year!  I’ve actually germinated some seedlings that will make their way into my garden in the weeks ahead.  Actually, I have seen the light, been to the Baker Seeds west coast store in Petaluma, gotten my shelves, lights, soil and containers all set and I’m now on my way to bigger things … like how to keep the dog away from sampling sugar pea seedlings.  She actually sampled 4-5, so I know even she was appreciating my successful efforts!

Here are the tips I’ve learned this past winter.  I’ve decided that my part sun/part shade yard will benefit best from strong seedlings I start indoors.  It’s late for many larger veggies or flower seedlings, but basic cool weather crops are still good to sow.  You may know most of the following already, but remember, I have many mistakes to my credit, from which I’m finally learning! 

1)      Know the difference between heirloom and hybrid seeds and plan your garden layouts accordingly to avoid high potential of cross pollination.
2)      Decide on veggies or flowers. Remember that pollinators are attracted to nice flowers too!!
3)      Watch the calendar and cross reference to dates on back of seed packets.  We have a short growing season here at altitude (80 day average). Remember that “days to harvest” usually
means from the date you set the seedling in the ground.
4)      Be careful of soil you use. Those baby seeds need all the help they can get to grow and
outside soil isn’t the best thing to begin with.  The goal is to nurture a healthy root structure
for the seedling.  You can fertilize later as seeds germinate and begin to grow.
I use the standard plastic 6 pack and tray as containers. It’s easier for watering.  Use a small spout on your watering can. Some water from the bottom tray, some directly on soil.  Keep soil moist but once seeds germinate be aware of overwatering. CAUTION … dampening off is all too easy in tender young sprouts.

The dreaded damping off

5)      Once you plant seeds, direct light and warmth are crucial. Beware of drafts from cold windows. Grow lights help keep soil warm. I’ve found this winter that keeping the light 1-2” above the seedling is good until it’s about an inch high or so.  Then it’s time to start introducing natural light.
6)      Beware of house plant insects if you’ve got your seedlings inside. Soil fungus gnats and whitefly may become prime culprits for young growth.

I started small container tomatoes in January and they are now about 6” high.  My flat leaf Italian parsley was started at the same time and I believe a good parsley/basil pesto on a pasta salad is in order shortly!  One can also increase container size as the seedling grows to encourage strong root growth.  The bottom line … everyone has their own secrets about good seeds and how to start them here at altitude.  Don’t be afraid to jump into the mix and see what you can do with your family members this summer!

Getting ready for the great outdoors

Coming soon the High Altitude Seed Bank/Exchange being started by Jefferson County master gardeners.  Watch for further details.

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