We will kick off this year’s growing season soon. I have been planning and ordering seeds for weeks. A few seeds have been started already; those hardy annuals that will actually be planted out in the garden around March 1 give or take a day. But the big push for a spring and summer full of flowers and vegetables all begins for us mid-March. We follow a weekly seed starting schedule starting all the tender-annual plants that will produce like mad all season long.
I absolutely love this time before the harvest season gets going and I can linger in the plant room. Watering, rustling the seedlings to help them grow up strong, and I find myself just looking and watching. One of my favorite lines from our community folk operas I was involved in years past (before farming) was about the calming and satisfying effects of being in the presences of cows. I couldn’t agree more.
The only thing I enjoy more than tending baby plants is sharing with others how they can do the same. Following is a reprint of tips that may help.
Avoid these common seed-starting mistakes:
- Starting too early: For most of us it is too early to start warm-season tender annuals such as, zinnias, cockscomb, sunflowers, etc. February is the time to start cool-season hardy annuals—snapdragons, sweet Williams, spinach, beets, lettuce, and lots of other candidates. These cool-season lovers can be planted as soon as the soil can be worked—meaning dry enough. Iti s better to start on the later side of time to have a younger healthier transplant then an older overgrown one.
- Seeds are dead when you start: Be sure your seeds are viable. Often times seeds stored in warm humid conditions, gathered from one’s own garden incorrectly or purchased from a retail source that have stored incorrectly (hot warehouses, etc.) have died. I experienced this one year long ago with seeds purchased from a local source, good brand, easy seeds—all dead when I brought home. If in question, germinate test the seeds before you waste time. Click here for how-to. http://www.webgrower.com/information/seed_germination.html
- Planting seeds directly out in garden when they prefer to be started indoors: Every seed has a preferred method of starting life. This translates into the easiest and most successful way for seeds to sprout and grow into a plant. If you don’t know which way the seed you have prefers, Google the name of the seed with “sowing instructions”.
- Skipping a seedling heat mat: Perhaps the leading cause of poor sprouting and survival of seedlings indoors is cool soil. Most seeds sprout at 75 to 85 degrees. Soil temperature runs approximately 15 to 20 degrees cooler than the surrounding room temperature. If your house temperature hoovers at 70 degrees that means that the soil is around 55 degrees. A seedling heat mats is a small investment when you consider your efforts and how many seeds you are losing.
- No grow light: Baby plants need 16 hours a day to grow into a healthy transplant. We don’t have 16 hours of natural sunlight a day. When plants don’t get enough light they start stretching and looking for it. This is the cause of tall lanky plants; they stretch as they search for light. Short stocky plants out produce tall lanky plants, are more resistant to disease and pests and just healthier all around.
I hope this helps clears the way to a successful seed-starting year!
Lisa Mason Ziegler is a commercial cut-flower farmer in Newport News, Virginia; she lectures and writes about organic and sustainable gardening. You can email Lisa at firstname.lastname@example.org , call her at 757-877-7159 or visit her website www.shoptgw.com .
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