By Harvey D. Goodman
Let’s think spring! Enough winter projects! Now is the time to select packets of seeds for spring and summer planting and begin the process of seedling development.
Aside from the obvious availability of seedlings in catalogues and nurseries, growing your own seedlings is fun, educational and rewarding (not to dismiss cheaper).
If you are a beginning seed starter or even an individual with a modicum of experience, start with “easy seeds.” This grouping is quick to germinate and does not require a great deal of maintenance. Some examples include: tomato, marigold, zinnia, sunflower, coleus, basil, nasturtium and cosmos. These seed types are readily available and relatively inexpensive.
You can start your seeds in almost any type of container as long as it is at least 2 inches to 3 inches deep and has some drainage holes. There are many different seed-starting containers on the market, including peat flats, jiffy pellets and plastic flats with individual growing cells. The former two examples are unique because once the seeds germinate the entire pot can be placed into the soil.
To provide optimum growing conditions and to avoid disease and insect problems, seeds should be started in a soiless growing mix, not in garden soil. A good soiless mixture is a moist and spongy blend of sphagnum moss, vermiculite and perlite. The finer the texture, the better.
You can purchase a ready-mixed blend or mix your own using one-third vermiculite, one-third perlite and one-third sphagnum moss.
Soiless mixtures are excellent for starting the germination process, but they contain few, if any, nutrients. You will need to start feeding the seedlings with a weak fertilizer solution soon after germination. Continue the feeding process on a weekly basis until you are ready to transplant them into your garden.
Once the seedlings are up and growing, you may wish to transplant them into a coarser growing medium as a way to acclimate them before placement in garden soil. A good mixture may include one-third compost or potting soil, one-third vermiculite or perlite, and one-third sphagnum moss. This mixture will also provide the plant with some of the basic soil nutrients, thus preparing them for life in your garden.
After several weeks you should transplant the seedlings into larger containers containing a blend of compost, potting soil and garden soil. This mixture allows the plant roots to establish better anchorage, permits them to absorb water and nutrients and gets them accustomed to the bacteria and other organisms they will soon experience in the garden.
One more note of caution: Check the back of the seed packet to find the recommended seed starting times. For instance, some seeds, such as celery and leeks, need to be started 12 weeks before they are transplanted into the garden. Others, including cucumbers and sunflowers, need only three to four weeks. Planting different varieties of seeds will probably require scheduling to permit planting at an appropriate time.
There is much more to come — but this is enough to get started. Watch for upcoming columns dealing with the transplanting process, temperature, light, moisture, air and humidity, feeding and troubleshooting.
Questions or concerns about gardening and houseplants may be directed by e-mail to Harvey.Goodman@att.net.