Get a head start on the garden with seed starting

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By Jeneen Wiche


Starting seeds indoors turns out to be a necessary skill if you want success with some crops.

A few need a bit of a head start in order to reach maturity at the right time for Kentuckiana gardens.  Other considerations include ideal growing conditions.

Cabbage, for example, can be started early so you can set them out as plants as soon as possible.  The goal is to get an early harvest before our summer temperatures soar and the plants bolt and get bitter.  

Summer crops can get a head start, too; they require warm soil temperatures to germinate, which can be achieved indoors. So things like tomatoes, pepper, eggplant will produce earlier if set out as seedlings after our frost free date.

Check out the back of your seed packet for the days to maturity information. This will tell you how soon to start crops indoors. 

The tools for starting seeds indoors include shallow containers (or a shallow flat with drainage holes), a sterile growing medium like a 50-50 mix of vermiculite and peat moss, some clear plastic and a spray bottle.

For the second phase you’ll need some small containers and potting soil when the seedlings are ready for their first transplant.  I typically use small containers left over from store-bought plants, but you can also purchase seed starting kits at garden-supply stores. 

I use large, shallow flats (like what you would get if you bought a flat of pansies in the fall) to start seeds in, so I will use this method as the example.

Moisten your germinating mix and fill the flat; take a pencil and make several shallow furrows in the mix; drop your seeds in (check planting depth on the seed packet, some seeds need light to germinate, so you do not want to cover them with your germinating mixture); gently moisten again with your spray bottle and cover with a plastic hood or homemade tent (if you prefer the homemade version, use pop sickle sticks to support your tent).

The plastic tent increases the relative humidity and moderates the soil moisture as the seeds germinate.  Open the tent daily to see if more moisture is needed, mist accordingly, using your spray bottle.  Consistency is key for both moisture and warmth.

Seeds need varying degrees of warmth to germinate so provide some sort of heat source.   You don’t want to cook your seeds, just keep them on the warm side.

Ideally use a heating pad that is designed for seed-starting; otherwise find a warm location under fluorescent lights or in a south-facing window.

Don’t put them by the heat register, this is an inconsistent source of warmth and dries the seedlings out. 

Light is necessary, too. If you do not have a bright window for your tray, then use grow lights.  Florescent grow lights are ideal because they provide even, overhead light so your seedlings will more likely grow stout and straight.  You can adjust the level and duration the lights are on each day which allows for more control.

Once your seedlings emerge, remove your plastic covering and begin to water the tray from the bottom to maintain even moisture (not soggy).  Once the second set of true leaves form (those that are the shape that you associate with the plant) your adolescent seedlings are ready to be transplanted into their own pot.

Carefully remove the seedlings from the tray and transplant them into small, individual pots filled with moistened transplant mix; return them to their light source (if they are in a window give them a quarter turn every day so they grow straight).

Continue to water your transplants from the bottom when needed, adding some diluted fish emulsion fertilizer once a week.

Once the outdoor conditions are right, acclimate your plants to the outdoors.  Put them outside in the shade, first, gradually moving them into the sunlight; they will be ready to plant in the garden in about a week.