Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Starting Your Seedlings

What You Need To Get Your First Seeds Growing















































To be completely self-sufficient in gardening, you should start your plants directly from seeds you have saved from previous plants, or seeds you have purchased. Buying seedlings in flats from the hardware or garden store not only becomes costly, but a lot of times these plants are not particularly healthy, and have been exposed to harmful chemical fertilizers that are toxic for you to ingest. A lot of your plants can be started indoors before transplanting them safely outside. They need a nice warm and moist soil to germinate and grow in during this fragile stage.

How To Start

After you have organized yourself on what you are going to plant, and thrown out expired seeds and replaced as needed, you can then go through your seeds and decide what you want to plant first indoors. It’s a good idea to start planting your seeds anywhere from 2-3 months before putting them in your garden bed. For those of you living in cooler climates with harsh winter seasons, this makes a good way to remedy those cabin fever blues. Think spring and growth and what you want your garden to look like come warmer months. With just a warm windowsill, even in the dead of winter, your seeds can germinate into healthy, productive seedlings.



What To Plant Seeds In



Start your seedlings in either purchased flats, or if you are like myself, and want to save a buck, you can use regular household items. Milk cartons, tin cans, or cardboard boxes can be used to first get the seeds going. Make sure you puncture holes in the bottoms of all your seed containers to allow moisture to drain out and to prevent your seeds from molding. Cardboard boxes get soaked quick so start your seedlings and once their first leaves have sprouted, transplant to other containers.



Keeping Them Warm and Moist Indoors



Once your seeds are planted according to their instructions, place them in a sunny windowsill and cover each of them with clear plastic. You can use plastic sandwich baggies, kitchen plastic wrap, or any left over scraps of clear tarp you may have lying around. This will allow light to come in, trap the heat and the moisture from the soil, and promote solid germination of your plants. Make sure that once your seeds get to the same height of your plastic covering, that you either lift the plastic to be higher or remove it completely. If they grow too big they can literally turn to green slime as they start to decompose against the plastic covering with all the heat and moisture. Lightly water every other day or as needed. A small spray bottle is an effective tool. This way your seeds won’t be pushed up to the surface before they have had a chance to germinate, and you won’t disturb their root systems that are just starting to develop.



Transplanting Your Seedlings Outside



First if you live in a cooler climate, you will need to harden your plants off before they can be fully planted outside. What this means is that you set your containers outside at the warmest point of the day on either your deck or front lawn for a few hours. Then gradually day-by-day you extend the time they are outside so that they adjust to being outdoors during chilly nights and cooler temps during the day. This prevents your new seedlings from going into shock from the drastic change in temperature.



If you live in an area that deals with winter and bitter frosts just before spring, you can use devices called Cold Frames to help your plants brave the cold. This is nothing more than a wooden framed box with glass that acts like a small greenhouse. See the next chapter on Protecting Your Plants From the Elements for more information on different ways to face Mother Nature.



When your plants have finished adjusting to the outdoor temps, then you can transplant them into your garden. The best time to do this is on a cloudy rainy day. Make sure the frost is completely over in your area before transplanting.



If you are nervous about putting everything you have slaved to raise from seed, right in the garden bed where a freak frost might wipe them out, you can set out a sampling first. Take one or two plants of each variety and plant them in their designated beds. See how they survive being outside and you will be able to gage what to do with the rest of your plants.



When first transplanting from your containers, make sure you gently loosen the seedlings from their encasements so as not to damage their roots. Keep some of the original soil with the plant as it is moved to its new home, to prevent shock.



Give these newly moved plants a good watering and make sure that you have given them adequate room to spread out when they grow to maturity. For example, tomato plants will need a decent amount of space between each other as they spread out into fuller bushes.




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