Seed Starting, Finale. Plant Details

The wonder of spring and summer edibles begins now!

The wonder of spring and summer edibles begins now!

BASIL:

Start basil seeds in a sterile, fluffy, soilless mix of your choice. It’s best to make your flats four to six inches deep to insure that the plants have plenty of room to spread out as they grow.

When planting, make sure that your soil is evenly moist before introducing the seeds. Then, lightly disturb the first quarter inch of the soil surface with a fork, or your fingertips. Next, broadcast the seeds either at random, or in rows depending on your personal preference. I like to spread them in alternating rows so that they have lots of room, and are relatively even after they are thinned. This will make life easier when it comes time to transplant a larger flat.

Basil seeds are particular when it comes to their germination environment in that they like it warm, humid, and dark. The darkness is important up until the seeds first germinate, then they need to be moved as quickly as possible to a bright window. From this point on, you will treat your new basil plants as you would any other seedlings, gradually getting them ready for outdoor growth, and transplanting them into larger pots or flats as they grow.

TOMATOES:

Tomato seeds like to be planted about a ¼ inch deep in their flats. To do this, take a pencil, and draw a ¼ inch deep trough in the surface of the soil. Then set seeds about a half inch apart. Given adequate soil warmth and moisture, tomatoes should germinate with 7-10 days.

As soon as the seedlings start to break the surface, it is important to provide very bright light so that they grow strong and stocky stems supporting bright green leaves. Weak, stretched out stems and pale leaves are all symptoms of inadequate light, and will result in stunted plants. Thin out week plants, and transplant the rest into four inch pots once all of your seedlings have developed their their first sets of true leaves.

Tip: Tomatoes like it hot and humid, so utilizing a humidity dome can insure timely germination, and vigorous growth.

EGGPLANTS:

Provided that they receive enough moisture and warmth (80-85 F.), eggplants should germinate in 7-14 days. Because they require such high temperatures, I strongly recommend using a heating mat and humidity dome to germinate these seeds.

Make sure to warm and moisten your seed starting mix before sowing seeds, as this will give them a head start. Once the mix is hot and moist, sow seeds on the surface, and provide a very light dusting of potting mix on top. Be sure not to cover your seeds completely, as they benefit from light during the germination process. Once germination has been achieved, bright light needs to be provided right away. In terms of light, eggplants can be treated the same as you would tomatoes. Gradually harden off your seedlings, and transplant once all starts have two sets of true leaves.

PEPPERS:

Bell and sweet peppers- Bell and sweet peppers can be germinated in much the same way as tomatoes. Sow seeds on the surface of your sterile mix, and lightly sprinkle mix on top to provide about 60% coverage. Like eggplants, peppers need light to germinate successfully. Thin out week seedlings, and transplant into 4 inch pots once each start has two or three pairs of true leaves.

Spicy peppers- Speaking generally, the hotter the pepper, the more heat it will require to germinate. Treat the seeds of hotter peppers, such as ghost and scorpion peppers much as you would treat those of eggplant. Sow on surface, providing 40-60% coverage, and maintain high heat and moisture levels until the seedlings have developed their “seed leaves”, then gradually harden off over a week’s time. Transplant to four inch pots once all starts have two or three pairs of true leaves.

Tip: Since the hottest peppers tend to have low germination rates, it is worth growing these rare peppers in large pots throughout their lives. Note that peppers in general get much larger over years of growth than they do when grown as annuals, and may require winter pruning to fit in your home or greenhouse. Peppers appreciate warm temperatures with plenty of water and food throughout the growing season. Most peppers will benefit from a winter dormancy in which they will lose their leaves. During this time, you can cut back on the water to just a few times a month, provided that the plants are kept in a warm and humid environment.

Starting garden plants from seed is a very important, and fun skill for the gardener to have. In addition to saving you money on plants, starting your own seeds will give you access to a far greater variety of delicious edibles than you will ever find at your local nursery. As you become more adept at seed starting, you will gain an in-depth knowledge of what your plants need to survive and thrive in a garden setting, making you a happier, and more successful gardener. I hope that this article has answered your questions, and shed some light on the finer points of starting garden plants from seed.

Seed Starting Continued

Part 2 in our Seed Starting Series!

Rise and shine little buddies!

Rise and shine little buddies!

 

Light:

Though most seeds will germinate in poor to no light, it is very important to provide bright light as soon as you see that the seeds have sprouted. Providing bright light early on in a seedling’s life insures that the plant develops healthy, compact growth with high levels of chlorophyll in the leaves.

A few indicators of inadequate light include stretched out, pale plants growing at odd angles, and down the line, these plants will fail to thrive when planted out. Sunlight provided in a greenhouse setting is typically adequate in Texas, but northern regions should provide supplemental light. If starting seeds indoors, using fluorescent lights, make sure that your lights are about six inches above your seedlings, and keep that distance as they grow. 12-14 hours of light per day should be enough to get your plants started. Check on your plants often, as they will grow at an incredible rate once they germinate. If you notice that your lights are burning the leaves of your seedlings, just raise the lights another couple of inches away and keep your plants well watered as they recover.

Flats and trays:

Now that you know what it takes to start your own plants from seed, it’s time to talk about what kind of container you want to use for starting your seeds. There are simple plastic trays available at garden stores which will work great for germination, as well as plastic six pack pots of many shapes and sizes. One drawback to these trays is that they are often too shallow to accommodate much expansion after the first burst of growth. One of the best options is a wooden flat, which can be easily made out of cedar, cypress, or another rot resistant wood.

You can also buy wooden seed starting flats at many garden stores. The benefit of wooden flats is that they are often deeper than their plastic counterparts, giving your seedlings much more room to grow, and preventing them from becoming root bound. Either way, as your seedlings grow, you will want to transplant them into four inch pots once they have two or three true leaves and are a few inches tall. In the next section, I will talk about the process of thinning and transplanting your seedlings once they outgrow the germination flats.

Thinning and transplanting:

When starting garden plants from seed, you should always plant at least twice as many seeds as the number of plants we want for our garden. This insures that you will be able to choose the strongest, most robust seedlings with the best chances of producing once mature. This means that there are seedlings which don’t make the cut, and must be thinned out to give the prefered plants room to grow before transplanting.

Thinning should happen once the first set of “true” leaves are beginning to emerge. By then you should be able to tell which plants are growing at the fastest rate, and which ones are failing to thrive. To thin your seedlings, pinch the week plants off at soil level instead of pulling them out. This avoids any danger of damaging the developing roots of your chosen plants. Thin enough that each plant has an inch or so of space in which to grow. After thinning, gently mist the leaves and soil with a dilute solution of liquid seaweed, fish emulsion, or liquid fertilizer of your choice.

Once your seedlings have been thinned, give them a couple more weeks of growth in their flats before transplanting. During this time your plants will benefit from bi-weekly foliar feeding as mentioned above.

When your new plants have a couple sets of true leaves, and are two to three inches tall, it is time to transplant them into four inch pots. This is an easy process, but it does require some finesse, so be gentle with your plants until you get the hang of the technique. When transplanting from flats:
I like to use a fork to carefully loosen the soil around each stem, making sure to leave as many of the roots intact as possible.

  • Fill a four inch pot most of the way up with a fluffy mix of enriched potting soil and coconut coir, leaving enough room for your seedling’s roots to extend without too much bending.
  • Hold the plant by the stem so that the roots are a quarter inch below the top of the pot, and gently fill in around the roots, tamping down the soil lightly to fill any air pockets.
  • Sprinkle a little bit of loose soil on top
  • Set in a soaking tray while you transplant the rest.
  • After you have transplanted all your seedlings, be sure to feed your seedlings
  • Maintain consistent moisture to ensure that they bounce back from the inevitable root damage of potting.

Now it’s time to sit back, and watch as your seedlings grow. Keep a steady supply of moisture, and feed twice a week with a dilute solution of liquid fertilizer.

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