Planting for the future

Starting Seeds
Young seedlings
People often ask: why go to the trouble to plant seeds? Plant plugs are available in nurseries and big box stores. Yet there are reasons to plant. The most common one is that you can then grow varieties that you otherwise would not get. Recently, heirloom seeds have become really popular. Heirlooms often have unique qualities that make them desirable. Last year, I tried the variety Brandywine Pink which turned out to be a winner – pinkish skin but deep red, juicy flesh, large and prolific too.

Many plants are simply not easily available in stores. I enjoy growing Swiss Chard for its ornamental leaves that do well in salads and cooked in stir fry’s or soups – these are rarely available in stores and are so easy to grow from seed.

What do you need?
Once your seeds have arrived, all you need is seed starting containers and seed starting mix. You can use a seed starting tray, or any other container – food take-out containers and egg cartons come to mind. The seed starting mix is preferred rather than potting soil because it is finer. First make sure to dampen it – at least an hour before you plan to use it. Then fill the tray, make a little dent in the soil, drop your seeds in and cover. The seed should be placed at a depth double its size. Do remember to spritz with water and cover. Many seeds need light for germination, so cover with something that lets light in. Place just inches below a source of light. Many folks use the lights in their kitchens under cabinets, if you do not want to set up a light source. Check every few days – most seeds take 1-3 weeks to germinate.

The truly best part of this endeavor is seeing young sprouts. The germination of seeds reveals again the magic that a little soil, water and light can do. As soon as seeds sprout, you need to remove the cover. The young seedlings need light. Make sure the source of light is just very close to the sprouts.

Wait for the leaves to be visible and strong before transplanting. Fill small pots with potting soil. Make sure to dampen well. Make a hole in the medium with a pencil or small stick. Gently pick up the seedling, using a pencil or small stick. I use the sharp end of the plastic label. Drop seedling into the hole and gently firm soil around. Spitz with water. Make sure seedling stay damp but not wet. Too much water encourages damping off which can decimate your seedlings. Damping off is caused by fungi which like cool and wet conditions.
As the seedlings grow, you can fertilize with water soluble fertilizer but only at half strength. Make sure the light source is just a few inches above seedlings all along for optimal growth. Another tip; hold the seedling by its leaves. If you lose a leaf, another one can grow – but a plant has only one stalk!

Hardening off
Seedlings need to be transitioned gradually to the outdoors. So before planting outside, on a still day, take the seedlings tray out to the garden and place under a tree. Bring them back indoors at night. Do this for a week. This makes them ready for the outdoors.

Planting Time
Whether planting in the ground or in a container, prepare the site well. Plant the seedling to the right depth – the depth that it was in its pot. Firm around and water well. Soon you will have the flowers or vegetables or fruits of your labor – and you can be proud that you started from scratch – from just a tiny seed.