Starting tiny seeds indoorsIf spring weather in your area tends to be cold and wet you may want to get a head start with tender plants such as tomatoes and peppers, by starting them indoors.
This two-step method of seed starting protects the seedlings from possible attack by other living organisms and fowl weather until they become established. Also, sowing fine seeds and planting and germinating small seeds indoors is best accomplished by using this two-step seed starting method.
Carefully plan your planting time. It will take about two months for the seedlings to mature enough so you can set them outside.
|Be sure not to start seeds too early, if you do the seedlings will be leggy and root bound when planting weather and the proper moon phase arrives. The following method of starting seeds is the one most commonly used by the seasoned organic gardener.
Step One - Starting your plants from seed
Sow seeds in a flat or shallow pan of vermiculite or other light soil mix. Be sure the medium is thoroughly damp before seeding. Fill the flat with the soil mix until it is 1/2 inch from the top. To smooth out the surface, press down lightly using a piece of board.
Before planting the seed, check the package directions for recommended planting depth. You can cut planting furrows as shown or scatter the seeds on the surface and sift a layer of soil on top then water lightly.
The best way to provide the proper water requirements for the germination of seeds is to place the container in a sink or tub, add water to just below the seed level, and allow the soil to soak up the moisture until it is saturated. Drain the tub and let the container stand until well drained.
Slip the flat into a plastic bag and keep at about 75°. No additional water is necessary until after seedlings appear, and then only enough to keep the medium damp, not soaking wet.
In order to facilitate the sowing of very small seeds you can mix them with sand in a saltshaker or flour sifter. Sprinkling them across the growing medium, in this way, will ensure a more even distribution.
After six days, begin checking daily for signs of germination. When the first sprouts appear put the container into artificial light or filtered sun. Be careful as too much sunlight can cause damage to the tiny plants. Once the bulk of the seeds in the flat has germinated the time has come to give them a new home.
If your seedlings suddenly wilt and die they are probably infected with fungi and are experiencing a condition called damping-off. Once the plants have wilted there is no way to save them. Do not overwater your seedlings and space them evenly, in a sterile growing medium, avoiding overcrowding. Also, to discourage the fungi that causes damping-off, use a mild solution of chamomiles tea and apply it lightly to the growing bed.
Step Two - Transplanting your seedlings
When the seedlings have developed two sets of true leaves, transplant them to 2-inch pots filled with moist planting mix. (i.e. be sure to use a growing medium that can provide food for the developing plants, such as compost or an organic fertilizer)
Loosen the soil around each plant, gently grasp one of the leaves, and carefully pull out the seedling. Use a pencil or stick to poke a hole in the new planting mix, drop in the seedling, and firm the soil around it. Keep the plants in the shade a day or two, then move them into the light again until ready to set out permanently.
Put the pots on a tray in a plastic bag until the plants are 4" to 6" high and ready for hardening-off. Be sure to provide enough head room for the plants to grow. Wire wickets, placed as shown in the illustration, will do nicely. Also, the use of a cold frame will make the job of hardening-off a whole lot easier.
Hardening off your transplantsThe ideal transplants, when just right for hardening-off, are stockypreferably wider than they are high; have 4 to 6 true leaves; and do not yet have flowers or flower buds. Once the plants have reached this point, and the weather and the dates are correct, its time to harden them off.