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Get Ready - Grow

---Anne K Moore March 6, 2009---
Photos by Anne K Moore

February & March are the months for getting a head start on growing garden plants from seed.  Colder climate gardeners can wait until late March or April to start their seeds indoors.

Seeds are so much friendlier to the gardener's wallet.  In these times of tight money, growing vegetables and flowers from seed is the best way to save money while growing a garden.

You can find seeds from nationally known seed companies at many local garden centers.  If you want to grow special varieties, new releases, or just be able to get the seeds in advance of when you need to plant, look to the seed catalogs.  Catalogs not only come in the mail.  The internet is well stocked with pages of bounty, too.

Gather the seed growing paraphernalia you will need:

-       Trays that hold water.

-       Small pots with drainage holes in the bottom. 

-       Plastic wrap or plastic domes to cover the pots.

-       Soil-less potting mix.

-       Seeds

-       A mist bottle.

-       A watering can with a spout.

-       A warm spot indoors.

-       Bright light, from either a window or fluorescent lights.

Fill the pots with seed starting soil-less mix almost to the top.  Sow the seeds in the pots to the depth called for on the seed packet. 

Pay special attention to the directions.  Some seeds need light to germinate, so they should not be covered with the soil-less mix.  Other seeds have heavy coatings and should be soaked or nicked with a knife to get them to germinate quicker.

Tap the pots on the tabletop lightly to settle the soil-less mix.  Mist the top of the planted medium with water so that the top is wet.  Cover the top of the pots with plastic. 

Place the planted pots into the tray.  Add water to the tray so that it is above the level of the pot drainage holes.  Place all in a warm spot.  The top of a refrigerator is often warm enough.  You can also purchase a heat mat.  Bottom heat often speeds up the sprouting of seed.

Check the pots daily for signs of life.  Don't let them dry out.  As soon as the seedlings emerge, remove the plastic. 

Now let just the top of the soil dry out before you water again – BUT- do not water from the top.  Only add water to the tray beneath the pots and let the mix soak it up from the bottom.  Don't allow the pots to stand in water.  Add water, then in an hour or so, if not all the water has been soaked up, dump out what's left in the tray. 

Damping off is a particular problem with seedlings that are kept too wet.  You can find corn gluten at better garden centers to sprinkle on top of the soil.  This will inhibit the growth of the fungus that causes damping off disease.

When the seedlings are up and growing, move the seedlings either to bright light, a sunny window or under fluorescent lights.  If they get long and spindly, they are not getting enough light.  Move them closer to the light source. 

When there are 4 leaves on the plants, add water-soluble fertilizer to the water tray, diluted to half the strength recommended on the label.  Smart Tea Quality Grow (TM) fertilizer or Smart Bio-FishGro (TM) fish emulsion fertilizer are both organic products from Smart World Organics Inc., one of the supporters of GardenSMART. 

As the weather warms up, transplant the little plants into larger pots.  This allows their root systems to grow.  This step improves their chance of survival.  Transplants do better than plants put into the garden directly from their seedling trays. 

Give the plants a little more sun and air movement every day until they are acclimated to the outdoors.  Pay special attention to watering.  Do not let the little ones dry out or wilt.

Buy seeds from reputable companies.  If you grow old favorites, you will get more seed for your money.  Do try something new, even though it might be a little more costly. 

I tried the new hybrid eggplant, Hansel, and was impressed with its vigor and ease of growing.  I used it in a container with flowers.  Hansel is ornamental enough, with its purple flowers and fruit, to use this way.  Hansel's sister, a white hybrid called Gretel, joins the garden ranks this year.  Both are All America Selections (AAS) winners.

I'm going to try Gretel, but she will have to go a ways to out-perform Hansel.  Grow your own first choices from seed and add at least one new vegetable or flower to your garden.  That tiny seed could very well grow a new family favorite.

 

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