Monday, May 6, 2013

Starting Seeds via Trial and Error

With this amazing stretch of warm weather the garden has been abuzz with a flurry of activity. I have been getting many questions about seed starting and planting starts outdoors, I started my own seedlings this year using a tiny kitchen counter garden grow light set up. 

There are many reasons why you might start your own seeds, I am growing a variety of basil from Italy and the starts are not available here. Here is a detailed description of how I am going about things.

 I always begin with peat or coco pellets when I start my seedlings.  They are flat and hard when you get them but then after you add warm water, a lot of warm water, they plump right up and are ready for your seeds.  I poke a tiny hole in the pellet with a bamboo BBQ skewer, a cheap and invaluable garden implement, then place 2-3 seeds in the hole and cover them up again (with said skewer.)  I usually put the plastic dome on the plastic seed flat until the seeds germinate then I remove the dome so I can move the lights down within 1-2 inches of the pellets.  (WARNING!  Do not fill your plastic flat with 48 pellets and place seeds in all of them, (I did this). I ended up with too many seedlings and not enough space on the kitchen counter under the lights for them all.) I then learned my lesson and only planted 1 row of seeds.

When you pick up the pellets and see that the roots are beginning to grow through the bottom, then it is time to place them in a 4 inch pot but before I do this, I look at my seedlings and snip off all but the healthiest ones.  Usually this leaves 1-2 small plants per pellet. Next,  fill a small pot with soil about 2/3 of the way, place the pellet inside and then fill the remaining space with soil.  Keep the seedlings watered and when they grow their first set of true leaves, fertilize them with a fish emulsion or a fish and kelp emulsion that is high in nitrogen.  Feed them at half strength once a week.

After your seedlings have grown and are ready to put outside, you must 'harden them off'. This means you must slowly acclimate them to living outside instead of in your comfy climate controlled home.  Remember, they have never felt wind, the hot sun or cold nights.  If you place them outside without hardening them off, they might not make it.  I harden my seedlings off in a cold frame on my deck.  They sit out there for 1-2 weeks or until they danger of frost has passed. I open the top in the day and close it at night to keep them warm.  If you plant cool season plants, you still must harden them off buy many greens can take some cold and frosty nights. (lettuce, peas, greens, etc...)  Root crops are best seeded straight into the ground.

If you do not have a cold frame, you can place them outside for 1 hour a day the first day then gradually increase the time they spend outside until they are out of doors 24/7.  This process can take 7-10 days (10 days to be on the safe side) depending on what plants you are growing.

Alas, I damaged a few of my seedlings when I forgot to open the cold frame top one warm day.  The sun beat down on them in there and almost baked them all.  Their poor sunburned leaves look fried.  I will nurse them carefully in the hopes I can trim off the burned leaves in a week or so.

In about two weeks all my basil starts should be hardened off enough to begin their new lives outside at my p-patch!  Remember the best time to plant transplants or starts outside is when it is rainy or cloudy.  (TIP:  Dig your planting hole, fill the hole with water, when the water drains away, plant your start, and water again.)

I hope to have a bountiful basil harvest this summer.


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