Friday, January 27, 2017

Eight Mondays till Spring

Someone I heard the other day said it is only eight Mondays until the spring equinox (March 20). You know what that means...the garden get ready stage will soon be replaced with "I'll be outside, call me when lunch is ready." I'm exaggerating of one fixes my lunch! 

What is the readiness plan? Is it too early to start seeds indoors?  What can be planted? Are there any downsides to early seeding? How do I seed, I'm just getting started? Any tips? Do I needy expensive lighting and equipment? "My you ask a lot of questions. Glad you asked, I enjoy answering them."

FIRST - order your seeds or purchase from local garden centers now, no more delays. If ordered immediately they'll probably arrive the Monday after the Super Bowl, perfect.  

SECOND - yes, some seeds can be started this early in late January. The list includes plants that take longer to grow indoors (~10 -12 weeks) before they are ready to be transplanted outside. Try as I might this list may not include every plant that can be started this early.  Soon I'll post a blog with a longer list of popular seeds to start indoors.
  • Cool-season vegetable and herb seeds includes: artichokes, celery, celeriac, onion and leek, parsley. 
  • Ornamental annuals includes: pennisetum grass, lisianthus (seeding tips), snapdragons, stock, verbena, pansies/viola, geranium, wax begonia, dusty miller, heliotrope, petunia, lobelia, ornamental peppers.
  • Perennials include: delphinium, foxglove, dianthus, echinacea (coneflower), eryngium (sea holly), tanacetum (feverfew), rudbeckia (Black-eyed Susan), viola, yarrow, carnation (tender perennial) bee balm (tender perennial), sweet william (biennial).
THIRD - the downsides to seeding plants too early. Not the ones listed above, they need the extra weeks to grow:
  • Light - if you're depending on using a sunny window for your seed trays, in late January we only have about nine to ten hours of sunlight. Lack of enough light results in spindly, weak seedlings. And if they are too close to the window they won't like the chill. For the plants listed above it is advisable to use grow lights and not windows for the light source.
  • Light under Lights: if you're growing seedlings three inches from the light bulbs and they are doing well, then that's good. But what happens to the plants when they're transplant size and ready to go outside and it's still mid-March and too cold for them? You can continue potting them up, watering and fertilizing regularly (don't take any long trips). Plants like tomatoes will get very leggy if growing under lights too long indoors. Play it safe with warm-season crops like peppers, tomatoes and eggplant, start them by seed (mid to late March) which is 4-6 weeks before transplanting them outdoors. Peppers can use a couple extra weeks of indoor growth so they can be started earlier in March. Again, look for my seed timing chart coming soon.
FOURTH - seed starting for beginners - these reputable links are short, easy primers on seed starting.

Starting Seeds Indoors

Planting Seeds Indoors Video

FIFTH Seed starting Tips: 
  • Test your seed viability if the packet is a few years old. Scatter about ten of the seeds on a damp paper towel. Fold and put in a plastic bag (tie) near a sunny window. If less than half the seeds have sprouted after ten days, buy new seeds. 
  • In addition to store bought seed trays and kits, don't overlook items from home - yogurt cups, butter tubs, egg cartons, plastic lettuce packages, even wooden boxes that clementines are sold in. Just be sure to sterilize them well - which means after cleaning with soap and water, wipe them with hydrogen peroxide or a 10% bleach solution. 
  • Poke or drill drainage holes in all containers.
  • Use deep - at least 6-inch pots for Spanish onions seeds.
  • Use a label system for each plant or tray. You think you'll remember, but things happen. Buy a permanent marker and use store bought sticks or cut up some of the plastic tub or lids. Sterilize the markers too.
  • ALWAYS use sterile seed starting mix. Moisten it before filling the trays or containers.
  • Lighting - yep, regular shop lighting works fine - low cost cool-white bulbs. But you'll like the growing results with the newer florescent grow lights or LED. T-5 skinny bulbs won't fit in the fixture with your T-8s or T-12s. Use a timer and keep the lights on for 12-16 hours each day. 
  • Place a fan near the seedling trays, not too close. Keep it on 24/7 - low setting. Air circulation is the best defense to damping off disease where the seedlings seem to die or suddenly collapse.
  • Seedlings prefer to be watered with room temperature water so fill a clean garbage can with water and leave it close to the seeds. Cold water may slow seedling growth and lead to damping off. 
  • Other ways to ward off damping off is to not overcrowd seeds, avoid over watering and never let the trays or containers stand in water for any length of time. Remove plastic or cover domes immediately after germination to lower the humidity levels. 
  • My backup for water lapses is using a capillary mat under the seed tray. They feel like felt and are very absorbent, usually sold in rolls or sheets at garden centers or online. I've seen them in black or white. Cut to the size of your tray, they are re-usable from year to year and machine washable on the gentle cycle (air dry). Simply pour some room temperature water over the mat about every other day or as needed and leave it to the seeds to soak up what they need right to the plant roots.  
  • Use a heat mat for quicker germination and growth on warm loving seeds like basil and tomatoes. Don't plug the heat mat into the light timer, the heat needs to be on all the time.
  • Please check back soon for my seed timing and transplanting chart.  

Capillary mat roll and fitted mat below the plastic container and seed tray

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