It is now time to plant most of the seeds that I usually start early indoors. The first step is to pre-moisten the growing mix – the one I am using is about two-thirds peat moss so it takes a bit of effort to get it moist. I dump the bag into a large container adding about a watering can of water as I go and mix vigorously. The final product should be moist but not wet (water should not run out if you squeeze a handful). The last bag of growing mix that I purchased was from the helpful people at Carleton Place Garden Centre – it is a mix that they prepare themselves and it is already partially moistened so I am finding that it is much easier to work with.
Timing is important but nature is flexible – currently we are about eight weeks away from the May 24 outdoor planting date for frost-sensitive plants and six weeks or less for plants that can take some frost such as members of the cabbage family that I would plant outdoors in the first week of May. Celery, parsley, onions, leeks and globe artichokes benefit from a ten to 12 week head start indoors – they were planted in mid-February. When I mention the number of weeks growing indoors this is calculated by counting backwards from the time that the seedlings can be planted in the garden. So the seeds that I am planting today are those of tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, cabbage, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, kale and collards – they are all in the range of indoor growing time that will result in reasonable-size plants when it comes time to plant them outdoors.
So I’ve filled the pots with my seeding mixture, planted one or two seeds in each pot (following directions on the packet as to seeding depth), and then covered with a clear plastic ‘green-house’ lid (which I remove as soon as the seed has germinated). Everything that I am planting today is in 32 cell inserts. Remember to make a chart or put labels in the tray – many of these little seedlings will look very similar when they start growing. We will wait to plant vine crops, basil and most of the bedding flowers.
It’s time to check over the trays that have been planted in the last few weeks and see what I have learned.
This year I decided to try a new approach with onions and leeks – I planted them in plug trays with 144 planting cells. My theory was that if I have one plant per cell the roots will fill the cell and I will be able to keep the plant and root more intact when transplanting thus resulting in less transplanting shock. My usual practice has been to grow in four by eight inch boxes. This requires a lot of pulling to separate the seedlings when getting them ready to plant in the garden – I feel this results in significant setback.
The idea was to have one seedling per cell. Obviously there are many cells where I dropped more than one seed. I will just cut off the extra seedlings at the root. The onions and leeks are also getting floppy – I will cut them with scissors to a height of about three inches and will keep doing that every week or so – I find it results in a much more robust seedling and as a bonus the trimmings can be added to my salad. The following photo shows a healthy tray of onions and leeks that was planted February 20th.
The following photo shows some pretty scary looking globe artichokes that were also planted February 20th. Artichokes are grown as an annual in our climate as they don’t survive our winter. Last year was a remarkably successful one for growing them here. The plants grew to three feet in height and produced upwards of a dozen delectable heads each. But beware – these guys need a lot of growing space. Even the little seedlings will probably need transplanting into larger pots soon.
A Quick Review on Starting Seedlings Indoors
The set-up does not need to be fancy. I use utility wooden shelving and suspend fluorescent fixtures by chains between the shelves so that I can adjust them to keep them within a couple of inches of the seedlings. Used fluorescent fixtures are available for next to nothing at garage sales. I use only the cheapest four-foot fluorescent tubes as my results have been just as good as using special “grow” tubes.
I turn on the lights first thing in the morning and turn them off when I go to bed. I water only when the growing medium is dry to the touch but before the seedlings wilt and drain off any excess water that has not been absorbed in a couple of hours. Seeds contain all the nutrients required for germination. I use a diluted organic fish-based fertilizer weekly after seedlings have been growing for a couple of weeks.
Seedlings are very vulnerable to certain kinds of viral diseases, commonly called ‘damping-off’. Seedlings that appear healthy topple over from the base and die. I have found that this is virtually eliminated by using a commercial soil-less mixture and new plastic inserts (I use 25cm x 50 cm plastic trays with a 32 pot insert). I also insure good air circulation by keeping a fan running constantly. The air movement also produces stronger, stockier plants.
A Neighbourhood Tomato Reminder
Third and last reminder! The Neighbourhood Tomato Community Gardening folks are looking for your input. An on-line survey has been created to learn what resources existing and prospective members are willing to commit to community gardening, both individual allotment gardens and community collaborative gardening. As well interest in creating new community gardening locations needs to be assessed as the existing garden plots in our community gardens have all been allocated.
Here’s the link. Have a look and please fill it in… http://fluidsurveys.com/surveys/mills-community/growing-food-and-building-community/
….and if you know of a relative, neighbour or friend who is unlikely to see this survey but may have a garden or some skills to share, please make them aware of this survey and help them to get in touch.