Two weeks ago, I included a photo of a tomato with a seed sprouting inside.
This week, the seedling broke through the skin of the tomato. Im a sucker for a kitchen experiment, so Ill keep the tomato with its seedling and see how it grows.
Lets continue with the discussion on seed starting.
Do you have a seed packet handy? Most seed packets will have information on the back regarding seed planting depth, days to germination, spacing the plants in the garden, sun and moisture requirements and how tall the plant will get.
Look at the size of the seed in the packet and note how deep the seed should be planted. Youll find that most seeds should be planted three to four times the width of the seed. Large seeds such as melons or gourds should be planted 1 to 1 1/4 deep and small seeds like lettuce or carrots should be about 1/4 deep.
The days to germination is helpful because if a seed doesnt germinate by the last day of the range, its unlikely to germinate at all. The gardener can then plant another seed or put that space to use with other seeds.
Lets talk about plant and row spacing. I have a packet of carrot seeds in front of me. It says to plant the seeds 2 apart in the row and the rows should be 12 apart. Why cant the seeds be planted 2 apart in all directions?
They can! The reason the packets say to plant the seeds 12 apart is for harvesting purposes. If youre going to plant carrots in long rows, youll need to leave space to get in there and harvest them. If you plant seeds in a 4 wide raised bed like I do, you can plant rows of carrot seeds 2 apart. Thats the basic principle of square foot gardening!
For best results with your seedlings, youll need a light source that can be lowered to sit right above the pots and raised as the seedlings grow. Putting them in a window is OK, but wont give you optimal results.
Using a light source that is too weak or too far from the seedlings will cause them to grow too tall too fast. Seedlings that grow in this fashion will soon fall over because their stems are too stretched out and weak. The seedling will never reach its optimum growing and producing capacity.
Most of the vegetables we grow need to be in full sun. Will a 12 tall plant get enough sun if its planted on the north side of corn or other tall plants? The height of the mature plant is important for garden planning purposes. Plant taller plants to the north of short plants.
Ive found that room temperature is good enough for seedlings, but using a heating pad and light bulbs that generate heat will give extra warmth. If you use light bulbs that get hot, you have to be extra careful in keeping the bulbs far enough above the seedlings that the leaves dont get burned.
My carrot seed packet doesnt say how much water theyll need, but I can assume that theyre native to a place that has more rainfall than we do and will need additional moisture. The seed packets of many flowering plants will give that information.
In years when we have cool temperatures into early June, you may need to transplant seedlings into larger pots to keep them growing and healthy until they can be hardened off and planted outdoors.
The process of hardening off gets the plants used to the natural elements after having been coddled in perfect indoor conditions from day one. Start the process on a warm, not too windy day. Put the seedlings in a shady, protected area outdoors for about two hours. Then bring them back inside under lights. Each day, increase the hours outdoors in the shade.
After a few days, put the seedlings in full sun for two hours. Then put them back in the shade so the tender leaves dont get burned. Each day increase the hours in full sun. Soon youll leave them out overnight, but bring them in if the weather turns frosty.
When the weather finally warms up for good, the plants can go in the garden. In some years, thats Mothers Day. In other years, thats not until Fathers Day.
If you have particular questions about gardening youd like to see addressed in this column, send them to firstname.lastname@example.org.