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Starting Your Own Seeds

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March is finally here, the month to start your own seedlings! Most seeds should not be started earlier as they will grow tall and lanky and may not survive. Read each seed packet to find when the best time is to start the seeds. The packets will also advise if the plant does not transplant well

March is finally here, the month to start your own seedlings!

Most seeds should not be started earlier as they will grow tall and lanky and may not survive. Read each seed packet to find when the best time is to start the seeds. The packets will also advise if the plant does not transplant well. These are better sown outdoors. If not using packaged seeds perhaps seeds given to you by a friend or neighbor individual germination information can be found in books or seed catalogues.

Seeds do not remain alive forever. To test whether seeds are viable, put some seeds between two sheets of paper towels on a cookie tray and mist to keep moist. Check after seven to 14 days to see whether any have sprouted. If none have sprouted, they are no longer any good. Following are steps to providing the right conditions to ensure a successful outcome.

Growing Conditions

The potting medium used should be sterilized to avoid potential fungi. Mediums such as sterilized garden soil, peat moss, vermiculite or perlite can be used. Or you can purchase pre-made commercial soil-less mixes. Fill containers with the medium and push down to prevent air pockets, then sow seeds as per instructions on packet. Water just enough to dampen the medium. Most seeds should be covered lightly, but some require light to germinate and should be left exposed.

Seedlings require bright light for 12 to 14 hours each day or they will become spindly and weak. If using lights, use two fluorescent lights per fixture, preferably one warm-white and one cool-white to allow a broad spectrum of light. Grow lights, which are more expensive, can also be used, but studies have shown that using grow lights has little benefit over regular lights. Keep plants five to 10 centimetres away from light bulbs. Alternately, place plants near a sunny south-facing window, rotating periodically. Using foil reflectors adds light and prevents plants from leaning to one side. Simply wrap some foil around rigid cardboard and place around plants.

Seeds need to be kept moist to germinate, either by covering with clear plastic covers or film or by misting or watering daily. Once seedlings begin growth, check daily for dryness. Water carries nutrients from the soil to the plant. Use tepid water, never cold. Rain water is best, but if using tap water, let it sit 24 hours to let chlorine gas dissipate.

A Good Environment

Seedlings germinate best at a temperature of 16°C to 20°C. If using a light table that is in a cool area such as a basement, you may need to supply extra heat with a space heater.

Ventilation is needed to prevent fungi such as "damping off," a disease that destroys seedlings. There are ways to create an environment less conducive to fungi. As soon as the seeds germinate, remove any plastic coverings. Set up a fan nearby to blow gently on the plants. Not only will this circulate the air, but it will strengthen the plant stems. Spraying plants with chamomile tea will help prevent fungi.

Once the first set of true leaves appear, seedlings need small applications of nutrients. Organic fertilizers such as compost tea and fish emulsions can be used.

The final step is hardening off your plants placing the seedlings outdoors so they gradually get accustomed to outdoor conditions. A week to 10 days before transplanting the seedlings into your gardens, place them outdoors for 10 minutes, gradually increasing the time until you can leave them outside all day and also at night (watch for frost warnings).

Until then, sit back and watch your garden grow indoors !

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