Starting Vegetable Seeds Like the Pros

This issue is all about starting seeds. Have you ever wondered how the Pros do it? Our secrets from years of experience are about to be shared!

First on the list for your indoor seeds is your choice of containers. Our favourites for lettuce, bunching onions, herbs, tomatoes and peppers are known in the trade as 1206's. They can be found in any garden supply store. They come in sheets of 12 inserts with 6 cells in each. They fit a standard greenhouse tray and provide 72 spots for seeding. Their depth is perfect, the roots keep separated and transplanting is easier. For brassicas like cabbage or broccoli, 2 inch pots with a depth of 3 inches are perfect. The seedlings grow up strong and only need transplanting once to the garden. For those warm weather starts like cucumbers and melons or squash, a 3-4  inch pot provided lots of space . There is room for 3 or 4 seeds in each pot. Sow 1 month before in late April and the size will be just right to plant out. Your planting depth is a minimum of 1/4 inch.

Be sure to select a clean seed starting soilless mix for all of your indoor planting. This avoids potential fungal issues which can destroy your new seedlings.Something like worm castings can be placed in the bottom of the planting cells to give an early gentle feeding to young seedlings. Fill about 1/3 castings.

Then fill the cells with mix but leave some space at the top. This allows depth to plant, usually 1/4 inch for most varieties. Then water the tray, enough to give some heft when you lift up one end to check it. You can do this at watering times to be sure you have watered enough . It is the easiest way to test if your tray needs water. Then lightly sprinkle your seeds on top for your selected varieties. Best to label them as you go. Once the tray is full, then fill the rest of the cells with mix. One more watering to settle them in and you are done!

Heating mats are very popular and for good reason. Germination is always best with bottom heat. One caution, be sure to keep a watchful eye on watering. The surface will still look damp but underneath can dry out quickly.

Direct sowing is all about preparing your seed bed. Organic matter, compost and supplements can be spread on the surface, then turned over with a garden fork or a tiller if you have one. Try to remove all large debris with a rake. For the home garden, raised beds are fabulous. You don't need wood sides to make one. Just use a shovel to create a nice edge, place this soil on top to build up the bed 6-10 inches above the ground. Make your beds 5-6 feet wide, then it is easier to plant, maintain and harvest from both sides. 

To plant your seeds and keep straight rows, you can use a string attached to 2 stakes for long rows as a guide. Or use the handle of your hoe to make an indentation on the surface for shorter rows. This is our preferred method.

Other methods are creating saucer like planting holes for squash, melons and cucumbers. Visualize a crater on the moon. You can add good compost and supplements to the inside, then water them in. Place your transplants or direct sow along the edges, once the soil is warmer at night. Then water once more to settle them in. Adding mulch to the saucer and surrounding area provides a clean growing environment. The best part, you only need to deep water the saucer. We mark them with a small stake so once plants start to grow on, you know exactly where to water. Lots of growers also spread out landscape fabric, cut holes for transplants or seeds. This really conserves water and keeps the weeds down.

Watering techniques are varied but a little planning for your garden layout at seeding time goes a long way to conserving this precious resource. We always plant our greens, lettuce and bunching onions tightly together. Greens that are layed out in 6 inch apart rows will fill the planting bed completely shading their own roots and keep the weeds down. Ideal for raised beds too. This also works for beans but they need a minimum of 12 inches between rows.

Remember that germinating seeds need even moisture in the garden or your seeding trays. Too soggy will kill off most herbs. Too dry will ruin your carrot bed. We place our start ups on a schedule, to check everything on a regular basis. It is a fabulous way to start the day in your garden!

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