Monday, March 18, 2013

What To Do With Those Little Seedlings

I guess I like to talk about growing seeds and gardening.
Yes, I know at this point my two daughters are rolling their eyes and thinking "yes mom, we know that."
At my seeding and gardening workshop on Saturday I set aside two hours to talk about starting seeds and growing specific vegetable crops in the garden. I figured it would be plenty of time to get a whole bunch of seeds planted too.
Before people started arriving I wondered if I had enough to talk about. Would there be extended periods of silence as I floundered for words?
Well, no. We ran a bit over too.
So, in case I didn't drive the points home sufficiently, I'd like to revisit what to do with those little tomato, pepper, eggplant and brassica seeds and seedlings that we started.

The tomatoes, peppers and eggplants are all warm weather crops and will remain inside with you until risk of frost has passed.
3 week old tomato seedlings

The seeds should start to push through the soil within a week of planting and in a very warm environment will pop even sooner. Immediately pull off your plastic humidity cover when you see the shoots (or sooner if there is any sign of a fungus developing) and ensure the plants are getting as much light as possible. Florescent lights a few inches above the plants are ideal, but failing that, place them in a warm sunny south facing window. Expect they will get a bit leggy and lanky in the window. But they should still be fine.
At this point they would benefit from a little nourishment. I feed mine with a kelp fertilizer diluted with water.
In about three weeks the plants should have their first true set of leaves, which is not the first leaves you see, but the next to appear. At this point they are ready to transplant into a bigger pot. 
Tomatoes like to be transplanted, and when you do them, snip off the lowest leaves on the stem and bury the stems into the soil, right up to the top set of leaves. You can repeat this over and over again if your tomatoes are too leggy. They will just keep growing new roots up the stem. Water with your fertilizer each time you transplant and do not let the soil completely dry out between waterings.
Peppers and eggplants should be transplanted into bigger pots when they have their first true set of leaves too. Set them into the larger pot so the roots are at the same level in the soil as they were in the initial cell pack...don't bury the stem. They are not as keen on the whole transplanting thing, so put them into their final containers until you get them into the garden. Care for them as you do the tomatoes, fertilizing and watering every few weeks.
As the weather warms toward the beginning of May, you can begin the hardening off process with these plants. Only when you know there is no risk of frost, begin placing the plants out in a sheltered and sunny spot. Begin with an hour a day, bringing in at night. Work your way up to the entire day, then overnight as well when risk of frost has passed. Plant into a compost filled planting hour in your garden after the soil has warmed. In our area this is the last week of May to the beginning of June. Sink the tomatoes in as deep as possible.

The rest of the seeds we planted need to be treated in a different manner. Kales, cauliflower and collards are all cold weather crops. Again, the seed should shoot up quickly, so remove the humidity cover when this happens. Water and fertilize as you do the tomatoes, until the seedlings again have developed their true set of leaves. There is a good chance they will be lanky and fragile, especially if you are growing them in a window. 
Carefully lift the seedlings out of their initial container by slipping a fork under the entire clump of soil in the cell pack, and gently tease the roots apart. 
When I transplant mine I bury a good portion of that fragile stem, and it makes for a much stronger transplant. But if the stem snaps, that's it. Eating the little seedling is about all you can do. I haven't had much luck healing broken brassica seedlings.
Let these seedlings grow on in their larger pots until they are about 5 or 6 weeks old. Begin the process of hardening them off, but realize they can handle the cold and you should be able to get them in your garden towards the end of April. If it appears we are in for a very chilly night, I would still offer them a bit of protection...even placing a newspaper over them gently. These plants are also heavy feeders, so as you plant add a big scoop of compost to the planting hole, water them in well and you are on your way.
Remember to watch for pests, particularly cabbage loopers (worms). Cover your plants with agricultural fabric securely to prevent them from getting on your plants.
Any questions? I'm glad to help so let me know.


Julie Karanfilis said...

Thank you SO much Linda. I felt like a kid in a candy store while at your place on Saturday afternoon. You are living my dream girl! Your diligence in soil building, and all your thousands of hours you put into that land truly is inspiring.

Question about agricultural fabric... where do you get yours locally (I live in St. Catharines), and is there a better "thickness" than others.

Linda said...

Thanks Julie! It was great to have you here and do come again. I'm pretty sure Stokes has the ag fabric, surprising I've seen it at Canadian Tire at certain times too.
Different weights of the fabric are for different purposes. The lightest is for insect protection, the heaviest for season extension. But you can certainly use one weight for both...I go with a mid to heavy weight.

Jessica Veter said...

I am going to be brave and try broccoli and cauliflower again this year. I have had the devil of a time with keeping them healthy once they sprout. Wush me luck!

Izabell Fagan said...

Last year I tried your suggestion about snipping off the first leaves and planting them deep - it worked like a charm. First time ever I grew tomatoes from seeds! Thanks so much,

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