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Old 02-03-2009, 07:36 AM   #1
Big Fat juicy WORM
 
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Join Date: Nov 2008
Location: Virginia, USA
Default Growing seed indoors

How to turn those tiny seeds into lovely plant for your garden? Starting plants from seed seems like a magical process, but there’s no great mystery to it. Here are few tips to help you on your way to successfully growing your own plants.

You may grow many seedlings in a sunny window, but you will have better and more consistent results by investing in heat mats and grow lights. It is possible to sow seeds one by one into little pots on your light shelf, but many plants seem to do better when transplanted once between sowing and being planted out in the garden. I usually start seeds in rows in shallow, domed seed starting trays. After the seedlings have their first true leaves (the first pair of leaves are cotyledons, or "nurse leaves"), they are potted up into individual pots or cell packs.

Use a good soil-less potting mix. If it's not a "seed starting mix" as such, you may want to lighten it with a little extra perlite. Fill your seed starting container with moist, preferably sterile mix.

I use the clump transplanting method recommended by Tom DeBaggio, so I sow the seed very thickly. There's generally no need to cover seeds; just press them gently into the surface of the potting mix. Don't forget to label the container using a permanent marker or paint pen. Jot down the date also, to keep track of germination times.

When the container is closed, there should be enough humidity to make a little mist on the inside of the lid. If large droplets of condensation form, then your mix is too wet -- prop the lid open for a few hours to let it dry out a bit. The container can be easily watered from the bottom as needed. Place it in a tray of water for a few minutes, until it no longer feels lightweight.

At the first sign of germination, I make sure my seedling tray is as close as possible to the fluorescent light tube. When seedlings have their first true leaves, they are ready to be transplanted. Looking at the seedling tray from the bottom, you can see vigorous roots searching for more growing room.

The clump transplanting method makes for very sturdy seedlings. I like the simplicity of this method. You don't have to try and tease a solitary seedling away from the massed rootlets in the seedling tray.
You can gently separate a clump of seedlings and plant them together.

Having a larger clump of roots in the pot means you are less likely to drown the little seedlings. Damping off issues of root and stem rot are less likely when there are more roots to take up more water.

I like transplanting to pots no smaller than 48 cell inserts for standard nursery flats. Most of my seeds are started 6 to 8 weeks before planting out. Seedlings that will be started sooner (like wave petunias) or grow larger (like tomatoes) get a 2 inch pot. Fill pots or cell packs ("sheet pots") with moist potting mix, and poke a hole in the mix with a stick or with your finger.

Handle seedlings by their leaves, and gently massage their roots to separate them into clumps. The tender stems should be touched as little as possible. Mr. DeBaggio recommends you "Set the seedlings into the pot lower than they were growing in the seedling flat," preferably with the true leaves level with the growing medium and the cotyledons (nurse leaves) covered.

Gently pat the potting mix around the seedling clump. Carefully water around the seedlings to settle the potting mix around the roots. Then the newly transplanted seedlings are ready to go back on the shelf, very close to the lights for best growth. After several more weeks, they will be ready for hardening off and planting out in your garden.

Sowing and transplanting is a straightforward, two-step process. There's no "one true way" to go about it, but using covered seed starting trays and transplanting with Tom DeBaggio's clump method definitely works for me. Before you know it, you will have turned a few seed packets into flats of beautiful new plants for your garden.
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