Sprouting Seeds for Spring
As the days are getting longer and the nights are getting warmer, I know all of you are getting eager to start plowing your gardens and planting seeds in the ground. It is true that spring is just around the corner and this is the perfect time to start sowing your seeds indoors so that they are happy, healthy and ready to go into the ground as soon as the last frost date passes. Here are a few simple guidelines that will help you all have earlier ripening peppers, tomatoes and cucumbers.
First, locate a sunny window, preferable facing south, that will have enough room for you to set up a planting tray in which you can start sprouting your seeds. Southern facing windows will have a lot more direct and indirect sun than other windows in your house. This is important because young plants tend to get thin and lanky without adequate lighting. If you do not have access to a sunny window, consider making an investment in an artificial light source designed for plant use. Over the past few years, there have been tremendous advances in artificial lighting, making them financially accessible, even to hobby growers. Florescent light fixtures can also be converted to grow lights by simply installing a new T5 bulb that will shine at 6500° Kelvin. These can be found at your local hardware store or online.
Once you have decided on your indoor gardening location and provided it with adequate lighting, fill a few old plant containers with potting soil and wet it thoroughly. Once the soil is fully hydrated, sow your seeds into the soil at the proper depth for the species that you are using. Remember, different seeds have different depth requirements. A general rule of thumb is to plant the seed twice as deep as the thickness of the seed. This is not always the case since some seeds require special treatment during sprouting. For example, lettuce seeds will not sprout unless they are exposed to light while germinating. For seeds like lettuce, it is important not to cover them with soil. Make sure that the seeds stay moist until the seeds have fully sprouted. Germination time is species dependent and will range from 48 hours to over a week. It is often helpful to cover your containers with plastic wrap to help keep the soil from drying out in this beginning phase.
After the seeds have sprouted, it is extremely important to allow the soil to dry out a little. Too much water creates the perfect conditions for fungi and bacteria to invade your plant’s container and destroy your crop before it even begins. Sprouts should be misted daily and rotated when they begin to lean towards the sun. It is also helpful to place a small fan near your sprouts. Mimicking the wind, the fan will strengthen their stems and prepare them for the unprotected outside world.
In a few weeks, your new plants should be growing nicely and starting to flush out their new sets of leaves. Once the true leaves appear, it is recommended to provide a nitrogen rich fertilizer to the soil to encourage healthy growth. Be careful not to apply too much fertilizer because this will make the soil too salty, which will prevent the plant from absorbing water adequately. When the temperature outside begins to warm enough, start taking your plants outside and set them in the shade for a few hours a day. This will allow them to adjust or harden to the outdoor conditions in a gradual manner. This is a very important stage in the sprouting process because without proper hardening, the sprouts will not be able to withstand the transplanting process.
Once your seedlings have been properly hardened and the chance of frost is gone, it is time for your plants to go into the ground. Remember to avoid replanting similar plants in the same location year after year. Crop rotation will decrease disease pressure in your garden and allow you to save time and money on pesticide treatments. If done properly, starting seeds can be a very rewarding process and allow you to begin harvesting your crops earlier in the year. Always remember that a healthy garden starts with healthy plants and biologically active soils. Avoid planting unhealthy plants and stay away from unnecessary pesticide applications.
Here at the Randolph County Cooperative Extension, we strive to help and educate the public in whatever way we can. If you have any questions about gardening or crop production, please feel free to contact us at the Randolph County Cooperative Extension office by phone at (336) 318-6000 or in person at 112 W. Walker Ave. here in Asheboro.