2011-03-24 / News

Time to start spreading your seeds

The Island Garden
By Roger Marshall

As you may have noticed, the weather is moderating and plants are starting to pop out of the ground. The first sign of tulips and daffodils should tell you that it is time to start your vegetable seeds.

Plants such as tomatoes, peppers and eggplants take a long time to grow to full size and starting them indoors under lights helps to get them large enough to plant out by the last frost date. In Jamestown, the reliable last frost date is around May 15, however, in recent years the last frost has been up to three weeks earlier than that. This should tell you to get your seeds going as soon as possible.

To start seeds, you will need seed trays, potting soil, seeds and kitchen plastic wrap – Jamestown Hardware and the Secret Garden have all the supplies you need.

First wet your potting soil. It should be damp but not too wet. If you can squeeze water out of a fistful of soil, it’s too wet. Lay your potting soil in your seed trays or growing pots and tamp it down lightly. Sprinkle your seeds on the soil and gently press them into it. If you are starting larger seeds such as peas or beans, you will need to push them down into the soil about the depth of one seed length.

Small seeds can lie on the surface, but I like to sprinkle a little potting soil over them to ensure they are covered. Some seeds such as impatiens and primula should not be covered and should be exposed to continuous light to ensure they germinate.

Cover your seed trays with the plastic wrap. The wrap holds moisture on the soil surface and helps the seeds to germinate. As soon as you see that 50 percent of the seeds have germinated, remove the plastic wrap and let the seeds grow under your growing lights.

I use fluorescent light fixtures set one or two inches above the seeds to start them. Each fixture has one cold- and one warm-white tube to ensure the seeds get the entire spectrum of light. I find that two seed trays can fit under each 4-foot light fixture. If you place your seed trays on a 4-by-4-foot sheet of plywood, you can get eight trays and four fluorescent light fixtures over each half sheet of plywood.

Make sure you mark the rows of seeds with the name and the date you started them. I like to use craft sticks as markers. They will eventually rot away to nothing instead of having plastic tags blowing around the garden.

Most seeds go through a cycle to break dormancy. First they need to become hydrated – that’s why you wet your potting soil and keep it moist. After they have filled with water they will sprout and send up a shoot with two leaves. These leaves are known as cotyledons and are not true leaves. Seeds will take four to 10 days to germinate, but some such as celeriac may take two to three weeks.

After the cotyledons have been growing for a few days a pair of true leaves will sprout from the stem above the cotyledons. These are the leaves that you are looking for. As soon as the true leaves have grown to a reasonable size pot up your seeds. To pot up, simply remove the growing plantlet from the seed tray – hold it by the leaf so that you do not damage the stem – and transplant it into a larger pot. If you are starting tomatoes, set them deeper in the hole than they were growing. The part of the stem that you bury will eventually become a root. Setting the plant lower gives tomatoes a stronger root system and helps to get more tomatoes. However, tomatoes are the only plant that you can set lower in the soil. All other plants should be replanted at the same level as they were originally growing.

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