As humans, seed starting has been a fundamental skill for survival over the centuries and millennia. However, with an industrialized food system, many have lost the skill since it is no longer needed for our survival.
As COVID raged and the potential for food shortages (not to mention toilet paper) were on people's minds, many of us tried our hand at growing our own food. That act is truly a noble thing.
So let's get going with our vegetable gardens by planting seedlings to transplant outside later.
PART 1 - Planning and Timing
Order seeds early. And order seeds of veggies you like to eat.
If you have no idea which variety of vegetable to grow, consult publication ID-133 'Vegetable Cultivars for Kentucky Gardens' or go to All America Selections website (or consult a fellow gardener).
For late March transplanting of broccoli, cabbage, or cauliflower, seeds must be started 6-7 weeks prior. For March 25 planting, start seeds the week of February 8. Onions need 10 or 11 weeks from seed and should be planted in mid-January.
For warm season crops like tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant, those are generally transplanted the first week or so of May. Our last frost date is about May 10. To plant May 10, seeds should be started 6-7 weeks before on March 23-27.
PART 2 - Get Materials Together
Containers can be anything: purchased trays/flat (see picture), yogurt cups, newspaper pots, etc
Purchase a peat-based seed-starting mix. Be sure to moisten the mix prior to filling up your seed-starting containers. Believe me, it works better that way.
Heat mats can purchased to help speed germination. This is optional.
Sunlight is probably not the best answer for providing light. Cheap fluorescent lights or more expensive LED lights work much better than sunlight from a south-facing window.
Misting bottle, domes or plastic wrap (for putting over seed-starting containers to help keep mix from drying out), and plant tags.
PART 3 - Germinate and Grow Those Seeds!
Seeds should be planted no more than 3 times the width of the seed. Most seeds can be covered lightly with seed-starting mix. Some others, like lettuce and many flower seeds, need light to germinate so should be sown on top of the mix.
Be sure to label what you've planted. You will forget.
Mist gently with water to moisten the mix and seeds.
Cover seed-starting containers with a dome or plastic wrap until germination begins. This keeps the mix from drying out too fast.
Once seeds have germinated, uncover. Be sure to keep the young seedlings well-watered, but don't overwater. Pythium is a disease usually caused by overwatering that causes young seedlings to flop over at the base (see picture).
Fertilizer (at half the recommended rate) can be given to plants once they have their first true leaves
Once germinated, containers should be kept under lights. The lights should be on for 8 to 10 hours per day.
To produce a stout seedling, be sure that lights are no more than a few inches from the plant canopy. If too far away, seedlings will stretch and grow spindly.
Before planting outside, seedlings should be hardened off. Hardening off is a process of slowly exposing plants to outdoor conditions. This can be done over the course of a week or so.
For more information, call the Pulaski County Extension office at 679-6361 and request publications that will help you get started with seed starting and growing vegetables. Become a fan of Pulaski County Horticulture on Facebook and/or follow @hortagentbeth on Twitter or kyplants on Instagram. You can also watch videos on Pulaski County Horticulture YouTube channel.
The Pulaski County Extension office will be closed January 18, 2021 for the Martin Luther King Jr Holiday. We will reopen on January 19, 2021.
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