THE SEEDS OF A NEW SEASON
It’s time to take inventory of your garden seeds and see what will be needed this year. The time is coming quickly, and many seeds need to be started six to eight weeks early if starting them indoors. Keep in mind, not all seeds need to be started early, but there are quite a few that benefit from the extra growing time with our short growing season. Items such as tomatoes, peppers, cauliflower, broccoli and cabbage benefit from an early start. If looking to plant flowers, starting bulbs early such as cannas, elephant ears, dahlias and caladiums all enjoy the extra time along with seedlings of snapdragons, petunias, geraniums, coleus and begonias.
There are some materials you will need in order to get started, and a rough plan in what you want for the season. Getting the right growing medium is very important to nurture the roots and prevent compaction. Regular topsoil or potting soil is usually too heavy to support good seedling growth when growing indoors. A light seed starting medium is best as it has different elements that keep the soil light and airy while retaining moisture for your plants to grow. These bags will be labeled as such and are considered non-soil potting mediums. The ingredients will show there is a great deal of sphagnum moss and other elements to aid in growth while the plants are young.
Many seeds germinate better if the soil temperature is a minimum of 60 to 65 degrees. To ensure a consistent temperature, I always suggest using bottom heat if you are planting flats of plants. Items as simple as a heating pad under the trays with a thermostat are very helpful. If you are starting your plants in an enclosed unit, I suggest a very small radiant heater that has a setting dial on it. If the temperature falls below this setting, it turns on to make sure the temperatures do not get too cool at any point.
Moisture is another key element in getting plants to germinate and thrive. If seed is planted and the soil is allowed to become too dry during this stage, it can halt the process and create poor plant production. Keeping a moist potting medium that is not wet or soggy is very important. Often mass market outlets sell cellpack containers with six to 12 per tray. Often these come with a plastic “greenhouse” lid to keep the plants moist during this stage. Once the plants are up and growing, the lid can be removed and the plants can be watered by hand. Be careful as each “cell” plants are growing in may be small and can dry out quickly.
Choosing the right seed for your needs is just as important. For instance, there are dozens of different types of tomatoes you can choose from and they are in three different categories. These are usually listed as early season, midseason and late season depending on the number of days it takes for fruit maturity. If you choose one that requires too many days to mature, you may not get the desired crop before an autumn frost comes along. The information in the order catalogs or on the backs of the packages are extremely important in making the correct selections.
This is one of the most exciting times for gardeners as they can finally begin the process for the new year. I also say spring is the perfect time to get children interested in the gardening realm. Whether it is an interest in flowers or vegetables, there are so many fun projects you can try at home to get them involved and interested. They may even become involved enough to help you weed and water when the time is right.
Some great initiators for children are the art of growing “easy” seeds. These are usually seeds that germinate fairly quickly and are easy to maintain once they are up. There is nothing more satisfying to a child then to see quick results with something they are nurturing. For vegetables I always suggest bean seeds of any type as the seeds are large and easy to handle, plus they emerge from the soil within a week of planting. They are sturdy as they grow and are easy to see.
If trying out some flowers, I
enjoy planting zinnias or marigolds as the seed is also easy to handle and they germinate quickly. Make the process fun and have them document in a small journal how things progress such as the type of seed planted, the date they were planted, when the first ones emerged, when the plants grew their first true leaves and when they transplanted them outside. Have them report on the conditions around them, sunny days versus cloudy days, how often they were watered, and if they lost any seedlings in the process. These small personal journals are great as learning tools for the next time they attempt a new project. They work well for adults also.
This is the time to begin planting your seedling for various varieties. If you are looking for some free seeds, try going to the Seed Library, which is open beginning Monday, March 20, located at the Stutsman County Library. There is a program being given by the extension agent at 6 p.m. Tuesday, March 21, along with representatives that can give you more information on this opportunity. Happy planting!