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Start seedlings soon

Various types of equipment and materials are available to help you grow your own plants. They range from inexpensive to expensive. John Zvirovski / The Sun

Winter is slowly fading away to show us that the spring season is alive and kicking and will soon make its appearance. In about two to three weeks, many of the spring plants will begin to emerge from the ground to let us know a new growing season is about to begin.

With the chill in the air and the ground still covered in white snow, it increases that urge in us gardeners to get something green started to plant outdoors when the last frost has finally passed. Some plants need to be started out now, while others need to hold off for a few weeks. The best way to determine which ones need to be started sooner is to read the directions on the back of the seed packets. Seems like common sense, but you would be amazed how many people forget to time this out correctly.

With all of the apparatus available to start plants early in your own home, sometimes it is difficult to decide which to use and which to go out and purchase. Most of the decision making comes in the reality of what you are trying to accomplish. Are you trying to begin a dozen seedlings to transplant later or is your goal to plant a couple hundred? The more you try to start, the more complex your in-home operation will become.

If this is your first time attempting this practice, I would suggest you start off light and advance the following year depending on your success rates. One year I found all of these seeds that I wanted to start and soon I was overwhelmed with over 700 plants that I was trying to nurture along until planting season. It literally took all of my free time away and in the end, I was searching for places to plant them all when the time arrived. Seems while I was nurturing these seedlings, I happened to purchase many healthy plants along the way from other markets. Funny how the planting bug tends to grab hold. My neighbor had a similar venture the one year, but luckily for me, she ran out of room to plant and I was the lucky recipient of free plants!!

When shopping the markets you will find many different items to assist you in starting your seedlings ahead of time. The most common of products will be small plastic trays filled with "ready to soak and plant" peat pellets. Some have as few as 18 cells whereas others will have up to 72 per tray. They come with a nice clear lid and act as a small greenhouse when placed in a sunny window. Once the plants have sprouted and reached toward the lid, you can simply remove the lid and let them grow with periodic watering. If you want to go small scale and save some money, try using a plastic cookie container that you get at the grocery store. Fill the bottom with soil, add the seeds, and close the clear plastic lid. This will achieve the same effect. When the plants are large enough to handle, you can individually transplant them into separate containers.

You can also use peat pots. These are biodegradable containers made of compressed peat that can be put right into the ground when ready to plant. The theory is that these will decompose and the roots will break them apart throughout the growing season. The fact is that they tend to dry out quickly and have a hard time breaking down. If using this product, I would suggest, at the very least, to break off the bottom of the peat container before planting in the ground so the roots have an easy escape into the garden. The containers themselves can be readily available and quite cheap overall.

There are also small greenhouse structures that you can purchase through catalogs or in various stores. Some are quick to assemble, lightweight and have a plastic cover with a zipper opening for easy access. These usually run from about $30 to $80, depending on the size. They range from two to four shelves to hold up to eight trays comfortably. If using these structures, I found the best way to grow new plants is to place them outdoors in these structures at the beginning of April with a small heater that has a thermostat. Set the thermostat to 70 degrees and during the nights or on cloudy days the temperature will remain constant without getting too cold. Always have a thermometer inside so you can gauge the temperatures for the safety of your seedlings.

For the wealthier and more serious at heart, one can purchase a large greenhouse that is either attached to the house or built in the yard sheathed in glass. If deciding on this choice, make sure you have that strong interest in gardening, plenty of space and a lot of money to accomplish the end result.

The soil medium that you use to plant your seeds in should be a light seed-starting mixture. Do not use topsoil or potting soil as this can tend to get quite heavy when wet and promotes the small seedlings to rot at the base. A light, fine mixture of peat, perlite and vermiculite will assist your little plants along to a season of health and vigor.

If not using a greenhouse structure outdoors, remember to have grow lights indoors above your seedlings to keep them healthy. By placing the lights just above the plants, this will keep them from getting too tall and spindly. Raise the lights a little at a time as the plants grow and need space.

This is the time of year to start those seeds indoors, so go out and find the appropriate planting apparatus to suit your needs and get into the early stages of the growing season. Before you know it, the snow will be gone and the plants in the garden will begin to make an appearance. When May arrives, you will have those healthy, little plants that you desired to place in the garden. A little patience and a lot of care will create great results! What a way to welcome the month of April!

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