Monday, March 9, 2009

DIY: Starting Seeds From Scratch

Here is a wonderful, almost poetic, article written in the NYT on raising your own plants.

For more practical tips:

Step 1: Buy your seeds

You can purchase seeds from almost any nursery, garden center, or hardware store. Wherever you get them, be sure to check the packing date. Don't use seeds that are more than a year old.

Step 2: Plan your timetable

The planting dates for vegetable and flower plants very significantly,making it impossible to plant all seeds simultaneously. Be sure to check your seed packet for the appropriate timing, which is usually stated in the number of weeks before the last frost. If you're unsure when this is, contact your county extension agent.

Step 3: Choose your planting soil

Youcan buy seed-starting mix or potting soil from your garden center, oryou can make your own mixture. Whatever you use, it's important to start your seeds in a soil that is free from weeds, pests, and soil disease; is able to absord/hold water; and is loosely packed.

Before filling your seed trays, make sure the soil is moist. You should be able to make a ball with it. To ensure this, put the soil in a bucket and gradually add water.

Step 4: Fill your seed trays

If you don't have any plastic seed trays or flats, you can use egg cartons, plastic jugs, yogurt containers, or foil pans. You can also purchase peat pots at your local nursery. Before you begin, make sureyour container has drainage holes - just use a needle to poke holes inthe bottom. Fill planting soil to about 1/2 inch from the top of the container. Gently pat the soil to eliminate air pockets.

Step 5: Plant the seeds

For small seeds, simply scatter them lightly over the soil about 1/8 inchapart. Larger seeds need to be placed exactly and spaced about 1/2 to1 inch apart. Next, cover the seeds with soil. Planting depth may vary. A general rule, however, is to plant the seed three times its diameter deep. Finally, label the containers with the plant's name and date.

Step 6: Wait for germination

Cover the containers to maintain even moisture. Place them in a warm location and spray lightly with water if the soil appears to be drying out.

Step 7: Provide light and water

Once the plant sprouts, remove the cover and place a flourescent light about 2 inches about the container for 12 to 16 hours a day. Continue to spray with water. After two weeks, you can start to fertilize the seeds, if desired.

Step 8: Thin out the plants

When the plants reach an inch in length, use tweezers to eliminate the smaller, weaker sprouts. By thinning out the plants, you can avoid entangled roots.

Step 9: Start hardening off

After about 6 weeks, your plants are ready to be moved outside. Introducethem to outdoor life, know as "hardening off", by placing the containers in a semiprotected location for a few hours a day, gradually increasing the length of time. Eventually, the plants will be outdoors for a full day. This process could take up to two weeks. If the temperature drops below 50 degrees, bring the plants inside.

Step 10: Transplant to the garden

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