Saturday, January 22, 2011

Direct Sowing
-To sow seeds directly, wait until soil is workable.  Usually, this is around St. Patrick’s day.  Granted, there are a few annuals that demand warm soil temperatures, but these will specify this on the seed packet.
- Create an even seedbed by amending the soil, making sure it is loose and friable.  Then rake it smooth.
- Plant the seed to the specific depth as instructed on the seed packet.  Poke holes in the soil (at the appropriate depth) and put the seeds in the holes.  This allows you to control the planting pattern. 
-Cover seeds with soil, as much as instructed on the seed packet. 
-Keep the seed bed evenly moist (not wet) until seeds germinate.  Then water and weed carefully. 
-When seedlings are a couple inches tall, and have more than two leaves, thin as directed on seed packet. 
Annuals for direct sowing: Bachelor Buttons, Calendula, Cosmos, Larkspur, Marigolds, Morning Glories, Nasturtiums, Annual Poppies, Sweetpea, Sunflower, Zinnia

Seed Starting indoors
-Choose a warm, room-temperature space (65-70 degrees).  You will probably be using artificial light so access to power outlets may be a consideration as well.   
-Seeds have different germination and growth rates.  You will want to transplant your seedlings outdoors after the last frost; this means starting seeds at different times.  By the first week in May, there is virtually no chance of further frost (in our area).  You should find instructions indicating the number of weeks before "last frost" to start the particular seeds indoors.  Work backward from the first weekend in May.
-Select containers. If you are re-using containers it is wise to use a mild bleach solution to disinfect them.  All containers must have holes in the bottom to allow drainage - seeds want to be moist not soaking wet.  For this reason, use a rimmed tray to set your containers in.
-Fill your containers with dry potting soil.  Choose a good seed starting mix- we suggest our Family Tree Nursery potting soil.  Next, thoroughly soak the soil in the containers with warm water and gently tamp down the wet soil.  This creates the warm, moist environment that seeds need for germination.
-Place several seeds in each container.  Bury the seeds at a depth that is roughly two times the size of the seed itself.  For the smallest seeds just cover them with a light sprinkling of dry potting soil.  Place the seeds in a spot with moderate light ;  normal household light is sufficient in most cases.  
-Seeds need heat to germinate. Use heating mats to achieve the 80-85 degree temperature ideal for maximum results.  Cover your containers with plastic wrap or use the domes supplied with seed flats to keep the soil from drying out too quickly.  Check your containers once or twice a day and mist them with warm water as necessary. 
-When the seedlings have emerged and began to open more than two leaves, it is time to remove the heat and give them more light.  They need about 16 hours of bright light each day.   Sunny windows are just not enough, so invest in a grow light.  Bulbs should be placed several inches above the seedlings and raised as the plants grow. 
-Bigger seedlings will now need fertilizing.  We still recommend misting as a way to water the plants and at this point we add a balanced water soluble fertilizer diluted to half strength to our spray bottle.
-Thin out the weaklings! Choose the strongest in each pot and pull the rest. This allows the strongest to get the most nutrients and eventually survive your garden!  As they grow, move to bigger peat pots, since these can be set directly in the ground after last frost. Also, consider keeping a fan going to increase circulation, lowering risk of disease and to mimic wind, which helps in the hardening off process. 
-Toward the end of April you need to prepare your plants for transplant by "hardening them off". This is done by gradually introducing them to the outdoors.  Place them in a protected space for three hours a day and gradually work up giving them full sun and wind exposure before planting into the garden.

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