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Four important steps to starting seeds

Many seeds can be started in a small area
Anna May Kinney


Now that you have decided to start your own plants, and hopefully have placed an order for seeds, the next step is deciding where in your house you are going to do place project?

Few of us have the money to invest in expensive grow lights, so we need to look for a room that has windows facing south or south east, with a constant temperature between 65 F. and 72 F. Most seeds will germinate in this temperature range, but it is important to read all the instructions on seed packages, some specialty seeds need even lower temperatures, a few higher.

It is important to remember that seedlings will need a lot of light. When seedlings receive insufficient light they become tall and spindly or "leggy."

Professional plant producers usually grow plants in the same container from seed till they are sold. While most commercial places use flats, this method takes up a lot of space and greatly limits what the home gardener has room to grow. It may be o.k. for the person with a heated greenhouse, or large enclosed sun porch, but when you have only the limited space in front of a couple of windows, or on a few window sills, this can become a major problem.

Most seeds take about two weeks to germinate, but there are some flowers that can take over a month; that is a lot of time to take up space in a home. Even after they germinate these tiny seedlings do not require much growing room until they are two to three weeks old. Now this adds up to about six weeks were your plants can do just fine sharing a pot with their peers.

If you start your seedlings the recommended six to eight weeks before it is safe to transplant in your area, you are ready to start around the March first in the Montreal, lower St. Lawrence region, and April first here in the Townships.

Each type of plant grows at a different rate of speed, while tomatoes will need to be separated at three weeks old, hot peppers may take a week longer. You can usually judge by how many leaves they have. I don't count the first two leaves at all and wait till a plant has between two and four permanent leaves before moving it.

In two windowsills I can comfortably set twelve six-inch pots of seeds to germinate. Each pot has a different variety of seeds. You can start up to a dozen of any easy to transplant type of seed in one small pot. For plants that are harder to separate plant fewer. And for plants that hate transplanting, plant them in individual peat pots. (With vegetables these are usually your squash, cucumber and melon families)

In step two we must select what our little windowsill garden is going to grow in. You need pots that will fit comfortably on the windowsill, and something for them to be placed in or on to collect water. I purchased a few plastic trays that are long enough to go across the windowsill and wide enough to comfortably hold a six-inch pot, but you could use most anything even saucers will work, but they do take up a lot of extra room.

The important thing to remember when selecting something to start your seeds in is that you need at least three good drainage holes in the bottom and it must be large enough to hold enough soil that you will not have to be checking and watering four times a day. This is the main problem I found with using small containers, such as used yogurt cups, or egg cartons.

Your next step is to select a good growing medium; this can be really confusing to the first time gardener. At your local garden center you will find everything from vermiculite, peat moss, special mixtures for flowers, sterilized compost to regular ordinary potting soil.

The first thing to remember is never to use any soil or compost inside your home unless it has been sterilized. One of the great curses of seed growing is a fungus commonly known as Damping-off Disease. This fungus spreads quickly and can wipe out weeks of work in a couple of days. The spores of this fungus are killed during the sterilization process.

For those of you who want to use your own compost and garden soil I wrote an article last year on how and why you need to sterilize it. You can either find this by going to my website, it is on the following page or you can e-mail me and I'd gladly send you a copy, sorry it is a little to long to reprint here.

If you don't want to bother with this process it is best to purchase potting soil, most potting soil has been sterilized, on the other hand, compost that is sold to go directly onto a garden plot would not need to be sterilized, so make sure to read the label before buying.

Last but not least in my book, what are you going to water your seedlings with? Your seedlings may have been sitting in a hot, sunny window for five hours, when you happen to notice that they are becoming to dry. So you run to the tap and fill a container of water. The water coming out of you faucet can range from 40 to 60 degrees colder than the seedling's soil; this would cause terrible shock to the plants root system.

I find the best thing to do is to fill five or six 2 lt. soda bottles with water and keep them at room temperature. If you have city water, which contains chlorine bleach, fill your bottles and leave them with the tops off for at least 24 hours for the chlorine to evaporate.
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