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My Seed Starting Tips:

FIRST, MOST IMPORTANT TIP OF ALL- All plants started indoors need a good strong source of light, being by a window sill WILL NOT work! Not unless you have a Florida sunroom or a real heated greenhouse. Get a big cheap fluorescent shop light (or 2 or 3 if you need them) for about $12 and hang them a few inches over the seedlings/plants on the chains that they come with. You don't need any special fancy "grow lights." Then keep pulling up the chains or put the plants on blocks or bricks and keep removing them as the plants grow taller. I mean inches from the plants for maximum light and growth! Putting a bit of vermiculite or sand on top of the soil-less mix will prevent "damping off," a fungal disease that wipes out seedlings. Never water from the top, always water at the bottom of the tray the plants are in. A small fan left on with also work wonders for circulating the air and keeping the plants disease free.


TOMATOES: II like to pre-sprout my tomato seeds. I soak them in water for about 2 HOURS, (NOT OVERNIGHT!), then I drain off the water .Put them on damp (not real wet!) paper towels (I highly suggest Kleenex Viva brand - because it holds up without shredding) wrapped loosely in an unsealed plastic bag and put in a warm spot. 70 degrees is optimum. They will sprout in a few days saving much time for growing. Check the bags every day!

You must handle the little baby sproutlings carefully when you put them up in pots. I sometimes use tweezers, if you put more water on the paper towels they slide off pretty well without breaking the roots. The key is slowly and gently, remember you just saved weeks in germinating time so don't rush this very important step.

Sow seeds indoors into sterile soiless seedling mix 4-6 weeks before your last spring frost. Check with your local county Agricultural agent for your exact date. I personally do not like the new "improved" seedling/seed starting mixes anymore, as they have changed the formula, by putting in fertilizer, which causes a lot of problems by hindering germination. You can't use fertilizer on the seedlings until they are sprouted! I find that a quality "Promix" for commercial planting in containers that has lots of peat moss, pearlite and vermiculite is better. I buy it by the 50 lb bale (but you can buy it in smaller bags!). Never ever use your own garden soil or reuse any of your soil from the previous season as this may have plant diseases, fungus or insects problems.

Water the soil so it nice and damp, (not dripping wet!), before putting in the sprouts. I find it easiest to water the soil in a bucket first, let it soak in, stir it up and then put the soil in the flats. Plant with the teeny leaves sticking out no more than 1/4 inch; just make sure you don't break your little roots on the pre-spouted seeds. I use skinny bamboo skewers to make a deep dent into the soil and put the sproutling in gently. Then cover with a plastic grow dome or even saran wrap type plastic to insure that the seeds do not dry out. Tomato seeds germinate best in a temperature range of 70-80°F. I put mine by my big old radiators. The top of a fridge is good; someplace the pets won't get to them! NEVER WATER SEEDLINGS ON TOP OR BY MISTING! Always water in the trays below the plant's root system.

I fertilize my seedlings with very diluted fish emulsion or kelp/fish emulsion. Seven to ten days before you want to transplant outside, set the plants in a sheltered area outdoors. Bring in or cover at night to insure that tender plants don't get nipped by late frosts. Gradually let them be in indirect sunlight outdoors for maybe an hour the first day and work your way up to several hours. This is called "hardening off". This can take 7 to 10 days before you want to transplant outside. Water carefully, allowing the soil to dry on the surface between watering, but don't let the plants wilt. NO matter how eager you are to plant, DO NOT RUSH THE HARDENING OFF TIME! This is the most difficult time for your seedlings. They need to get adjusted to the “real world".

After the danger of frost is past, transplant outdoors into well worked garden soil. If the seedlings are spindly or leggy, lay them on their side or plant very deeply with only the top leaves showing - this is called trenching. That way you get a very strong root system as the roots all grow out of the entire stem. It really makes for stronger healthier plants. Also they have this great root system that is better able to adapt to drought and difficult weather.

I also plant my tomatoes with broken eggshells to prevent blossom end rot, very common when the rain or watering is uneven. I save eggshells all year long for planting time, and I have never had a problem with blossom end rot. Put a little organic fertilizer in the hole when planting. Also, for even watering I used drip hoses under the plastic mulch. You may cover the young plants with agricultural row covers, (sometimes called reemay) for frost and insect protection.

Best yet, protect them with Wall 'o' Waters (my favorite plant growing product of all - you can put them out 4-6 weeks earlier and leave them on through the fall for an extra month of growing in both the spring and the fall). I also recommend Red Plastic Mulch to really increase yields of eggplants, tomatoes and peppers. It is ugly but works great with a 20-30% increase in yields.

I tried a new product, called "Kozy Coats", that was similar to the " Wall O' Waters" (solar powered, water filled season extenders). These were red providing that portion of the light wavelength spectrum that plants respond to (“far red”) ,thereby enhancing photosynthesis (the life processes of plants). It said that the plants would be much earlier and twice as large. I figured that was the standard exaggerated advertising. I was totally amazed! My tomatoes in the red ones were light years ahead of the others, ripened earlier and just plain beat all the poor plants that were left to fend for themselves. Like everyone who gardens, you learn quickly that Mother Nature calls the shots, but you can still try some new ways to trick her.

In warm climates you may need to heavily mulch them to keep them from drying out. Try foliar feeding (I use fish/seaweed extract/kelp emulsion, sprayed on the leaves- it stinks something fierce but the plants love it!). Always water carefully, and deeply, allowing the soil to dry on the surface between watering, but don't let the plants wilt. Fertilize with fish emulsion or dilute fertilizer solution every 10-14 days. I also put a ring of dry organic tomato (or vegetable formula) fertilizer around the plants, every week or so. (They sell nice organic fertilizers now in garden centers like Agway. I like the new inexpensive "Organic Plant Tone" made by Espoma, it is less than half the cost of many others.)

TOMATILLOS and GROUND CHERRIES are easy to raise. Start indoors as you would tomatoes. Growing tips are the same. Direct sowing outdoors is not recommended the first season, although after the first year they will happily self seed and you wont have to bother again. Soak the entire husk cherrry, (or tomatillo) for a few hours to get the seeds separated, they are very tiny

CUCUMBERS-I like to pre-sprout my cucumber seeds. I highly suggest this. I soak them in water for anywhere between 5 to 10 hours, then I drain off the water .Put them on damp (not real wet!) paper towels (I highly suggest Kleenex Viva brand - because it holds up without shredding) wrapped loosely in an unsealed plastic bag and put in a warm spot. 70-85 degrees is optimum. They will sprout in a few days saving much time for growing. Check the bags every day!

You must handle the little baby sproutlings carefully when you put them up in pots. I sometimes use tweezers, if you put more water on the paper towels they slide off pretty well without breaking the roots. The key is slowly and gently, remember you just saved weeks in germinating time so don't rush this very important step.

Plant out after all danger of frost is over. Place with a fence, poles or trellis to climb on. My cucumbers are all the old fashioned vining types, they need to climb to remain healthy while growing.

Plant out after all danger of frost is over. Place with a fence, poles or trellis to climb on. My cucumbers are all the old fashioned vining types; they need to climb to remain healthy while growing. If you have had problems with cucumber beetles, you can cover them in agricultural fabric like Reemay, but remember to open them up so they can be pollinated by "good insects" such as bees, then close it up again. Moths do a lot of pollinating at night so you can leave them open at nighttime too for good germination.

Beetberry-Strawberry SPINACH: To germinate, DO NOT cover the seed; it needs light to sprout. It can be started indoors in Jiffy peat pots. Early spring is best for planting but anytime until frost is fine. Keep soil moist to germinate. Do not overly disturb roots when transplanting. Best in well drained soil in full sun. Water moderately after sprouting. May re-seed vigorously. I grow mine in containers and I start mine outdoors.

HOLLYHOCKS: are a biennial which means they have a leafy plant the first year but bloom the second and maybe a third year after. They self seed like crazy, so once they are started you never have to plant again. Poor soil is fine - full sun. It's best to sow the seeds in the fall but you can sow them indoors in the winter and transplant out in the spring.

MORNING GLORY:I soak my seeds overnight then start the seeds growing indoors about 2-3 weeks before the last spring frost in your area by using a small container that is about 4-inches wide and 4-inches deep (Jiffy-7 Peat Pellets or Peat Pots work well for morning glories). The first two baby leaves will appear that look like the letter "V" and in about 2-3 more days two more mature leaves will form on the opposite side that look more like spades, which is what they look like when fully grown.

Or the really EASY way is to throw them on the ground, in fall, winter, or very early spring by the fence or trellis where they will grow. Let Mother Nature break down the seed coats and they will grow just fine.

Seed Starting Tips For : hard coated seeds like: Love in a Puff, Hyacinth Bean, Morning Glories, Moonvine, etc., -soak seeds for 48 hours. This will hasten the germination. However, the lazy way is just leave the hardcoated morning glory seeds on the ground all winter where I want them to grow (i.e., by a fence or trellis) and the cold will break up the seeds well and almost every single one of them will sprout in the spring with no effort at all! This works pretty well for all these hard coated seeds actually

LETTUCE: I suggest planting "Evas Burgundy Lettuce" in the late summer/ very early fall so it can get established and then stay alive all winter. You can plant it in very early spring also. Just press the seeds into the ground lightly, don't plant deeply. All lettuce like cooler temperatures, and must not be planted too deeply. I just broadcast it and press my palm on the soil very lightly. In later plantings you can plant lettuce where it gets a bit of shade from other larger plants so it stays cooler and happier in summer heat. Lettuce is super for growing in containers.


MARIGOLDS: One of the easiest flowers to grow. Plant outside after all danger of frost has past. I would suggest starting the "Harlequin Marigold" indoors since these are a late season marigold, to get a head start. Space the plants 12 inches apart. Marigolds need plenty of sun, so pick a location that is appropriate. they dont need much else in the way of care.

PEAS AND BEANS: I have a hint for you. I always presprout my peas and beans before planting them. I just found out a nifty trick to really jumpstart your peas, (and it may work for beans as well although I haven't tried it on beans). Soak your peas for 12 to 48 hours in a solution of water with Vitamin C or Folic Acid. Disolve half of a 150 milligram Vitamin C tablet in a quart of water . For folic acid use four 5 milligram tablets. It has been proven that the treated pea seedlings will grow 40% higher. The root length, deeling weight and germination were also greatly enhanced by this method. I got great germination even on really old pea seeds I had given up hope for.

Then place the soaked seeds on damp paper towels and put in loose plastic bags. Keep checking them - they will sprout within a day or so. Then the big secret is to put the sprouted peas (or beans) carefully (you don't want to injure the little root) in a plastic bag with a legume inoculant - it is an all natural, organic, biological thing that helps with the fertility of the seeds. The common brand name is "Nature-Aid" it costs about $4 in any feed store or garden center.

Shake carefully into bag and coat the seed (you can mix in a little honey or molasses to make it stick better) and plant. You will be amazed at the difference- all your peas and beans should come up fine then. Peas like to be very crowded when planted- they can nearly touch each other in the row and be sown in what is called "drills" about 4 seeds abreast in close tight rows. Honest, they love it that way. Be smart and put up your fencing or "pea brush" (old branches for peas to climb on) at the same time you plant. They need to be planted VERY early, as soon as the soil can be worked (i.e., is not muddy and wet) . In my zone 6A garden that is March. Check with your local agricultural station for the best date to plant in your zone. Most people plant their peas way too late.

The old wives tale in Dutch country for timing for planting beans is when you can comfortably sit on the ground (that is with nothing on your backside!) Better to err on the late side with beans.

POLE BEAN, RUNNER BEAN AND POLE LIMA CULTURE: In the early days, pole beans were planted at the base of rough wooden poles, the vines clinging to the bark as they twined upward. Today most gardeners grow pole beans on trellises. I use long 5-7 foot lengths of bamboo to make a bean "teepee." Presprout the same as the other beans. Limas need more warmth.

CARROTS: I soak all my carrot seeds overnight. Then when planting I put vermiculite over the seeds and tap down lightly. Just press the seed into the soil but not too deeply. My own tip - lay very damp burlap over the area till they sprout, keep it watered, they need to stay damp to germinate. You can also put boards over them instead of burlap, but you must check them every day! When they look like blades of grass coming through the burlap you can remove it. This whole process works like a charm. I get 100% germination this way!! And Carrots are notorious for being difficult to germinate.

Peppers: I like to pre-sprout my pepper seeds.NEW SEED STARTING TRICK: I just learned a super trick used by scientists for getting old or hard to germinate peppers to really sprout. Many of the tropical hot chile pepper sorts are notoriously difficult to get even germination. I was able to germinate many really old seeds of varieties of hot peppers that I have given up all hope for. I get qutie a few pepper seeds in seed trades that often don't sprout at all. But this method worked with almost 100% germination. I was stunned! A bit more work but well worth it, believe me.

First, boil a pot of water for at least 10 minutes to sterilize the water, then cool it and keep it covered to keep it as sterile as possible. Place your seeds in cheesecloth bags (I used Reemay brand agricultural row covers cut up in small squares and tied with string). Submerge the bag in a solution of 1 cup sterile water (that has been cooled to room temperature) mixed with 1/4 cup liquid chlorine bleach. Leave the seeds in this solution for 10 minutes, swirling the bag around frequently to make sure all the seeds are exposed to the bleach. Then, dunk the bag into a fresh cup of sterile water for one minute, swirling constantly. Repeat this rinsing procedure for 6 more rinses in sterile water (fresh cups for each rinse would be optimum, but not neccessary). Bleach treated seeds germinate sooooo much faster plus the bacteria and fungal spores that may have contaminated the seeds are killed.

Now you can plant the seeds in your sterile soil in pots. I no longer recommend peat pots for any seedlings as it is too difficult to keep them evenly moist. They tend to dry out lethally.

My other older and simpler method is to put them in water for about few hours up to overnight, depending upon how old the seeds are. Then put in damp paper towels wrapped loosely in a plastic bag and put in a very warm spot. 85 degrees is optimum. Most peppers need 80+ degrees to sprout happily. At 65 degrees they will take weeks longer to sprout and grow. They will sprout in a few days to a few weeks (except some of the rare tropical varieties that may take up to a month or more) saving much time for growing. Be sure to water your seedlings with warm water to keep them consistantly warm. You must handle the little baby sproutlings carefully when you put them up in pots. At planting time put one teaspoon of sulfur into the hole first. At blossom time, spray the plant and flowers with a mixture of a quart of water and 2 tablespoons of Epsom salt. I have a friend in a hotter climate (in SC) than here in Zone 6A, who swears by the method of pulling off all the first blooms on the plant for much more fruit later. Later you can prune pepper plants. About six weeks before the first frost, snip back top branches and flowers and then the remaining peppers will mature faster. But here in Zone 6A that method didn't work so well. I do not recommend this method in temperate climates however. For those of you in the Southwest and the South this is worth a try. Before the first freeze, pull entire plant and hang upside down in a garage or basement is ideal. Peppers will ripen right on the plant.

Eggplant: I like to presprout my eggplant seeds. I put them in water for about an hour then put in damp paper towels wrapped loosely in a plastic bag and put in a warm spot. they will sprout in a few days to a week saving much time for growing. You must handle the little baby sproutlings carefully when you put them up in pots. Eggplants want a lot of heat and sun to be happy.

SALSIFY:This is very easy but needs a long season to produce the roots (to be eaten in the fall) in an undisturbed place. There is a trick, which I just found out, to presprout the seeds. Soak the seeds in cold water for 48 hours changing the water twice. Then drain and place in damp paper towels in loose plastic bag. During day leave out at room temperature. Place in fridge at night, check daily. They should sprout in a few days. Plant very carefully so as not to hurt fragile roots.

ANY OTHER GROWING QUESTIONS? EMAIL ME FOR ADVICE OR SUGGESTED READING

More Tips! Gardening advice from the book, Seed to Seed by Suzanne Ashworth - Click Here

My Favorite Garden Recipes - Click Here.



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