By Larraine Roulston:
Those of us fortunate enough to have a residential garden, balcony space or a plot in a community vegetable/flower garden can reward themselves with some homegrown vegetables. You’ll find that getting an early start by planting a few seeds indoors will be more economical than buying transplants. Vegetables such as tomatoes, eggplants, and peppers need to be planted early in the spring.
The following tips will help you get a heads up on vegetable nutrition and flavor by starting seeds indoors:
- Obtain seeds from a reliable source. Quality heritage and heirloom vegetable seeds, such as Landreth Seed, are fresh and have a superior germination rate.
- Sprouting seeds require ideal conditions to thrive. Begin with clean containers, and pot with a seed-starting mix that will provide a proper balance of drainage and water retention. It also will minimize any disease problems. Garden soil, on the other hand, may harbor plant disease spores and may not be able to drain as well as the seed-starting mix.
- Drainage holes in the container you choose are most important in order to avoid your growing seeds from being overwatered. Toilet roll cylinders are useful as mini biodegradable pots. Simply slice one end in a couple of places and fold in to forma base.When you are ready to plant the seedling in your garden, open the folded part and insert the entire roll into the ground.
- Planting seeds at their proper depth is essential. Check the seed packet for instructions. Cover small seeds with just a little soil mix, while seeds the size of beans are best sown further down. Do not poke seeds too deep, as their stored energy will not be sufficient for them to surface. Since not every seed will germinate, plant an additional few that you can thin out later.
- Once your sowing is complete, set all your containers in warm locations where you can keep them moist on a regular basis. If you have not already done so, it is helpful to label your pots.
- When your seedlings have poked through to the surface, transfer them to a sunny window location. If you suspend fluorescent lighting an inch or so above your plants, you will obtain even better results.
- A cool room temperature in the high 60s, while still maintaining sufficient light, will provide stockier growth.
- As soon as your seedlings begin to produce two sets of leaves, sprinkle them each week with half-strength fertilizer. Mature organic compost should provide the best range of nutrients. This is also the time to thin out the plants by retaining only the strongest seedling in each container. Snip off the others at the soil level. These can then be discarded into your backyard composter.
As seedlings grow in your garden, The Compost Council of Canada points out that “Compost’s role in the soil health story does not stop with fertility. Studies have shown that compost can be instrumental in raising disease resistance in soils, reducing the need for pesticides. Plants have immune systems that are very dependent on partnerships with microbes.” Successful indoor seedlings, when planted in gardens that contain the organic soil conditioner of compost, will continue to thrive.
Larraine writes children’s adventure books on composting and pollinating. To view, visit www.castlecompost.com