Starting Seeds with Donna Miller

We had a terrific turnout for our first meeting of 2012!

Donna Miller was our speaker for the night. Donna is a Master Gardener from Canterbury. Over the past 10 years, she and her husband, Jim, have converted their yard into beautiful theme gardens including children’s, butterfly, heritage, fairy and Halloween gardens. Two years ago they opened Petals in the Pines to the public.

Donna started out the talk with a question. Why start your own seeds?

The answer is that you can grow a huge variety of vegetables  by starting your own seeds. If you only buy your plants from a local nursery, your selection of seedlings is very limited. It’s fun to experiment with different and unusual varieties of plants.

When starting seeds, the first thing you need to do is READ YOUR SEED PACKET! The seed packet normally has all of the information you need for planting.

Follow the directions on your seed packet!

Our area has a 120 day growing season that starts around Memorial Day. Your seedlings should be ready to plant in the ground by then. If you read the back of your seed packet, that should give you all of the information you need about when it is time to start your seeds indoors. For example, if your seed packet says that transplants can be started 6-8 weeks before planting date, then you should start your seeds early to mid-April for planting on Memorial Day.

To start your seeds indoors, all you need are containers with drainage holes, seed starting mixture, water and light.

Containers: You can use any container you like. Many people reuse the containers they get from the garden store. Just make sure that they are scrubbed perfectly clean with soap and hot water. You don’t want to transfer any plant diseases to your sensitive seedlings. You can also use containers you have around the house like food containers. Just make sure to poke drainage holes in the bottom.

Soil: Use a fine, uniform, well aerated, loose soil especially formulated for seedlings. Promix is a good medium to use. Fill your containers with the soil to the top and water the soil. The soil will absorb the water and settle down into the planting container a bit.

Planting: Follow the planting depth recommended on the seed packet. Lightly firm the soil over the seed but do not pack down.Water lightly.

Some seeds benefit from a technique called scarification or stratification. This involves nicking the seed with a sharp knife and then soaking the seeds overnight before planting them. This helps them to germinate faster. Your seed packet will tell you if you need to do this technique.

Label: Make sure to put a label in your containers. Seedlings look remarkably alike when they are small!

Water: Keep planting mixture moist, but not waterlogged.

Heat and Light: Seeds and seedlings need a well lit, controlled environment. between 50-70 degrees.

Transplanting: Once your seeds sprout and have two small leaves, they will be ready to transplant into a larger container. Water the seedlings well, then  loosen the soil around the seedling and its roots with a stick. Lots of gardeners use chopsticks as a tool for this task.  Transfer the seedling to a larger container by gently holding it by one of its leaves. Do not hold it by its stem, it is too delicate. Ease it into the new planting hole and gently tamp down the soil around the seedling. Water and keep out of the sun for 24 hours to recover.

Label Again!!: Make sure to put a label in every container. You think you might remember what a particular vegetable looks like but you can be surprised. Zucchini seedlings look like summer squash which looks like butternut squash which looks like pumpkins which looks like melons. Take the time to label!

Care of seedlings while they grow: Rotate the trays each day so that they are not always leaning one way towards the sun. Fertilize with a diluted fish emulsion once a week. (Follow directions on the container for fertilizing seedlings.)

Getting ready to plant outdoors: Seedlings need to be hardened off before you plant them outside. The process of hardening them off lessens the shock they sustain when they move outside. To harden off your seedlings, put them outside in a protected, shady spot on a mild day. Leave them out for a couple of hours then bring them inside. Over the next few days,  increase the amount of time they are outside and increase the amount of direct sun they receive until they are out 24 hours a day. Keep watering and fertilizing them well.

Transplanting Outdoors: When the plants are hardened off, they can be planted outside. It’s best to plant on a cloudy day at the end of the day. This lessens the shock that the plants receive when transplanting. Gently remove them out of their containers into their planting hole. Tamp down the soil and water well. Make sure to transfer your marker so you will remember what you planted.

Ta Da! You are done!

For more information about starting seeds and caring for seedlings, there is a wealth of information on the UNH Cooperative Extention website. Here are a few resources you can download and print for reference…
Starting Plants Indoors From Seed
Timing Vegetable Transplants
Planting and Maturity Dates of Vegetables in NH

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