Growing Healthy Seedlings:
Starting vegetable plants from seeds is not difficult, yet for beginners it can be intimidating. Try to under stand the basic needs of seeds, and then use common sense and follow a few simple rules; you too will be growing them like pros. Understanding the basic needs for seeds to germinate will help you grow healthy seedlings. In order for seeds to germinate, three conditions must be met:
(1) Moisture: Keep the soil moist, not soaking wet after sowing the seeds.
(2) Air: When seeds germinate and root start to develop, they need air to breath and grow. The right kind of soil provides good drainage, which will allow the roots to develop properly.
(3) Temperature: Seeds can germinate in a wide temperature range. It may take seeds a long time to germinate if the temperature is too low. The optimum germination temperature for most seeds is between 75-80 F.
(4) Light: Seeds themselves do not need light to germinate, however light is necessary when seedling emerge, so the seedlings can start photosynthesis process and grow to be healthy seedlings.
(5) Nutrients: Once seedling emerges, they will need nutrient to grow. Be sure there are enough fertilizer in the soil for the seedlings to feed on. Some seeds need to be started indoors otherwise they will not mature in most areas. Seeds like tomatoes, peppers and eggplants usually need to be started in trays under warm conditions. Other seeds do better to be direct sowed, such as root vegetables and spinach. Many vegetables can be either started in trays or direct sowed in the garden, depending on your preference. Whether you start seeds in trays indoors or sow them directly outdoors, keeping in mind the conditions the seeds need will greatly enhance your chances to succeed. The following are simple rules to follow when grow your seedlings.
Starting seeds in trays:
(1) Use clean soil: Use store bought potting soil. They have the right kind of structure that will provide good drainage. They are sterile. Some even have fertilizer added to the soil mix (if not you can add your own). It will make your job much easier. Sometimes it is tempting to use old soil, but it will just cause trouble later on. Old soil is not sterile and can introduce diseases to the plants and cause them to die (damping off). You can make your own seed starting soil by mixing 2 part of store-bought potting soil, 1 part coconut fiber and 1 part vermiculite. Additionally, add 2 cups of slow-release fertilizer to every square yard of soil mix.
(2) Use fresh seeds: Starting with good fresh seeds are important . Chose varieties that are adaptable for local growing condition. The vitality of seeds means the capacity to live, grow and develop. Vital seeds germinate faster and reduce the chances for mishaps to occur.
(3) Thin out the seedlings: The keep one rule: When starting seeds in pots, place several seeds in each seed pot. When the seedlings emerge, remove all but one strong and healthy seedling in each pot. This will ensure the proper development of the seedling and give your plant the best chance to survive.
(4) Using heat mats: Heat mats raise the temperature about 10 F above the ambient temperature. Heat mats provide bottom heat and that is just what young seedlings love. Used properly you can grow some of the best looking, healthy seedlings. Temperature control unit: Used together with a heat mat, the temperature control unit allows you to set the heat mat at a constant temperature.
(5) Mulching: Mulching the seedlings: add a layer of mulch such as chicken grits (fine rocks) can have many benefits to young seedlings: (a) it keeps the moisture in the soil (b) it prevents soil being splattered when watering (c) It reduces the chances of moss or fungus forming on the surface.
(6) Transplanting to garden: When seedlings grow to certain size, you will need to transplant them to bigger pots or to the garden. Mix some slow release fertilizers (such as 16-16-16) in the soil whether when you transplant.
Prepare your plants for transplanting: Set the plants you started indoors or in your greenhouse out during the day and bring them in at night for a few days just before you transplant them. This process is call hardening off. Be sure to space the plants properly. They may look small and have too much space at first; soon you will be glad you give each plant enough room to grow. Sow seeds direct in garden: Check soil temperature before sowing seeds. When sow seeds direct in the garden you should prepare the garden by turning it over and make the soil fluffy. Add soil amendments when necessary. Apply organic fertilizer such as compost manures and work them in the soil. Make a furrow, fill the furrow halfway with the seed starting soil (see above recipe). Sow seeds at the appropriate intervals and depth and cover the sowing site with additional soil mix. Water the sowing site with gentle water spray. Keep the sowing site moist until seedling emerges. If weather is still cold and wet, consider covering the site with a plastic sheet. If you use protection, such as a minihooper, you can sow seeds in an earlier date.