Even though many of you are still digging out from the latest snowstorm in the Northeast, it is time to begin thinking about spring gardening. Here in the Florida panhandle it's definately time to start your seedlings if you haven't already. I would suggest planting tomatos, peppers and eggplant now because they take the longest to establish. Seed trays I planted the first week of January look like this now:
And I'm in the process of transplanting tomatos into larger containers. This year I've begun planting Heirloom, also called Heritage seeds, rather than buying hybrid plants or seed packages typically found around town. I wrote a bit about Heirloom seeds in THIS BLOG, but I see now that I failed to report updates and findings. Suffice it to say I am more than pleased with the germination rate and hardiness of the seeds that I ordered. My fall garden consisted of spinach, Romaine and leaf lettuces, snow peas, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, onions and garlic - the last two of which are planted in the fall and harvested later in the spring. My new resolve is to never purchase hybrid seeds or plants again!
This is some of what's growing in our garden right now:
Growing plants from seeds is such a rewarding experience and so much cheaper than buying transplants! Believe me, if I can do it, so can you! You'll want to start your garden seeds 4 to 6 weeks before you plan to move them outdoors. This is how I plant my vegetable transplant seeds:
I use a combination of compost and peat for my growing medium. I'm trying to find the perfect mix - when I used pure compost I found that there wasn't enough consistency for the roots to grab. The soil fell away from the root ball when I tried to plant them. Truly, my favorite potting medium is the 50 pound commercial bag of Miracle Grow potting soil, but I'm trying to watch spending and not rely on store bought products. I'm also open to any suggestions you might have for a better mix.
Step 1: Fill planting trays with potting medium
Step 2: Use another tray and apply pressure to compact soil
Step 3: I use my finger to press a seed hole in each depression
Step 4: Plant one seed in each hole
Step 5: Gently cover with soil
Step 6: Smooth and gently press soil
Step 7: Carefully and thoroughly water in your seeds. Notice I am only allowing a trickle of water to escape from the jug.
Keep the soil moist while waiting for your seeds to sprout. If the temperature is right it only takes a few days, but if it's too cold it will take longer. The most optimal conditions are a warm dark environment while the seeds germinate. I started all my seed trays in our greenhouse (not dark!) but you might consider placing your tray(s) on a low temp heating pad, or on top of the refrigerator or hot water heater until the seeds begin to sprout. Once the seeds begin to grow I suggest placing them under florescent lighting. Position the bulbs two to three inches above your plants and adjust the height as the plants grow. This does two things: it provides a small amount of warmth for your plants without burning them, and it keeps them from growing straight up in search of sunlight. Plants have different light requirements - for example, tomatoes need 12-16 hours of sunlight each day to grow optimally.
Before we had the farm, I set up a growing table in our bedroom. I used heating pads under the plant trays and only turned off the fluorescent lights while we slept. This artificial sunlight helps the plants to grow thick and bushy rather than thin and spindly.
Water regularly, keeping in mind that both a heating pad underneath and light from above will cause the soil to dry out quickly.
Experts suggest hardening off your plants one to two weeks before planting. This entails acclimating the plants to outdoor weather gradually, setting them outside for short periods of time during the day and increasing that time little by little, ensuring a hardy plant. I don't. Then again, this is Florida.