Sowing Seeds Part 1
by Dan Clost
by Dan Clost


First serious garden earned 25 cents from the Kemptville Horticultural Society when I was 12. Have been poor in horticulture ever since but rich in spirit.

Went to work writing the Good Earth column (over 500 articles published in newspaper, magazine, website and journal.) and learned that what was printed wasn't what I wanted to say and certainly not what Gentle Reader understood me to say. Subsequently have developed a certain clarity and economy of words.

Day job- nursery and production manager for a large nursery/garden centre
Side job- Garden restoration and renovations, design consultations, remedial pruning.
Night job- garden writer and communicator (overnight success in another 20 years)

Dan gardens in Canadian Zone 5b

February 5, 2006

Now is the time to purchase the seeds and read the packet labels. It does you little good to stand there in April and read about a 10 day germination period followed by 21 days before being able to go outdoors. Additionally, now is the time that most outlets should have their new line of seeds available for us.

Another thing about reading the label. Pay close attention to the actual name. If you want sugar peas in the veggie patch, don't buy sweet peas. Sounds simple, I know, but there are people who have made similar errors.

The second bit of information has already been mentioned. Read it again to fine tune the exact planting time. See how many days there are from sowing before you can put them outside. Match this up with our last probable severe frost date (the 2-4 weekend is a good starting point) and count backwards until you get the actual sowing date. If you're not sure, please ask your gardening neighbours.

A third bit is to see if the seeds need any special techniques to encourage them to germinate. Some need cold treatment, some need heat, some need to be soaked in water overnight etc.

Almost any container will do especially the ubiquitous margarine tub. It is best to use a small tray in which you can place your tubs or cell packs or even straight medium. The purpose of the medium is to keep moisture around the seed and to provide stability when it begins to send forth its shoots. Use soil-less mix: the new plant uses stored food in seed. It has no roots to take up nutrients from the soil.

Fill the container with medium, scatter seeds evenly over the top, cover lightly with more mix, mist with water. Always keep moist, never wet.

For small seeds mix with fine sand for even distribution. Use a flour sifter to cover them.

Next is important: label, label, label. Newly emerging seedlings share a certain oneness of appearance. Masking tape stuck on the side of the flat isn't going to cut it. . Pencil on a popsicle stick is good, just remember to darken up the writing every now and then.

Cover the tray with clear plastic unless they need the dark. If so, just use black plastic. Find a warm place for them. If you only have a few, the top of the fridge is an ideal spot. Mist them daily.

Once sprouting starts, remove the cover. Rotate the container a little bit every day so the seedlings don't bend to reach the light. Fluorescent lights should be about 7,5 - 10cm above the plants. Any further and they may develop spindly stems.

The first set of leaves, cotyledons, are not true leaves . When the second set appear you can transplant them into their growing medium. Gently grasp them by the cotyledons and prise them out of their first home with small stick or dibble. Use the dibble to poke a hole in the new spot and set the plant in there. Gently firm the soil around the roots. You can fertilise with a weak compost tea, fish emulsion or dilute water soluble solution.

When the warm weather arrives, begin hardening them off by setting them outside for a few hours daily, preferably in a cold frame. Once all danger of frost has passed, you can set them outside in their permanent locations.

Stay tuned for Dan's part 2!

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