As our last bit of snow leaves us in Forest County, now is a great time to start planting your seeds in anticipation of this summer’s harvest. Starting seeds can also be a simple biology lesson for youth, as they watch plants grow and develop.
The first step in planting seeds is to check the seeds for freshness. The seed packets themselves will have a freshness date and you can also test your seeds by putting 10 seeds in a moist paper towel inside an unsealed plastic bag. Keep the bag at 70 degrees for the germination period. Fresh seeds will have a germination rate of 80-100%.
Once you have determined the seeds are fresh, decide what seeds you would like to start. Radish, leeks, carrots are best direct seeded outside. Lettuce and spinach can be started inside or out. Tomatoes and peppers best started indoors.
Choose clean containers and clean potting mix. Potting mix is light and well-drained which helps keep roots healthy.
Drainage is important, the germination mix should be moist, but not soppy wet! Make sure your containers have drainage holes. Recycled milk cartons or jugs, make great, free containers! A layer of clear plastic over the top of the container can help keep the moisture in, or you can mist the top of the soil several times a day. Some seeds will germinate in 3 days, others may take 3 weeks.
Bright light from a window is great, but seedlings need really bright light to develop healthy, thick stems and proper growth. Consider installing a bank of fluorescent lights on a pulley so the lights can be lowered to just a few inches above the developing seedlings.
Set up a fan to blow on your seedlings. This helps protect the delicate seedlings from damping off, a fungal disease that attacks the new stems at the soil level.
When starting your seeds indoors, it is important to gradually move your plants outside. Move seedlings to a sheltered location outdoors for a couple hours each day. Best in the early morning or early evening. Start a couple of weeks before planting the seedlings in the garden. Each day the plants stay outside longer and in sunnier, more exposed locations.
For more information, please contact a Master Gardener Volunteer through the Forest County Extension office. Our office is currently closed, but we are available by phone at 715.478.7797.
Additional Gardening resources:
https://learningstore.extension.wis.edu . Note: You don’t need to purchase the publications. Downloads are free as a pdf file.