Seed starting key to prize winning plants
By Farmer Bubba Scott
Okey dokey ya'll. It's time to talk about seed starting.
Even though most of you already have your gardens planted, it's still OK to start seeds growing.
On the farm, I start new seeds growing every week. Some seeds are for back up plants, others to keep the growing season alive until next year. There's just something about starting seeds that's hard to explain. When someone buys plants and something happens to the plant, they go out and buy more plants. Not the case with seed starting. If I have low germination, there's something wrong and I ask questions!
When I start a seed, it breaks through the dirt and becomes a plant. It's up to me to get it to the harvest. If I start 72 seeds and 1 seed makes it through the dirt, it's not how many seeds I started with, the seed becomes a plant I need to take care of.
I'm going to show you how I start seeds on my farm and what I start them in. If you're successful at starting seeds, keep doing it the way it works for you. I'm showing readers what has worked for me for the past 30 years.
FACT: Some gardeners can start plants from seeds and others cannot. Gardeners who can't start a seed, buy from those folks who have seed starting success. So for all those CAN'Ts who want to be CANs and take the big leap into seed starting, here we go.
There are three things you need to get seeds started:
Seeds - Seeds will either make you happy when you plant them or make you want to quit gardening after 3 weeks with no germination. If you buy bulk seeds (not packaged),make sure you know where you're getting the seeds from. Ask questions like, How long have they been keeping them stored before you buy the seeds? The fresher the seed, the better. Also check where the seeds are being kept. Storing seeds in a warm area is bad for the seed. Seeds should be stored in a cool place--out of sunlight.
There is a way to check if your seeds are good or bad. Get a bowl and put a napkin or paper towel in it and wet it down. Place 10 seeds in the bowl. Keep the napkin moist at all times. Germination is when the seed breaks through the dirt and starts its life as a plant. Germination starts with a little white tail coming out of the seed. This is the root. Normally you should t see a root after 4 days of soaking the seed. If you don't, wait until the 7th day. If you still don't see a root, the seeds are probably old. If you get 5 roots out of the 10, your germination is 50%. Not bad, but I'd question the seed company. Also, when you purchase seeds, remember: If the seeds are in a warm location, that is a red flag. A good germination percentage would be over 80%. That means 8 out of 10 seeds make plants. For me, I want above 90% germination rate.
Seed starting mix - I create a seed starting mix by combining peat and compost seed mixture and blend them myself. I've been using this same starter mix for as long as I can remember. It's my half and half recipe: half peat and half compost.
BUBBA NOTE: The reason I use compost in my seed starting mix is that compost is a fertilizer. When the seeds start growing in this mixture their roots get a good feeding until they develop their first 4 true leaves (right). The compost feeds the plant and this gives me more time to transplant. So what are true leaves? When the seed breaks the dirt, it will develop two leaves. At this point, the seed itself is feeding the new growth. Then, the plant develops two more leaves. These leaves will be little at first and form in the middle of the plant. When these two new leaves become larger than the first twoleaves, they are called "true leaves'. It's at this stage that the seed needs to be fed. Think of it like this. When a woman is pregnant, the mother's body feeds the baby. After the baby is born, it needs to be given food.
When the mix is ready for the seed trays, I wet the mixture real good, for example like when you wet a towel and ring it out. I believe the word is moist. I fill the trays with the wet mixture and then mash the mix down a bit. I then add more mix. The mix should be spongy before I drop the seed into its new home.
Now here's the key to successful seed starting. Once the seed is in its new little home, before you cover it, you want to get a spray bottle and wet the seed and the mix again. Gently. This gets the seed wet for sprouting. Then it's time to cover the seed and wait for your results.
BUBBA NOTE: When you cover the seed, the dirt over the seed should only be the depth of the seed planted. Use a tomato and squash seed as an example. The tomato seed needs about 1/8 of an inch of cover. While a squash seed needs about ¼ of an inch of cover because it's a bigger seed.
Once the seed is covered, moisten the to top of the dirt again. If the dirt on top is dry, there's a good chance the seed will dry out also. DON'T WATER THE SEED TRAYS WITH A HOSE OR HEAVY OVERHEAD SPRAY NOZEL! You don't want to push the seed down further into the dirt. Use a mister. It's important to keep the top ½ inch of the seed tray wet at all times. You don't want the seed to dry out. A dry seed slows down germination. Remember, f you watered the starting mix in the beginning, it'll take a while for the bottom to dry out.
BUBBA NOTE: When you start seeds in trays, they don't need sunlight to germinate. It's only when they break through the mix and out into the new world that they need light. A little light in the morning is good enough until they start growing. What you're trying to do is let the plant build a good root system before the plant starts growing out of the ground.
Now that you've kept the top of the mix moist and a sprout has made it above ground, it's time to water a little deeper and let the top dry out. This will make the root travel after the water and into the soil mixture.
Now for the good stuff. You've done everything right so far. You're a good plant parent. When the plant has developed 4 leaves (remember, true leaves), it's time to think of where their new home should be. Shucks, that's called transplanting, or PLANTSPORTATION like I talked about in a previous column!
We will be plantsporting our seedlings in next week's column.
I hope everyone's having fun in the garden. After reading what I just wrote, I think I'll go out and start me 60 or 70 new 'seed babies'.
- From the desk, on Farmer Bubba's Farm, Aloha.
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