Seedling tips

We’d like to thank everyone who braved the threat of rain and came out to our seedling sale yesterday, you all played a big part in making it such a huge success! It was nice to see so many gardeners, both veteran and novice, taking an interest in heirloom plant varieties that have been grown using organic methods.

 

Since the weather has been a little topsy-turvy lately, we thought it would be beneficial to post some tips on how to care for your seedlings in the early, stressful days. These little fellas have been inside for a long time, and so it is a good idea to get them into the ground (or a bigger container) as soon as possible. At the same time, they are used to the warm and predictable conditions of the greenhouse, so placing them outdoors may be a bit of a shock for them. These tips are not necessary to follow, but they may help your seedlings throughout the adjustment period.

 

Planting

 

A good transplanting method is to dig a hole, approximately the same size as the seedling container, in the ground (or a larger planting container). You may find it helpful to use a popsicle stick to remove the seedling and soil ball from the coffee cup. Fill the hole with the soil ball and gently flatten with your hands, leaving a shallow trench around the soil ball in which water can collect easily.

 

If the weather continues to be quite cold in the evenings this week, it may be a good idea to harden off your seedlings. Hardening off refers to gradually exposing transplants to the outdoors. This may be particularly advantageous to those planting in container gardens. Since indoor seedlings have never been exposed to soil temperature variation, high winds, or direct intense sun, extreme changes in condition can sometimes be a big shock for transplants. If you are planting your seedlings in a larger container, it is a good idea to slowly expose the container to outdoor conditions by moving it between direct sun and shady spots, and taking the container inside at night (if the weather is cold). On the first day of the transplant, leave the container in direct sun for an hour or so before placing it in a shadier spot. Gradually increase the amount of direct sun your container gets each day for the first week after transplanting. This is not essential, but it may help your seedling deal with the shock of the new conditions.

 

If you have already transplanted your seedling into the ground and the weather continues to be cold or the sun extreme, it might be a good idea to shelter your plants. Building a cold frame
is a good way to help defend seedlings from colder weather, but cutting the bottom of a 2-litre clear plastic pop bottle also does the trick for small individual plants.

 

If your garden is in a particularly sunny spot and you are worried about the sun drying out your soil, there are ways to selectively shade your plants. According to Barbara W. Ellis’ Veggie Gardener’s Answer Book (2008):
 
“Upturned bushel baskets, pieces of lattice propped up along the row, or burlap draped over supports are all easy ways to provide a bit of shade. It is also a good idea to install a cutworm collar around each seedlings as you plant.” (pp 53)

 

 

Watering

 

Since many seedlings will have some difficulty with being transplanted, it is necessary to provide them with enough water and nutrients to help build up their health. Water your seedlings immediately before and after transplanting, and water the ground or container before your give your plant a new home.

 

It is more efficient to water early in the morning or after 4pm, since the midday heat often dries out the soil before it is absorbed by plant roots. Novella Carpenter and Willow Rosenthal, authors of The Essential Urban Farmer (2011), recommend watering seedlings between twice a day and once every two days, depending on air temperature and humidity. In containers, the soil should be moist, but not seeping wet. Proper drainage in containers is necessary to prevent fungal infections and root rot, so make sure you drill a whole lot of holes into the bottoms.

 

Soil

 

Plant health is also largely determined by soil quality. While we might often think of soil as lifeless dirt, plants grow best in earth that serves as a vibrant community of insects, bacteria, fungi, and microbes. This underground ecosystem helps with the provision of nutrients, the breaking down of organic matter, and the building up of a plant’s defences against diseases and pests. It is a good idea to enrich your soil with organic matter such as compost, worm castings, fish emulsion, seaweed, or manure.

 

If you are gardening in a container, use a commercial potting soil mix, since most mixes contain organic matter. If you are gardening in the ground, mix compost or manure into your topsoil. In either case, you may add additional fertilizer by making and applying a compost tea. Novella Carpenter and Willow Rosenthal suggest that you ensure your soil is not dry before adding any kind of fertilizer, as the nutrients may shock the roots. They also recommend making nutrient teas from fish guts, if you can stand it. The addition of sugars such as fruit juice or molasses may also help speed up the decomposition of organic matter.

 

You may also find some valuable and plant-specific information by reading the plant variety descriptions on the Urban Harvest website.

 

Thanks again to everyone who came out and bought a seedling, and best of luck with your garden this season!
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