So if you’ve always wondered about the best way to raise transplants from seed in preparation for successful planting outdoors, here’s how to plant your seed, so to speak:
1. Soak seeds in water until they sprout, or the seed coat cracks open (usually 12 to 24 hours).
2. Fill some plastic beer cups (after poking drainage holes in the bottom edge) or, better yet, Root Trainers (see Gear, page 65) with a soilless mix like Sunshine Mix #4 or a high-quality coco coir. Moisten the cups with pH-adjusted water until you see lots of runoff. Adding some beneficial microbial inoculants and a full-spectrum vitamin B solution will help to keep young seedlings healthy and protect them from pathogens that can cause major problems in your tender young crop.
3. Using a clean chopstick, nail, pencil, etc., poke a hole about ½-inch deep into the medium. Very gently, place the sprouted seed into the planting hole, with the root tip facing down. Cover the planting hole with some more soilless mix, and lightly water again to ensure that there is good contact between the seed and growing medium.
4. Using full-spectrum fluorescent lighting, gently illuminate your starter cups with about 1,200 lumens of artificial light. The seeds will not need the light to germinate, but the warmth helps, and they will not stretch if exposed to light once they emerge. Once seedlings become established, you can increase the light intensity they receive by moving the fluorescent lamp fixture closer to the tops of the plants.
5. In a few days (up to a week), you should see your seedlings emerge. Do not get the young leaves wet while under the lights, or the tender young foliage could cook (sunscald). Also know that your seedlings will not need any fertilizer until they develop their first sets of true leaves. Once that happens, you can sparingly fertilize with 1/8- to 1/4-strength nutrients.
6. What seedlings really benefit from the most, in terms of feedings, is lots of bioactive building blocks like amino acids, B vitamins, fulvates, humates, kelp extracts, and naturally occurring growth promoters. To encourage healthier transplants with larger root systems, occasionally apply root-building products that contain species of fungi and bacteria that are beneficial to plants. These biostimulants can really help to strengthen plants and improve growth rates with little danger of overapplication in soilless mediums, unlike conventional chemical fertilizers.
7. As the seedlings become better established over time, make sure to increase air movement using an oscillating fan, and keep them well fed, watered, and illuminated. Ideally, you want to keep the temperature when the lights are on at around 75°F and the humidity between 45 percent and 65 percent. Adding supplemental carbon dioxide (CO2) levels can significantly boost the growth rates in your seedlings. If you add CO2, you can bump up the temperature a few degrees.
8. By the time your seedlings get big enough to bring outdoors, weather conditions should be favorable. Assuming you have completely prepared your planting site, it’s time to “harden off” your transplants. This is a simple process whereby you smoothly transition your plants from the more gentle indoor conditions to harsher outdoor climates. Start this by moving your trays of seedlings outside into brighter, possibly cooler, and often more windy conditions.
The first time you do this, take your plants outdoors for about an hour, then take them back inside, or put them into a warmed but shady spot outside. The second time, try it for a few hours before bringing them back to more gentle conditions. Keep repeating this process while lengthening the time the transplants are outside until they are able to stand a full day with no signs of stress. This process usually only takes a day or two to complete.
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Tuesday, 02 April 2013