Seed starting guides-1 & 2
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John Scheepers Kitchen Garden Seeds
The Essential Seed-Starting Timetable
Why Start Some Seeds Indoors?
Did you ever wonder why certain varieties of seed are started indoors? It is usually because the days to mature harvest exceed the amount of time between your spring Frost-Free Date and your first fall frost. By starting these varieties indoors in advance, you will have a four to 14 week jump-start on the development of seedlings. Some varieties like to be started indoors so you can really pamper them with consistent moisture and warmer temperatures. Real warmth-lovers, like Eggplants, Peppers and Tomatoes, like to be coddled with 24-7 grow lights until they are 'toddler' seedlings when they will be able to handle cooler, dark nights.
Part One: Seeds to Start Indoors
It's best to consider your seed order in two parts. The first should include the varieties that you must start indoors for transplant into the garden after your Frost-Free Date. You can find your reliable Frost-Free Date by using a nifty chart from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). GO HERE and select your State from the pull down menu. This will generate a PDF file with a list of NOAA data collection sites in your State. In the left column, choose the location nearest or most similar to where you live. Then read across. Use the middle threshold number (32F) and right next to it in the Spring column, will be the 50% probability date. This is your all-important Average Frost-Free Date.
Eight-week General Seed-Starting Timetable
Here is the general Seed-Starting Schedule for seeds that should be started eight weeks BEFORE your Frost-Free Date in your Horticultural Zone.
Horticultural Zones 9 & 10: Start seeds indoors in early to mid January.
Horticultural Zone 8: Start seeds indoors in early February.
Horticultural Zone 7: Start seeds indoors in mid February.
Horticultural Zone 6: Start seeds indoors in late February.
Horticultural Zone 5: Start seeds indoors in early March.
Horticultural Zones 1-4: Start seeds indoors in mid to late March.
Vegetable and Herb Seed-Starting Timetable
Here is the seed-starting schedule by variety and the number of weeks BEFORE your Frost-Free Date.
Four Weeks: Bitter Melon and Cucuzzi Edible Gourds.
Six Weeks: Asparagus, Basil, Echinacea Root, Fennel (herb and vegetable), Melons, Okra,Onions, Rhubarb and Shallots.
Eight Weeks: Amaranth, Anise Hyssop, Bell Peppers, Catnip, Chile Peppers, Chives, Lovage,Marjoram, Oregano, Paprika Peppers, Parsley, Sage, Savory, Sweet Peppers, St. John's Wort,Thyme, Tomatillos and Tomatoes.
Nine Weeks: Broccoli, Cabbage and Kohlrabi (transplant out four weeks before the last frost date).
Ten Weeks: Eggplant, Jicama, Lavender and Lemongrass.
Eleven Weeks: Artichokes, Cauliflower and Leeks (transplant out four weeks before the last frost date).
Twelve Weeks: Brussels Sprouts, Cardoons, Celeriac, Celery, Cutting Celery, Parsley Root andStevia.
Sixteen Weeks: Rosemary and Strawberries (for first year crop).
Flower Seed-Starting Timetable
These beautiful varieties prefer to be started indoors two to 14 weeks, as specified, BEFORE transplanting out after your Frost-Free Date.
Two Weeks: Baptisia.
Four Weeks: Celosia.
Five Weeks: Alyssum.
Six Weeks: Dahlias and Echinacea.
Eight Weeks: Alternanthera, Amaranth, Baby's Breath, Balsam, Black-eyed Susans, Cutting Ageratum, Canterbury Bells, Catmint Nepeta, China Asters, Cleome, Coleus, Coreopsis, Euphorbia, Forget-Me-Nots, Gaillardia, Globe Amaranth, Hardshell Gourds,Helichrysum Strawflower, Heuchera, Milkweed, Nicotiana, Nigella, Platycodon, Scabiosa, Snapdragons, Statice, Stock, Thunbergia,Tithonia and Yarrow.
Ten Weeks: Hibiscus, Phlox and Victoria Salvia.
Twelve Weeks: Datura, Dianthus, Digitalis, Helichrysum Silver Mist, Heliotrope, Hollyhocks, Johnny Jump-Ups, Lobelia, Salvia andViola.
Fourteen Weeks: Verbena.
Midsummer for Fall Use: Ornamental Kale.
Part Two: Seeds to Direct-Sow Easily Outside
The second part of your order should include varieties that prefer to be direct-sown easily into the garden after your Frost-Free Date. These are the vegetables and herbs that magically come to life after you gently nudge them into the warming spring soil for abundant reward: Arugula, Asian Greens, Beans, Beets, Belgian Endive, Borage, Broccoli Raab, Brown Mustard Seed, Carrots, Chamomile,Swiss Chard, Chervil, Chicories, Chinese Broccoli, Chinese Cabbage, Claytonia, Collard Greens, Coriander, Corn, Cress,Cucumbers, Daikon Radishes, Dandelion Greens, Dill, Edamame, Endive, Escarole, Fava Beans, Fennel, Kale, Kohlrabi, Lemon Balm, Lettuce, Lima Beans, Mache, Melons, Minutina, Mizuna, Mustard Greens, Orach, Pak choi, Parsnips, Peas, Pea Pods,Pumpkins, Radicchio, Radishes, Rutabagas, Salad Greens, Salsify, Shelling Beans, Shiso, Snap Peas, Sorrel, Spearmint, Spinach,Summer Squash, Winter Squash, Turnip Greens and Turnips.
It is similarly easy to direct-sow a multitude of flowers into the garden. Here is the complete line-up: Alyssum, Amaranth, Bachelor's Buttons, Bells of Ireland, Calendula officinalis, Cardinal Climber, Cathedral Bells, Chinese Lanterns, Columbine, Coreopsis, Corn Cockles, Cosmos, Delphinium, Forget-Me-Nots, Four O'Clocks, Hyacinth Bean Vine, Hyssop, Larkspur, Lavatera, Liatris, Linum,Love-in-a-Puff, Lupines, Marigolds, Mirabilis, Moonflowers, Morning Glories, Nasturtiums, Ornamental Gourds, Poppies, Runner Beans, Shasta Daisies, Sunflowers, Sweet Peas, Tithonia and Zinnias. Each of our direct-sow Habitat Gardens creates floral playgrounds with nectar-rich meals for Butterflies, Bumblebees, Hummingbirds and Songbirds.
We share our best-of-the-best recipes so you can feed your family and friends well without feeling frenzied. Take a look at our practical, hands-on horticultural tips to demystify gardening with seeds (it need not be tricky or difficult. Truth be told, it is a bit more like easy magic.) If you need help with anything, our office hours are Monday through Friday from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Email us firstname.lastname@example.org or call us at (860) 567-6086. We can help you make your garden more easily tended and productive which in turn will help to keep gardening a happy, essential part of your family's life. Lance Frazon, our seed specialist, is happy to help you in any way possible. He loves to talk seeds.
Read the Seed Packets
Just about everything you need to know is detailed on each seed packet, including when to start seed indoors, proper planting depth, spacing, days to germination, ideal germination temperature and any special needs. Some seeds need a 12-week head start indoors while others shouldn't be started until three weeks before transplant outside. Pay attention to specific instructions about covering or not covering the seeds with soil: for the best germination, some seeds need light, while others crave darkness. Sort your start-indoor seed packets by the number of weeks they require in advance of your spring Frost-Free Date. Start a Seed Calendar. Prior to use, store seed packets in an airtight container, in a dry spot away from direct sunlight at a consistent 65 degrees F to 75 degrees F.
Use a Good Quality Soil-Less Seed Starting Mix
Seeds that are started indoors should be planted in new, sterile, finely textured, soil-less seed-starting mix that contains sphagnum peat, brown coir (ripe coconut husk fiber), fertilizer, perlite and/or vermiculite. Good seed-starting mix helps promote thorough root development and avoid 'damping off': when young seedlings perish from fungal diseases brought on by contaminated old seed-starting mix, cool, moist conditions and/or poor air circulation. Premoisten the seed-starting mix with room temperature water in a sterile plastic container. If you don't do this, the dry soil-less mix will run out of your planted containers and ruin the seed planting depth. Select seed-starting flats, pots or other containers that have good drainage and sterilize them before use. Plastic is better than terra cotta for moisture retention. After planting, water carefully and well with a hand spray bottle and lightly tamp the soil surface to make sure that the seeds are in direct contact with the soil. Label each variety to avoid any confusion later.
Moist for Germination, Then Stay on the Dry Side
When you start your seeds, it's important to keep the soil-less mix consistently moist, particularly in the winter when humidity levels are so very low. We cover our seed-starting flats with a clear dome top or a piece of plastic wrap to prevent moisture evaporation. Check them every day and remove the cover or plastic wrap as soon as the first sprouts emerge. From then on, let the soil surface dry out briefly between waterings to inhibit disease and encourage strong root growth. How often should you water? That depends on the type of container, the growing mix, the air temperature and the size of the plants. When you water, you may use a hand spray bottle to gently water the soil-less mix without dislodging the seeds. Make sure that all of the soil is gently moistened~not just the top layer. You can also water from the bottom up. Pour a 1/2 inch layer of water in a large tray and place your seed-starting flats or containers in the tray. The soil-less mix will wick the water up from below.
Provide Consistent Temperatures
Most seeds germinate best when the soil temperature is 65 degrees F to 75 degrees F. In a cool home or greenhouse, you can put your seed-starting flats on top of seed heat mats (available at your local garden center or online source). Once the baby seedlings are up and growing, they prefer cooler 60 degrees F to 65 degrees F temperatures and good air circulation. Running a small fan on the lowest setting near your seedlings will help keep them cool and discourage disease (not necessary if your home is cool and dry).
Provide 16 Hours of Bright Light Every Day
Starting seeds on a sunny windowsill doesn't work~there is simply not enough strong light~seedlings will be weak, tall and spindly. You need grow lights. They don't have to be expensive or tricky. You can find them at your local garden center or hardware store. Hang the grow lights on chains so you can move them up as your seedlings grow. The grow lights should be just an inch or two above the seedlings at all times for maximum rooting, growth and warmth. If necessary, rotate flat placement for even light exposure. Put the grow lights on a timer so you don't forget to turn the lights on for 16 hours and off for eight. Real warmth-lovers, like Eggplants, Peppers and Tomatoes, like to be coddled with 24-7 grow lights until they become 'toddlers' able to handle the cooler, eight hour dark period. (Maybe you and another gardening friend or two can combine your seed-starting efforts under one set of grow lights.)
Baby Seedlings Need Food and Elbow Room
The embryo inside every seed contains all the nutrition needed for germination. But once the seeds sprout and the young seedlings have put out their first true leaves, they need a consistent supply of nutrients to sustain healthy, vigorous growth. Water your seedlings weekly with a half-strength solution of liquid all-purpose fertilizer, alternating with a dose of seaweed or fish emulsion. Once your seeds have germinated, thin the flats out to the strongest individual seedlings to avoid overcrowding and tangled roots. If you are patient and careful, you may be able to transplant some of the thinned seedlings to other cell packs or pots. The younger they are when you do this, the better they will grow.
Toddler Seedlings Need 'Hardening Off'
Graduating from life indoors as 'toddler' seedlings, to life outside as 'adolescent' plants can be traumatic if it happens too abruptly. So, easy does it. Seven to ten days before you plan to transplant your seedlings, start bringing them outside for daily outings so they can become used to the big outdoors: this is the process of 'hardening off'. Put them on a cart or wagon and wheel them into a spot that's protected from wind and intense afternoon sunlight. Bring them back indoors in mid to late afternoon. Gradually, as you extend their daily sojourns, your seedlings will become more acclimatized to sunlight and temperature fluctuations. To reduce unnecessary stress, plant the seedlings in their new garden home on a more calm, overcast day and don't rush it. Even if it is unseasonably warm, do not plant hardened off seedlings before your customary spring Frost-Free Date. Chilly night temperatures can stunt even the strongest of seedlings and result in failure to thrive. Patience really pays off in the garden.
John Scheepers Kitchen Garden Seeds
23 Tulip Drive * PO Box 638 * Bantam
Seed starting guide -2
(Information provided by Donna Adrian, SDSU Master Gardeners, Rosebud Extension Service)
Starting seeds indoors
If you love tomatoes, mid-March to early April is the time to start your own plants from seed. It's fun to watch the whole growing cycle and the seed starting process and watch baby seedlings grow into sturdy plants.
Why Start Early Tomatoes are heat-loving plants that need a long warm growing period to grow from seed to fruit. We need to give plants a head start by germinating and growing seedlings in the warm indoors in early spring. Then when it warms up outdoors in late spring, we can plant out sturdy, well-established seedlings to bear fruit before cold weather sets in.
When to Sow Seed Indoors Generally, the time to start your seeds is about 6- 8 weeks before the last expected spring frost date in your area, planting the seedlings outdoors about 2 weeks after that date. Count back and sow seeds 6 to 8 weeks before that date normally arrives. If you need help, you can ask a Master Gardener or someone at a garden center.
Getting Started Your planting containers should be at least three inches deep, with small holes for drainage. Use plastic yogurt or cottage cheese containers, 3 or 4 inch plastic plant pots or half-gallon milk cartons cut lengthwise, all with drainage holes punched in the bottoms. I don't recommend reusing egg cartons or old nursery packs as they don't hold enough soil volume and dry out too easily. Buy and use a good quality seed starting mix, available from any good nursery or garden center. (Ordinary garden soil is not a good choice - it often contains weed seeds and fungus organisms and it compacts far too easily.) Seed starting mixes are sterile and blended to be light and porous so your fragile seedlings get both the moisture and oxygen they need to thrive.
In a big bucket, add water slowly to the seed starting mix and combine well. You want it to be thoroughly moistened but not soggy - about the consistency of a wrung-out sponge throughout before you fill your containers. Fill each container to an inch below the top and tap it on the tabletop to settle the mix. Use a plastic or wooden marker with the variety name and sowing date and slide it into the container. With the side of a pencil or chopstick, make a seed furrow about 1/4 inch deep and carefully drop in individual seeds about an inch apart. Sift some more starting mix between your hands to fill the furrows and firm gently to be sure the seeds have good contact. Use a spray bottle to water the seeds in with a fine mist.
Germinating and Growing Tomatoes need warm 75 to 85 degree conditions to start germinating. Put the containers in a warm place where they'll get bottom heat like on top of the water heater or refrigerator or use a fluorescent shop light suspended just 1 or 2 inches above the container and it will provide warmth . Keep the container moist, but not soggy. You can cover it with plastic wrap or an old piece of rigid clear plastic to conserve moisture if you like, but be sure to pull it up to check daily to be sure they aren't drying out. Water as necessary with a very gentle spray of water. If container should get too dry, you'll need to set it in a pan of water so it can soak up water again from below. Expect germination to take 5 to 10 days. Don't keep your containers in the windowsill during the germination period; cold air at night will affect germination. Check often!
Just as soon as any baby seedlings begin to emerge above the soil level, it's critical to give them light right away. Remove any covering immediately and provide a strong light source. While a south-facing windowsill is traditional, it's far from ideal, and dimly-lit plants become tall and spindly. I like to start my containers from the beginning under grow lights or a simple fluorescent shop light suspended from chains so I can move the lights up as the plants grow. The fluorescent lights under your kitchen counter will work very well for this. Raise your flats closer to them (4" to 5") with some bricks or fat cookbooks. Tomato seedlings grow best in the 65-75 degree temperature range.
Pricking Out and Potting Up When seedlings are 2 to 3 inches tall and have several sets of true leaves, it's time to move them to deeper containers or individual pots so they have room to grow. Fill the new containers with pre-moistened mix. With the help of a fork thrust to the bottom, lift the seedlings gently from your germinating container. Try to get all the roots and disturb them as little as possible. Make a planting hole in the new container and nestle the seedling into its new home a little deeper than it was originally. If your tomato plants are spindly with long stems, you can actually bury the stems right up to the topmost cluster of leaves and new roots will grow along the buried stems. Gently press the mix around the transplanted seedlings and water them gently to settle the soil. Now is the time to begin feeding your plants once a week because starting mixes contain little if any plant food and the seedlings will have used up the entire stored food source available in its mother seed. Use a good liquid fertilizer or fish emulsion diluted to half normal recommended strength. Continue to give your rapidly growing seedlings as much light as possible and rotate them regularly so they grow evenly and don't lean in one direction.
Planting Seedlings in the Garden In 3 or 4 weeks, or when the weather outdoors has warmed into the 50 degree range at night, it's time to "harden off" or gradually over 4 to 6 days to acclimate your seedlings to outdoor conditions. Put them outside in a protected shady spot for a half day at first, then 2 or 3 full days, then gradually move them into full sun, starting with mornings then all day long. Plan to transplant into the garden in the late afternoon or on a hazy or cloudy day to minimize stress. Set them about 3 feet apart in the garden into rich well-amended soil in full sun. Tomato plants can be buried several inches deeper than they were planted in their containers. Firm the soil around the plants and water well. Set in stakes or cages for tall-growing tomatoes at planting time. Keep your young plants moist but not soggy. I like to mulch them with a good thick layer of compost, well-aged manure, straw, newspaper or other organic material. This will provide the even moisture balance needed for healthy, disease-free growth and early big fruit sets, and will also discourage weeds.
Here is a little guide for you to use in deciding when to start your seeds:
Dave Graper, SDSU Extension Horticulturist and Director, McCrory Gardens, Brookings
- Early March: 10-11 weeks before planting outside, plant broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, onions, coleus, petunias, rudbeckia, snapdragons, and vinca.
- Mid-March: 9 weeks before planting outside, plant peppers, eggplant, dianthus, ornamental peppers, salvia, and sweet alyssum.
- Early April: 6 to 7 weeks before planting outside, plant tomatoes, calendula, celosia, marigolds, basil, ornamental kale, and portulaca.
- Mid-April: 3 to 4 weeks before planting outside, you can plant cosmos, sweet peas and zinnias.
- Late April: You can plant some warm-season vining crops such as watermelon, pumpkins, and squash in peat pots or peat pellets.