A Time to Sow

By Jim Swettenham

As the snow starts to recede and pre-spring snow melt leaves things icy underfoot, thoughts turn to Spring and the idea of getting ready to start some plants indoors in order to get the early jump on transplanting healthy green plants into the garden.

But veteran gardeners know that starting plants indoors in advance of outdoor planting season is more than just a matter of sticking seeds in a small plant pot and waiting for the seed to germinate.

The process takes some planning and preparation.

Packets of seeds are starting to show up in hardware stores and garden centres and seed catalogues have been mailed out well in advance of indoor planting season.

If you have been following the articles in this Gardening 101 information package you will know about things such as companion gardening and what is required to provide the greatest yield on limited space.

This article is intended to give you a heads-up on how to make the most of your indoor bedding plant planting space and make the most of the time allocated to give plants a healthy start.

Sometimes we might get over-zealous and want to plant seeds too early.

It is important to look at your garden space and determine what you want to grow this summer and how much space will be needed to realize the most bountiful harvest at the end of the growing season.

Last summer we experimented with container gardening and the growth of foliage was incredible!!!

Like I say we “experimented”…our blue tote containers were placed side-by-side with tomatoes, peppers and celery and zucchini all displaying great flourish of foliage. We were kept busy picking small tomatoes, but several had indications of dry rot even though the containers were designed to be self-watering and the containers were filled to the over-flow hole on a regular basis. The zucchini grew but there was not large size to them, the celery stalks were thin but the leaves when dried made great celery powder for flavouring soups and stews and there was a nice abundance of jalapeno peppers. But, the containers were placed tight together side-by-side and so several of the plants did not receive the full benefit of sunlight to properly grow and mature the fruits of our labours.

So planning, even with containers, is important before you decide what is going to go where.

And the planning of course has a great bearing on what seeds to start indoors and what plants do best when the seeds are sown directly to their outdoor summer bed.

Read the planting instructions on the individual seed packet and calculate the six to eight weeks before last threat of frost or sow directly outdoors in cool temperatures. The planting instructions are the first step in determining what seeds to start indoors and what seeds can wait.

Peas, for example, love cool temperatures and so can safely be planted outdoors in the fall once temperatures guarantee that there is no possibility of late planting germination. The late fall planting means that the peas will start to germinate as the soil starts to warm in the early spring. But if peas are left for outdoor spring planting remember to follow instructions regarding the soaking of the seed in advance of direct placing them into prepared rows in the garden plot.

Many seeds have a hardened shell or seed coat that may need some help and so it is advised to soak seeds to soften the seed coat to stimulate earlier or quicker germination.

Seeds can be soaked in household hydrogen peroxide for an hour or so to help soften the seed coat before the seeds are planted in the bedding plant starter trays or containers. And as the instructions on the seed packet suggest, plant seeds to the optimal depth although spacing is not as crucial for starting plants indoors. The spacing comes later when the healthy shoots are transplanted outdoors.

Seeds, whether planted indoors or in the garden will flourish best in various conditions (i.e. full sun, partial sun, full shade) and so too when starting plants. They respond to various light conditions and so plant containers should be placed in appropriate locations throughout the house once the seeds germinate.

Once the seeds have been soaked and planted it is important that they be placed in a warm location to ensure greater germination and so find a nice bright, warm location in the house to get those babies started. Heat trays from garden centres, a heating pad, the top of a refrigerator, near floor heat vents, or baseboard heaters are ideal locations to ensure the seeds get off to a warm start when they are being germinated.

Garden preparation including determination of what to grow and where needs to work hand-in-hand with the efficient and timely use of planting containers so that you have healthy plants ready to move outdoors into the garden when the full-on summer growing season arrives.

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