In the Garden:
Coastal and Tropical South
Start your own seeds this month to harvest a wider variety of vegetables than purchased transplants afford.
Ready, Set, Start Seeds
The best part of January gardening might be the sight of seeds sprouting in the house. We sprout our own seeds to get plants and colors that are otherwise unavailable, but also because to do so is a life-affirming experience.
Seedlings take 6 to 8 weeks to grow large enough for transplant, which means the time is now to start another season of lettuce, Chinese cabbage, and other short season, cool-weather crops. These must go into the ground by early March in order to mature before hot weather arrives.
Make room under the plant lights to sow another group that includes tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants. These members of the Solanaceae will be ready for the garden by the middle of March if sown in January.
Here are a few things to keep in mind as you set up an area to sprout seeds and grow them on.
- Prevent wimpy, stretched stems. A plant light gives plants the light intensity and spectrum they need to thrive. Turn lights on for 10 hours daily and keep the bulbs about four inches above the seedlings as they grow.
- Bottom heat speeds germination, often by a week or more. Choose thermostatically controlled mats made for greenhouse use, never your personal heating pads.
- Select sterile seed starting soil mixes to prevent disease problems. Dampen the dry mix before you fill peat cups or clean plastic cells. Put in enough mix to fill the containers, water them once, and let the mix dry slightly before planting.
- Check seed packet dates and start with fresh seed, if needed. Prevent contamination by using a clean tool such as a chopstick to open space in the mix for seed.
- Water gently from the top until seeds sprout, then irrigate by filling the tray below the pots to avoid disturbing the seedlings. Keep the pots damp, never soaking wet or very dry.
- Add a complete soluble fertilizer to the water weekly. Begin by mixing a half strength fertilizer solution and increase to full strength as the seedlings grow.
- Watch for any signs of pests and remove affected pots, then treat the rest to prevent further issues.
- When the seedlings have several sets of true leaves, begin the transition outdoors. Transplant shock is reduced when seedling containers are placed outside to harden off for a few nights before planting in the garden.
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