Now's the time to start seeds indoors
Cydney Steeb column (April 3, 2013)
You've been patiently waiting for the right time to start indoor seeds and now's the time.
Vegetables that can and should be started indoors include tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, cucumbers, squash and pumpkins. Starting these veggies indoors gives them an eight-week jump on our short growing season. Root crops such as carrots, beets, turnips and radishes are sown directly in the ground, as are beans and peas. Read the back of the seed package for the right planting date. Kale, chard and spinach are cool season crops and can be planted as soon as you can work the soil.
Seeds may rot before they germinate, shoots may be decayed before they emerge, or stems of seedlings may be attacked near the soil line, causing seedlings to collapse. These diseases often are collectively referred to as "damping-off," and may be caused by a number of soil-inhabiting pathogens. To avoid this disease use pre-packaged "seed starting" mix available at most garden centers or make your own mix by combining three parts peat, one part vermiculite and one part perlite. Another option is seed starting pellets. These are round disks that swell when soaked in warm water. Eight disks fit nicely in a rotisserie chicken deli container which becomes a tidy little greenhouse. These along with peat pots are easy to find and I like to use them because there is minimal root damage when it's time to transplant them into the garden.
Be sure your planting mix is wet and plant one to three seeds per pot at the depth indicated on the seed package. Water lightly, being careful not to move seeds around and cover pots with plastic to retain moisture. At this point seeds need heat not light to germinate so keep them in a nice warm spot. Remove plastic when seeds sprout or if you see mold as this indicates too much moisture. Fertilizer is not needed until the first true leaves form.
Seedlings are going to need 12-16 hours of light per day, so you have 7-10 days after planting to get ready. If you are going to grow your seedlings on window sills be sure to turn your plants every couple days for even plant growth. Supplemental light is highly recommended and can produce heartier plants. A simple fluorescent shop light on a timer is a simple inexpensive option. Expensive grow lights are not necessary. Once true leaves develop begin watering with half strength water soluble fertilizer once a week. Lightly brushing your hand across the seedlings or a fan set on low promotes strong stems.
Your rhubarb and asparagus are going to need your attention as soon as the snow melts. One cup of 10-10-10 fertilizer spread around each plant will take care of rhubarb and 1-1.5 pounds of 10-10-10 fertilizer per 100 square feet will keep your asparagus happy. Clean up weeds before growth starts.
Don't forget to prune your fruit trees now while they are still dormant and apply 1 pound calcium nitrogen fertilizer per tree at the drip line.
Cydney Steeb, Advanced Master Gardener, can be contacted at Emmet Conservation District, 3434 M-119, Harbor Springs (231) 439-8977 or email@example.com. Her Gardening Wit and Wisdom column runs every Wednesday.