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  Visitors at our farm often ask, “ How do you grow so many plants ? “.  My answer is, “ I plant a lot of seeds “ .   Well, the whole story would take a lot of explaining, so in this article , I will give only the steps  involved that I use on our farm.  The key to success is as usual,   Planning and Scheduling .  Start with a garden plan and a list of plants that you want.

050  Step 1 :  What, Where, and When ;  WHAT kind and variety of plants are you going to grow, keeping in mind your Climate Zone , choosing ones that are compatible with your area.  Also noting how many plants of each kind you want to end up with, always adding a few extra just in case seed germination is low or you change your garden plan later.  WHERE are you going to plant the seedlings once produced, considering things like height and spread of each variety, light preference ( sun, shade or partial sun ) and again how many plants are needed to complete your garden plan.  WHEN to plant your seeds so they will be ready to plant at the proper time for your area’s climate.  Some plants grow best during cooler weather ; like pansies,  violas, cabbages, lettuce and many others, but some plants require warm temperatures free from frost ; like tomatoes, peppers, marigolds and others.  Most seed catalogs have this information included with plant descriptions or have a free seed planting schedule chart available which tells you dates to plant your seed for your area’s climate.  Of course , you must make some minor adjustments for your particular climate and requirements.  With these things considered,  you can now order or buy your seeds in a timely manner or all at once as I usually do, so I can sort, organize and get excited about planting them. 



Step 2 :  Prepare a seedling friendly environment ;  Seed germination requires moisture, warmth and either dark or light conditions, depending on the type of seed your planting.  Don’t worry, the seed catalogs, seed planting schedules charts or the seed packet itself will have that information provided along with the number of days until seedling emerges.  The growing medium should be of a fine grade, not coarse or chunky with sticks and rocks, and free of weeds and soil diseases. For best results use a soilless planting mix.  Planting containers can vary to personal preference ,though I think the smaller the better for the ease of handling them, although they do require more frequent attention as to watering.

  Newly emerging seedlings require immediate light, air ventilation and a moderately warm temperature, although a few plants prefer a cooler growing temperature.  Seedlings also require frequent watering, not allowing the growing medium to get completely dried out.

  To accomplish all these requirements, You need to set up a sort of “ Seedling Bakery “ , where trays can be slipped in and out of the racks for maintenance.  All equipment should be kept clean, after all this is a bakery!  Many commercially made lighted plant stands are available in various sizes and styles, or you can make your own.  I use a book shelf like method to conserve space and keep the unavoidable mess in one place.  The lower shelves have lighting for seedlings and the top shelf is where I place the newly planted seed trays, which are covered with plastic domes to conserve moisture.  The lighting can be fancy scientifically calibrated spectrums of light fixtures, or standard florescent tube  shop lights. I prefer the cheaper later type, which work just fine for the few days the seedlings remain under artificial lighting. I simple prop the lights up off the self with common bricks at each end of the fixture.  Buy placing three light fixtures side by side per shelf, you have room for four trays of seedlings underneath.  The important goal here is to end up with the lights being between an inch to an inch and a half above the surface of the seed tray, to prevent the seedling form stretching tall and spindly towards a light that is to far away. Bricks work well for my operation because when laid flat they accommodate the short plug seed trays I use for small seeds  and when laid on their sides they accommodate  the standard pony pack flat trays used for larger seeds.  For seed germination warmth, electrically heated grow mats are helpful but not required for most seeds, as long as your room temperature is around 65-75 degrees.

  Remaining equipment needed includes ; a fan for extra ventilation (preventing fungus growth and soil disease), a watering system (mine is a watertight plant tray and a couple of water pitchers that I haul back and forth to the kitchen sink) and brooms, mops and clean up rags.  Now that I think about it, my “ Seedling Bakery “ looks a lot like the homemade brick and board entertainment center in my first apartment.  Anyway, with the bakery all set up, let’s start cooking.

 037 Step 3 :  Planting the Seeds ;  Seed planting is simple, but can be quite time consuming with the most important tool being patience.  For large growing operations , mechanical tray filling and  planting machines or seed planting gadgets may be necessary, but for the average grower all that is really needed is a pair of hands, a eyebrow tweezers and a good radio station.  Just be sure that all your equipment for the job are clean and dry.

  Once you’ve chosen the type of seed flat to use, simply fill it with the soilless planting mix and carefully brush off the excess planting mix with your hand so that the surface of the seed flat is level full.  I do mean “ BE Careful “, some of the nastiest lacerations I’ve gotten have come from plastic seed trays and pony-pack insert trays.  Maybe I should wear gloves ???

  Many growers say to water  down the seed flats at this point, but I find it harder to plant the seeds that way.  And since I do my planting at my kitchen table, I don’t want the sloppy mess that results.  The big difference is that I water the seed flat after planting the seed, but to prevent the seeds from being wash away with a top watering, I have to set the dry planted tray in a water filled tray or tub and let the planted tray soak up the water from underneath.

  To plant the seeds, methods vary widely and can vary with the type and size of seed , from plucking one at time buy hand and poking it into  the mix, to sprinkling the seed , to tapping one seed at a time into each section of the seed tray.  the most often used method will usually be tapping the seed from the seed packet.  To do this , prepare the seed packet for use by cutting a narrow strip off the length of the top of the packet. Then squeeze the right and left sides, insert a finger and pull out the back panel enough to make a v-fold trough in the seed packet. Careful, don’t spill the seeds. Grab the two sides of the packet with your thumb and middle finger , squeeze gently, aim the v-trough at the seed tray section your planting and gently tap the top of the packet with your index finger. Oops! Three came out. Well, that’s why we have the eyebrow tweezers. I usually keep tapping, counting my mistakes, and leaving some sections open at the end to fix the situation.  About the time your finished planting everything, you will probably get better at it.  Just turn up the radio and don’t get to frustrated.

  Now that the seeds are laying on the surface of the mix, cover those that require covering by sprinkling more mix over the top ,sparingly over tiny seeds, and press down the new layer with your hand or fingers.  Those seeds that should not be covered or require light to germinate should be pressed into the mix gently with very dry fingertips.  To prevent the seed from sticking to your fingertips, try a slightly forward rolling motion like your playing the piano softly, like momma told you to do.  The next stage is to label what you just planted, so you don’t get mixed up later, as to variety or color of the plants you growing. At this stage I prefer using label maker strips, as opposed to the stick in tags which kind of get in the way with lights in the “ Seedling Bakery “ shelves.

  Step 4 :  The final operation to planting seeds is the watering.  Use a watertight tray or tub that fits the seed tray size closely, filling it with room temperature water no higher than the seed tray your watering. If your tub is to deep and the seed tray sags in the middle, put something clean under it like a jar lid or something to keep it level.  Let the seed tray soak in the water until you see the moisture on the surface and the mix becomes a darkened color.  Lift the tray out of the water and let it drip awhile ,then place it on the unlighted shelf of your plant stand. I put a couple layers of newspaper on the shelf first to absorb the leftover wetness.  Cover the tray with a plastic sheet or dome to conserve the moisture.

     Keep the growing area around 70 degrees and well ventilated. Check the progress every couple of days or daily, especially around the expected germination date, to insure that the emerging seedlings are put under the lights as soon as they sprout.  For long period germination varieties, you may have to water the tray if it starts to look dry on the surface. Usually the initial soaking will last till germination.

  Step 5 :  Once the seedlings are under the lights, keeping then within one inch of the lights, check them daily and water them in the tub as before whenever the surface looks dry.  Once the seedlings start touching the lights and have started to grow their second set of true leaves and have developed a good root system, they can be moved to a sunny location for growing.  About 7 – 8 hours of light per day is desired by most seedlings.  It is best to move the seedlings in the early morning or late evening, or on a cloudy day.  After all they are newborns and we don’t want the harsh mid-day sun to harm them on their first day out.  Air ventilation is still very important, so have a fan to circulate the air in the new home also.   You can now start watering from the top, as long as it’s a gentle watering.








    Daily inspection and maintenance is usually required during the growing period.  Jobs include ; watering, fertilizing, inspecting for insects or disease, spraying for insects or disease, keeping the temperature 45 degrees or above at night and not over 85 degrees in the daytime, and keeping rodents from eating the seedlings.   These topics would best be discussed individually at a later time.

  Step 6 :  When the seedlings have grown their second set of leaves and beginning their third set, they have graduated and have become “ Transplants “.  Choose and fill the containers you want the plants to live in until you are ready to plant them outdoors.  Again, clean materials are needed.  Water the seedlings and the newly filled containers.  Take your finger or end of a marking pen and poke a hole in the wet mix in the new container to the same depth as the roots of the seedling. Gently remove the seedling with all or most of the mix around it, by holding the seedling at the base of the stem and slipping a popsicle stick or plant tag down the side of the seed tray section and prying it up from the bottom of the roots.  Then press it into the poke hole you made in the new container.  Finally, when the transplanting is done , give it all a good watering to set in the soil mix around the plant roots.  Label everything with tags and set them where they are to grow until their next move to the garden.  Continue daily inspections and maintenance as before.                  “ Good Luck ”

   Who would have thought that the miracle of seeds growing into beautiful plants could take so much work.  It really makes you respect Nature, alright.  How can Nature do it so effortlessly.  “ Amazing “ !!!


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