Indoor Seed Starting-Part Three

Now that your seeds have germinated the fun begins! When most of the seedlings have germinated and look strong, think about removing the top dome. You can do this gradually by placing it askew on the seed tray for a day or two before totally removing the top.

It is important to keep the light just above the seedlings and to move it as the seedlings grow. If the light is too far from the seedling, the seedling will become “leggy” as it grows towards the light.

Keep the light source close to the seedlings.

At this stage the seedlings are very fragile. When you need to add water, add it between the pellets. The flow of water can actually displace the seedling and/or damage the stem. Also watering from the bottom will help your roots grow longer. You want to avoid diseases such as damping off, so let the seedlings dry out before re-watering.

Fungus is your enemy here.

As the seedlings put on a few true leaves, they will outgrow the pellet and will need to be repotted in a larger pot with soil. After repotting you can keep them under the lights until the weather cooperates for transplanting in the garden.

As the seedlings get closer to that point, run your hand across the plants moving the stems slightly. The goal is to toughen the stems a bit so that they will be able to handle wind outdoors.

These seedlings are a bit leggy but they can still be good producers. Hardening-off is an important step.

When the weather is ready for transplanting you will need to harden off the transplants. If you take plants that have been living in a cozy, protected environment and move them into a place with full sun and wind they will suffer. You can avoid this by moving them out slowly. The first few days place them outside in the shade just for the day. Next, put them outside in the shade for the day and night. Then move them into full sun for a few hours. Finally, they are ready to be put in the ground. This type of hardening-off is the ideal way. You may not have all the time for all of these stages, but do the best you can. Your plants will reward you!

Happy Gardening!

Indoor Seed Starting – Part Two

All of this rain has me very excited about getting back to our seed starting project.

I have one note about seed starting media. If you choose to purchase bagged media for starting seeds indoors, do not choose something with fertilizer in the mix. This will be too strong for seedlings. There are plenty of bagged mixes specifically for seed starting so choose one of those.

We are ready to expand our pellets. Notice the seed pellets are fully expanded with no standing water:

Seed pellets are not too wet but moist all the way through.

Next, take a fork and open up the top a bit and fluff the media. I like to take this time to make sure that the moisture is uniform all the way through with no dry spots:

Fluff the planting media with a fork to ensure uniform moisture.

Now you are ready to plant your seeds. If you are mixing seed types in one tray, make sure that they will emerge and grow at about the same rate. I like to use plastic forceps to exactly place the seed where I want them. Some seeds, like lettuce and herbs, are very small and easily lost in the tray. Know how deeply to plant the seeds. Most of the ones you will probably plant just need to be lightly covered with the planting media.

Plastic forceps can be your best friend!

It is worth the effort to do some research on your seed types. For example, cilantro seeds don’t germinate easily when exposed directly to light. Also, there are some seeds that just do better planting directly into the soil, beans and corn are good examples.

At this point it is a great idea to label your seed tray. Sharpie markers on masking tape work well. The tape sticks to the tray but can be removed later. Do not be tempted to label the lid. You will be removing the lid later and you don’t want to forget the original orientation. Finally, put the lid on the tray, making sure it fits tightly.

Do not forget to label your seed trays.

Do not place your seed tray near a window and hope for the best. You will be disappointed. You will not get enough light for healthy seedlings and the temperature fluctuation at the window will be problematic.

Use a light system. The system does not have to be complicated. I have a light fixture with florescent bulbs attached to a structure with moveable chains. This setup was originally housed in a bathroom tub but it is now in my grown daughter’s bedroom. Very simple. You need the chain to move the light so it stays just above the seed tray. To produce robust seedlings you need the light no more than an inch or two above the tray. This will be imperative as the seeds germinate and grow.

If you are germinating seeds in a place that is reasonably warm you do not need a heating mat. Those were designed for outside greenhouses and places like Michigan. By using a heating mat when you don’t need one, you risk drying out your planting media.

So far this is pretty simple, right? If you have any questions or concerns you can comment or email me at beckygri@uga.edu. Send photos! Next week we will discuss seedling care.

Happy Seed Starting!

Indoor Seed Starting – Part One

Over the next few weeks we are going to talk about seed starting. I did three in-depth posts last year and I am going to rerun them this year by request. Spring is coming….

Just flipping through one garden seed catalog I found 89 varieties of tomatoes, 21 varieties of cucumbers, 20 varieties of eggplant and 26 varieties of sweet peppers, including three types of lunchbox peppers. Compare that to the different types of vegetable plants that you would find at your big box retail store. Add some variety to your life and try starting your own seeds!

The rule of thumb is to start your warm-season seeds 6-8 weeks before planting time so over the next weeks we are going to explore indoor seed starting in-depth. For beginners, follow along with me as you start your first seeds. For seasoned seed-starting veterans, you may pick up a trick or two. I also encourage you to share your experience through the comments.

Let me begin by writing that there are many effective ways to start seeds indoors. I am going to share with you the way that I like to do it. I have been starting seeds indoors for decades and I have found a way that works best for me. You may find a different way that works best for you and that is terrific. I look forward to learning from you all as well.

To start, I like these re-useable plastic trays. They are easy to store and come in many sizes. I have friends who save their old plastic milk jugs and trim them down for seed starting; that works well for them.

These trays are easy to use for seed starting.

Any plastic trays MUST be disinfected before adding soil media and seed. I use a solution of 9-parts water to 1-part bleach. This step is important to eliminate any pathogens that have been overwintering on remaining soil particles. Starting with clean trays is an important step towards healthy seedlings. Don’t skip it.

These soil particles could hold pathogens. Disinfect those trays!

I like to use the peat moss discs for my planting media. As a bonus, the peat moss contains properties that discourage fungal growth. This helps prevent the disease damping off which is a real problem for seedlings.

The pellets expand with the addition of water.

These pellets are readily available and are easy to store. Add water and the pellets expand. I use warm water to create a favorable environment for the seeds. It is important here to not oversaturate the discs with too much water. Too dry is better for the seeds than too wet. Too wet means that the seeds could rot or disease will become a problem. You want the planting media to be just damp. If you can wring water out of the media, it is too wet. If this happens you can let the discs sit outside the tray for a few hours so that they can dry out a bit. You will get the hang of how much is too much as you practice.

Okay, gather your seed starting equipment, and play around with the pellets. Next week we will talk about planting the seeds.

Happy Gardening!

Trying Something New in the Georgia Community Garden – Corn

Today we continue our series on a good replacement for tomatoes in our summer community garden plots. Today’s crop to consider is corn.

Usually corn is avoided in the community garden. The tall stalks shade other plants, there is not much yield in the amount you can grow in a small space, and corn takes a large amount of water. That being said, I sometimes find community gardeners who really want to grow their own corn. They remember eating corn fresh from a grandparent’s farm or working the corn patch with their parents. Often these gardeners are now city dwellers and the corn means a great deal to them.

Corn tassels waiting on wind to spread the pollen

Instead of totally abandoning the idea of growing corn, why not think about trying some of the short growing varieties? Several of the seed companies offer shorter varieties. Burpee advertises a corn for growing in a patio container called On-Deck Hybrid. The description of this type states that it grows 4 – 5 feet high. Compare that to Silver Queen which stretches 8 feet tall.

Park Seed offers a shorter variety called Early Sunglow Hybrid. Stalks from this corn are expected to top at 4 feet. Another thought is popcorn. Seed Savers offers Tom Thumb popcorn which grows only 3-4 feet tall. I have grown popcorn many times. It is fun to grow and fun to pop with children or grandchildren.

I will caution you that more than a few stalks need to be grown to get any kind of yield. Many stalks yield 1-2 corn ears per plant. If you are serious about trying corn in the community garden consider allocating at least half of your 4’X 8′ garden bed for the crop. Also, remember that the crop is wind pollinated. It does not hurt to shake those corn tassels yourself to make sure the pollen moves around.

Happy Gardening!

Trying Something New in the Georgia Community Garden – Peanuts

Today we start our series on growing something new in the community garden. Have you tried growing peanuts? When I worked on a 4-acre farm garden we grew peanuts every year. The students visiting our garden LOVED peanut harvest. It is like a treasure hunt when peanuts are dug. Will there actually be nuts? How many will we get? Once the peanuts actually come out of the ground I would hear gasps. Really.

I think peanuts are a natural fit for a community garden. Commercially grown peanuts are grown in South Georgia where the soil is loose and sandy. Within the bounds of a community garden bed you can create that loose soil.

Peanuts are fascinating plants. The plant produces yellow flowers. After flowering the plant “pegs” by sending shoots back into the ground. The peanuts are formed then. The National Peanut Board has information on how peanuts grow.

To add to the peanut growing appeal, I have been involved in “peanut butter and jelly” gardens where we grew muscadines near the peanut beds. The Georgia Peanut Commission has an informative webpage including recipes.

I realize that if you work in a children’s garden you have to be mindful of peanut allergies, but if that is not a concern for you consider peanuts for your 2019 garden plot!

Happy Gardening!

Tomatoes Aren’t the Only Choice for Community Gardens

The #1 crop grown in community gardens is tomatoes. I don’t remember visiting a community garden where I didn’t see tomatoes in the summer. I understand! There is not much better than a tomato from the vine warmed from the sun. BUT, growing tomatoes in the same space year after year creates disease and pest problems.

Over the next few weeks we will be exploring some food crops not typically grown in the community gardens. I am hoping that we can provide some options for that tomato garden space.

To get you ready to embrace new plant options, take a minute to view this video on tomato diseases!

Happy Gardening!

Dr. Jason Lessl Talks Soil Testing

Winter is a season of waiting for gardeners. But winter is the perfect time to work on our soil. When is the last time you had a soil test? This week Dr. Jason Lessl gives us a refresher on why and how to soil test. Dr. Lessl writes….

One of the most fundamental, but often overlooked aspects to any successful vegetable garden, flower bed, landscape, or lawn is good, fertile soil. Getting your soil tested by a laboratory is the best and most accurate way to assess your nutrient and pH levels which are vital components of maintaining your soil.  The University of Georgia Soil, Plant, and Water lab offers such services (www.aesl.ces.uga.edu). 

When you send a soil sample to a lab, you will receive a detailed report of soil nutrients levels along with crop-based recommendations on how to fix any potential deficiencies. The steps required to submit a soil sample are simple and can be achieved through a few items commonly found household items. You can start by contacting your local county extension office to acquire soil bags and get information on how to submit your samples.  Locate your county office here: http://extension.uga.edu/about/county/index.cfm or call 1-800-ASK-UGA1.

Soil Testing for Georgians - a guest post by Jason Lessl
Soil testing is available at your local UGA Extension office.

When to soil test?

Soils can be tested any time during the year, although it is typically best to take samples in the Fall/Winter.  This is the time of year when most plants are dormant and the soil is most accessible.  If pH adjustments are necessary, it is also the best time to apply amendments as it can take several months for them to take effect.  Lime (to raise pH) and sulfur (to lower pH) reacts slowly and, if possible, should be mixed with the soil at least two to three months before planting.

Soil Testing for Georgians - a guest post by Jason Lessl
Soil from a community garden in Woodstock.

How often do I test my soil?

For intensely cultivated soils (i.e. vegetable gardens), an annual soil test is recommended.  Otherwise, for lawns and ornamental areas, after medium to high fertility levels are established along with the appropriate pH, sampling should be done every two to three years.

Steps in Soil Sampling

Recommendations about when and how to apply nutrients are only as good as the soil sample submitted for analysis. To obtain a representative soil sample, the following steps are useful:

Map out the entire property. This will help in record keeping and ensure that the soil sample is representative of the entire area. Divide areas such that each soil sample represents one general plant type.  For example, separate vegetable gardens, blueberry bushes, ornamentals, fruit trees, lawn, etc.  If you have specific problem spots, sample those areas separately.

Use clean sampling tools and containers to avoid contaminating the soil sample. Collect samples with any digging tool you have available (hand trowel, shovel, soil probe, etc.).

Slightly damp soil is the easiest to work with if you can wait for those conditions.  Clear the ground surface of grass, thatch, or mulch. Push your tool to a depth of 6 inches (4 inches for lawn areas) into the soil.  Push the handle forward in the soil to make an opening then cut a thin slice of soil from the side of the opening that is of uniform thickness, extending from the top of the ground to the depth of the cut.  Repeat this process in a zigzag pattern across your defined area, collecting 8-12 samples to mix together.  For trees, take soil samples from 6-8 spots around and below the leaf canopy. Take about a pint (~2 cups) of the mixed soil (after removing large rocks, mulch, sticks, and roots) and fill the UGA soil sample bag.  Be sure to label the sample clearly on the bag.  If the samples are wet, spread the soil out over clean paper and let them air dry.  Otherwise, take your samples to your local extension office for submission.  Once the lab has received your soil, it will take 2-3 business days to get your report.

Dr. Lessl is a program coordinator for UGA’s Soil, Plant, and Water Lab.  He understands the importance of the garden ecosystem as he is a fellow bee lover!

Spring is coming! Will your soil be ready?

Making Use of Seed Catalogs All Year Long

The seed catalogs keep arriving. In my household that is cause for excitement. I save them until I have time to properly enjoy looking through them. What do you do with your seed catalogs after you have looked through them and placed your orders? If you throw them into the recycling bin you are missing out as these gems are full of useful information.

If you are a school gardener, or a community gardener that works with youth, the seed catalogs can be used throughout the year! To start with you can laminate the beautiful photos to use as plant markers.

You can use the information provided in the catalog for lessons:

The seed spacing guide can be used for students to create a garden bed design.

The days to harvest information can be used for students to determine the planting dates of their garden design so that all the produce is ready at the same time.

The cost of the seed packages can be used to calculate the cost of the garden design.

All of this information can be used to calculate how much produce can be grown per square foot (inch, meter).

Students can look through the catalog and pick a vegetable they have never tried before.

Students could look through the catalog, find a favorite vegetable, and re-write the plant description.

Happy browsing!

The Seed Catalogs are Here!

The Seed Catalogs Are Here

It is a great time of year for gardeners.  The seed catalogs are starting to arrive in our mailboxes.  What a thrill to open the mailbox and see the hint of one of the beautiful catalog covers.  These catalogs are mesmerizing.   The photos are works of art and the vegetable descriptions are literature.

The seed catalogs are here

Garden Catalog Tips

We have asked Robert Westerfield,  UGA vegetable specialist, to give us a few tips on navigating our way through these catalogs and all of the vegetable choices.

The Seed Catalogs are Here!

Tip #1  If you are gardening for high yields or dependable results, use recommended varieties for your area.  UGA’s Vegetable Planting Chart has a list of varieties that have proven to do well in Georgia.  These are the least risky choices.

Tip #2 When trying a new vegetable variety order only a small quantity to start.  Experimenting is one of the great pleasures of the garden.  Succeed or fail, it is fun to try.  Just don’t over-invest in seeds until you know how they will perform in your garden.

Tip #3 Remember the vegetables you grew up with may not necessarily be the best ones to plant now.   There are many improved hybrid varieties that can hold up to our disease and heat issues.  A good example is Silver Queen corn.  While popular, it is definitely not the best variety to grow in Georgia.  There are many new corn hybrids on the market that are much sweeter and maintain their sweetness longer when stored.

Hopefully, these tips will be a helpful guide as you enjoy making your 2019 garden seed selections.  One bonus tip especially for school gardeners – the photos in the catalogs can be laminated and used as plant markers or in gardening lessons.

Happy Reading!