The Free Press, Mankato, MN

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April 16, 2014

Market Corner: Starting vegetable seeds

MARKET CORNER

Starting vegetable seeds

Starting vegetable seeds is a rewarding and almost instantly gratifying task as the plants quickly grow. Planting them correctly is the key to success.

Seeds need to be started in shallow containers. You can also use plug trays, egg cartons or short 6-pack planting containers. The majority of the seeds we start for veggies need only 6-8 weeks of growth before planting outside. Here in southern Minnesota, zone 4, we can usually start planting outside about mid-May. Peppers like 8-9 weeks of growth, tomatoes 6-8 weeks. If you start them too early, your plants will likely be too tall and leggy, and will not transition well to the outdoor wind as easily as short and stockier plants.

If a seed does not state a planting depth on the packet, the general rule of thumb is three times the thickness of the seed. A window sill alone is not adequate light for starting quality plants. Yes, they may grow, but after you put them in the garden, they will likely need 2-3 weeks to catch up.

Lighting: The main challenge in growing healthy, stocky transplants is lighting. It is best to have a fluorescent light. Lights should always be about 4 inches above the seed flats or plants. You may need to place bumpers under your containers to create the correct distance as plants grow at different rates; or, have the ability to raise and lower the lights.

Soil: Seeds should be planted in a soil-less mix. Never use garden soil. Soil less mix, or seed starter mix, will be disease-free and offer good drainage. Do not overpot by starting in large containers — about the size of an ice cube (or less) is all the soil space needed per seed.

Water: Seeds and plants should stay moist but not saturated or left standing in water. Containers should drain freely.

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