I love gardening because I learn at least seventeen new things every season. I hope that still happens when I’m 80. At any rate, I tell anyone who asks me for beginning gardening advice to keep a journal from year-to-year about their garden. Not only what you planted where, but how your plants did, what you would like to change next year, problems you experienced, etc. Well, I misplaced my “journal” from last year’s garden (which I’ll admit, begrudgingly, was a scrap piece of paper with scribbles and drawings all over it) until last week. Had I found my notes prior to starting my seeds, I would have remembered that I told myself last year to wait to start the squash varieties (melons, cucumbers, zucchini, etc.) until about a month after I started all of the other things. Oops! I guess that experiment will have to wait until next year. The squash and cucumber plants that I started about five weeks ago are already huge and ready to go in the ground, but I will not plant anything until Mother’s Day weekend (yes, I’m speaking from experience here). So I’m sorry if you’re following my directions and your squash varieties are similarly ginormous.
If you even want to continue following any advice I offer, below is Part Two in the seed starting saga:
After a few weeks, your seedlings should be sprouted and starting to look a little “leggy,” which is the curse of starting seeds indoors. You want to transplant them into a larger container and bury their leggy stems deeper in some dirt to give them more room to grow in all directions. I don’t start my seeds out in larger containers because I seem to have better luck starting them in the small trays, plus they take up ALOT less room that way.
- First, you’ll want to come up with several transplant containers. You can go and buy containers meant for this purpose. I used to buy three inch square peet containers that are supposed to degrade in the soil where you plant the seedling and minimize transplant shock, but I actually had terrible luck with those things. For the past couple of years, I’ve just used Solo cups with holes punched in the bottom. Some of our cups are in their third season. This picture is from last year – this year, I just had Grant use a small drill bit to make the holes in the cups, which was much easier!
- I like to put a few pebbles in the bottoms of my cups to help aerate the cups a bit, and it seems to help them not to dry out as quickly. That definitely isn’t necessary though.
- Fill the cup about three-quarters of the way full with soil (I like to use straight compost for this stage, but potting soil works great too). I use my finger to make an indent in the soil where I’m going to place my seedling.
- It’s important that you’re very gentle when you transplant your seedlings. I stick one finger along the side of the Jiffy cup, try to reach to the bottom, and pull up as much of the contents of the cup as possible – roots, soil and all. Then place your seedling in the indentation in the cup. Fill up the rest of the cup with dirt. You want the top of your seedling to just be peeking out over the dirt. The leggy part of the stem that you’ve planted under the dirt will actually shoot out more roots to help the plant better root itself.
- Make sure you label your cup with what’s inside (again, speaking from experience here!). Grant always helps me with this part of the seed process. I give him one tray of seedlings, and I take the other. One of my favorite parts is seeing what he labels each plant. In my charts of the trays that I made back when we started the seeds, I usually abbreviate the plants, especially because we plant mostly heirloom varieties with some crazy names. This was just a regular jalepeno, abbreviated “jale,” but Grant “named it” after one of my favorite novels, Jayber Crow.
- In the next week or so comes the hard part: hardening off the transplants to ready them for the “real world.” I’ll make that a separate post and warn you that I’m probably too disorganized and impatient to properly advise on this subject.