Transplant Often, Transplant Deep

I know I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again: Tomatoes love to be buried deep. If you want strong healthy tomato plants, plant them as deep as you can and transplant them more than once before they go into the garden.

I start my tomato seeds in March and by mid-April they are ready to “prick out“. I transfer my strongest seedlings, making sure they have at least one set of true leaves, to their first individual pot.

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The roots are transplanted right to the bottom of the pot. Ideally I want just the leaves to appear above the soil level. If their cotyledon leaves will be buried, I snip them off beforehand.

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Doing this assures the best chance for strong root formation and avoids the development of those long lanky plants with a weak stem. In a few weeks I’ll transplant them again into a deeper pot, repeating the process.

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Cheap and Easy Plant Markers

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I know there are all sorts of retail products you can purchase to identify your seedlings in pots or in the garden, but with the number of plants I grow from seed I don’t want to be spending my gardening budget on fancy markers. I’d rather spend my money on fancy plants ūüôā

Using a permanent ink, I write the name of the plant on the plastic marker cut from a yogurt or similar container. They last all season, aren’t affected by rain or hot sun and I can often reuse the same markers the following year. What could be simpler?

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Early start to the veggie garden for 2013

image This spring has been very unusual here in my zone 3 yard. During the last week of April we were inundated with snow and cold – ok maybe that’s not terribly unusual for Alberta. But on May 6th we set a new record high of 31C (that’s 88F my American friends). I brought out all of my seedlings to acclimate them and its too darn hot! I have to protect them in the shade for crying out loud. That’s just not normal.

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The forecast says that the risk of frost in the next week is minimal, and Edmonton’s average last day of frost is May 12th, so I should be home free, right? Well, as much as I’d like to believe that I think I’ll wait another week before I transfer my seedlings to soil.

But the weather has been perfect for sowing my vegetable garden. Here’s what’s going in the dirt this week:

  • Corn: Fleet Bi-Color Hybrid
  • Squash: Spaghetti
  • Sunflower: Ruby
  • Zucchini: Raven
  • Spinach: Regal
  • Swiss Chard: Lucullus
  • Peas: Progress #9
  • Lettuce: Esmeralda
  • Lettuce: Buttercrunch
  • Carrots: Touchon
  • Carrots: Scarlet Nantes
  • Beet: Chioggia
  • Bean: TendergreenBush
  • Potatoes: Kennebec
  • Onion Set: White
  • Onion Set: Red

As far as seedlings go I’ve sown:

  • Tomato: Black from Tula
  • Tomato: Tumbler
  • Tomato: Mamma Mia
  • Pepper: Serano del Sol
  • Onion: Spanish Candy Hybrid
  • Cucumber: Spacemaster
  • Eggplant: Hansel
Seedlings in waiting

Seedlings in waiting

I have some winter lettuce that will be ready to eat long before the head lettuces. I think I’ll plant a second type of cucumber as well. My chives, lavender, mint and oregano have all returned and I have ample garlic coming up in more than one place. I’ve got parsley and cilantro seedlings started and I’ve bought some basil, thyme, rosemary and sage bedding plants.

Yippee! It’s spring!

Seed Starter Pots From Toilet Paper Rolls: Upcycling

Last year¬†I began using toilet paper cardboard rolls to make tiny seedling starter pots. They aren’t very fancy, but they also cost nothing and keep materials out of the landfill.

So this winter I saved all of my toilet rolls and came up with a fabulous collection of  seedling pots. My only regret is that I left them all in a big pile and had dozens to make all at once. Next winter I might be a little bit more proactive.

I’m happy to say I’ve got dozens ready to go.¬† It’s that time of year; I’ll be starting my peppers in about a week and my tomatoes the week after that.

From this...

From this…

To this...

To this…

To this

To this

Transplanting Tomato Seedlings

36 carefully transplanted tomatoes

Today was transplant day, which means that I carefully moved 36 tomato seedlings to their new pots. This isn’t difficult, but it is tedious. Also known as pricking out, transplanting is an important step in growing plants from seed.

I started by filling three dozen three inch pots with sterile, slightly moist potting soil. Each pot needed a marker to indicate which tomato it held, so I cut 36 tags from a plastic yogurt tub and labeled each one.

After making a deep hole in the soil of the new pots, I carefully lifted each¬†tomato¬†plant from the bottom using an escargot fork (and you thought you didn’t have any use for an escargot fork?). I only touch the seedlings on their cotyledon leaves, as damage to the stem or first set of leaves can stunt the growth of the plant.

It’s really important to plant the tomato seedlings as deep as possible – this allows them to develop strong roots. I’ll have another chance to transplant them to a larger pot in about 3 weeks, and I’ll plant them even deeper at that time.

Pricking Out

Tumblers now have two sets of "true" leaves

Pricking out refers to transplanting young seedlings from their original flat into their new home – an individual pot of their own. You might wonder, why bother?

Well, there are a couple of advantages to starting your seeds enmass and pricking out a few weeks later. First, you can eliminate any of the seedlings that haven’t kept up with their breathern – the weaklings you might say. If you sow more seeds than you need, you can choose the strongest to be transplanted and discard the ones that haven’t kept pace.

Second, transplanting can make certain seedlings stronger. Tomatoes are a good example. When moving them from the flat to their individual pot I have the opportunity to plant them deeper, which strengthens their root system. This will become apparent as the plants grow, particularly after they have been moved outside.

This week my Tumbler Tomatoes were ready to be pricked out. They are only three weeks old, but already have their second set of “true leaves”. The first set of leaves which appear are called “cotyledon”¬†or primary¬†leaves . They are formed using energy stored in the seed, but are not considered true leaves.¬†When pricking out the tiny seedlings, they should be lifted gently from below with a small fork or tool designed especially for this task. Try to disturb the root system as little as possible, and only touch the cotyledon leaves when moving the plant.

A deep hole should be made in fresh moist starting mix and the seedling dropped in, carefully packed (not too tight) and adjusted. At this stage the plants are ready to be fed weekly with a weak fertilizer mix (2-5-2) until they are transplanted outside. I’ll write more about fertilizing a future blog.

I think that pricking out is the most¬†pleasurable process in the propogation of seeds – it’s when you start to feel as though all the work is rewarding. Only six more weeks to last frost!

Nine Weeks to Last Frost

Pepper seeds in a row

Here we go. I started my first seeds on Sunday March 13th – Serrano Peppers and Jalapeno Peppers. Here in Edmonton I’m assuming it’ll be safe to place my plants out on or about the 15th of May.¬†

I use Pro-Mix, a peat-based starter with MycoRise Pro. MycoRise is a symbiotic fungus which helps root development and reduces transplant stress.

It’s important to allow the starting medium to absorb water first before planting, so I placed my long narrow containers in water and gave them a good soak from the bottom up. Once the water had thoroughly drenched the soil I removed the containers and allowed them to drip off any excess.

I made a 1/4 inch (5 mm) trench the length of the container using a pencil, then placed the seeds approximately 1.5 cm apart the length of the row. I like to place the seeds on edge to reduce the risk of rot. I covered the seeds with 5 mm of light sand and carefully marked each row with a marker cut from a plastic yogurt container.

I made custom clear plastic covers from a dollar-store tablecloth and placed the seeds under my lamps. Once they begin to sprout I’ll remove the plastic covers to allow them to breathe more freely. I have them under artificial light for 14 hours per day and the room is about 21 degrees C.

Now its just a matter of waiting…10-15 days for germination depending on the soil temperature. By the time these sprout I’ll have planted my tomatoes, eggplants and some hybrid onions – but that’s for next week’s post.