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Starting Seedlings is just plain fun!The general rule is to start seedlings 6 weeks before the last time frost is likely. In Santa Barbara the average Last Frost (spring) date is January 22, First Frost (fall) date is December 19. With planetary weather pattern changes those dates may be different now.

Plants have different needs for ground and air temps. Planting Chart  Check to be sure you aren’t starting your seedlings too soon or too late! It’s always a dance trying to beat the timing, get veggies sooner. But there is a cost if you are wrong, though it might not be more than a quick trip to the nursery. But. If you are growing plants the nursery doesn’t carry, you might want to plant more than one round of seedlings. Plant a batch, wait a week or two, then plant another batch.

Get the best! All America Selections are truly winners. Get disease resistant, slow bolting, heat/cold tolerant per season, seeds with the proper day length! If you want to harvest seeds from your best plants, for next year’s sowing or to donate to a seedbank, pick seeds that produce plants that will produce viable seeds.

There are two schools of thought on SEED SOAKING.

1. When seeds take up water too quickly, their outer coverings cracks. This allows nutrients to leak out, and disease organisms to enter. Beans are especially prone to this problem.

2. Seed soaking is the cat’s meow! Properly soaked seeds germinate so much faster! If you let them sprout, you plant only those, for ‘100%’ germination, no empty spots in the row!

If you decide to soak seeds, use the solution that appeals to you. Scope out the correct length of time to soak per the kind of plant seed it is. Beans are not even an overnight soaker. And soaking may not be your choice. Wet paper towels kept damp with a sprayer are easy. If you do it that way, you can check for sprouting if you decide to take it that far. Seed Soaking details!

Once you start the process, you can’t let the seeds dry out. That is the same as death. The process of germination stops. Period.

If you don’t want to do any soaking, fine!

If you are starting your seedlings indoors or in the greenhouse, just pick out a good potting soil medium at your favorite nursery. Plop some into your container that has drainage holes or slits. That can be a six pack from plants you got at the nursery, a repurposed cottage cheese or yogurt container, homemade rolled up newspaper containers your kids made, whatever makes you happy. Just be sure it is disease free. Carefully plant your seeds per the instructions on the seed packet, not too deep, ok? For better germination, spray aspirin on your seeds before planting! Not quite done – label with your planting date and what each is!

Since potting mix doesn’t have nutrients, when the seedlings get up and the first two true leaves, after the cotyledons, have formed, start them on a very light half strength fish emulsion feed once a week, the first three to four weeks. Then give full strength every week, or two.. This liquid nutrient is easy for them to take up.

Damping off tips! Give your seedlings good air circulation, cool temperatures, ample sunlight, and good drainage. There are various symptoms that show signs of damping off fungus. There can be stem lesions at ground level, stems may become thin and tough (‘wire-stem’), leaf spotting, grey mold growth on stems and leaves, roots may rot, or the little one just becomes a stump. So sad when they had just been doing so well. Make a strong chamomile tea by steeping three teaspoons in six cups of boiling water until it cools. Water the seedlings with this tea for two or three times in place of plain water until all signs of damping-off have vanished. Good luck.

Again, follow the seed packet instructions, and get your babies into the ground as soon as you can. The ground has so many nutritional advantages, and your little guys will love the sunshine! Hardening off your seedlings is a process to prepare your seedlings to go out into the world! Put them out in the warmest shady area a few days, then in the sun a few days. Then go to, oh boy, out all night too a few days! Then they are ready for the ground. Don’t forget to sprinkle some mycorrhizal fungi ON the roots when you transplant. Be sure your babies are safe from slugs and snails, bird predators, animals digging them up, and your dog’s waggy tail!

If you are planting directly in the ground, be sure ground and air temps are warm enough per each plant. Some plants do better with direct planting, don’t transplant well. Establish pathways, mark out and protect the seedbed so you, your children, pets, don’t step on the planted area, damaging seedlings just coming up, or compress the soil, push your seeds too deep.

When I plant seed or transplant, I lay down Sluggo or the cheaper store brand equivalent, none of the pellets touching the plant. If you don’t, it may appear that your seeds never sprouted, or if you transplant, there may be no plant there the next morning. If you have birds that pull up your seedlings, cover the seedlings with bell jars or netting. If you use bell jars, leave the tops off, or religiously remove the jars during the heat of the day. When it’s cold, they can give your plants a greenhouse effect and grow faster, but if it’s hot…. Always plant a few extra plants for possible losses to the Universe, and to giveaway if you are so inspired!

Be gentle with all seedlings: handle the little plants by their root clumps or leaves rather than stems, and never squeeze them tightly. They will grow new leaves and roots, but can’t develop new stems.

Why try to explain miracles to your kids when you can just have them plant a garden? ~Robert Brault Whether stretching your gardening dollars or watching the precious miracle of life unfolding, starting seedlings is a truly satisfying adventure! Plus, they’re cute!

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