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Starting Hardy Vegetables

the beauty of healthy seedlings
Raising your own seedlings has many advantages: You can grow a lot of seedlings for very little money; you can grow exactly the varieties you like; you can raise superior seedlings to the usually stressed seedlings available commercially; and your seedlings will be poison-free. Still, if your are planning to plant only a few plants of each crop, getting the seedlings from your favourite garden center is cheaper and quicker.

It's time to get things underway in the greenhouse or indoors, and our first requirement is some decent propagation soil. It is made up best as follows: Take some good potting soil and add a generous handful of bone meal, a couple of tablespoons of agricultural lime, and a tablespoon of super phosphate to each gallon of soil. To this, add vermiculite in a ratio of one-to-three. Then get that plastic garbage bag with the now well rotten duff and seaweed mix, and add to the propagating mix, also in a ration of one-to-three.

If you haven't done this, get some seaweed and put it through an old blender (there are usually small pebbles in seaweed), or buy some kelp meal. This is extremely important. Both the seaweed and the duff, as well as the kelp meal, contain the complete natural range of the 72+ trace elements, and these will keep your seedlings in supreme health. Your seedlings won't get "Damp Off" disease, which could wipe out most of your seedlings, and you won't have to drench your propagation soil with "No Damp" fungicides - and still loose a lot of seedlings. With the seaweed and duff, or the kelp meal, you won't have to worry about "Damp Off" disease ever again.

The resulting mix will be nice and loose, well aerated, and it will retain moisture very well. It will also have a very nice organic content, the full spectrum of the 72+ trace elements, plenty of phosphates for plenty of life-energy, and around 2% nitrogen which is more than sufficient to get things underway really well. Come transplanting time from seedling flats to seedling pots, you'll find that your seedlings have good sized root systems, which will lift out easily and without damage from this light and 'fluffy' propagating mix.

If you are re-using old starter flats or pots, it is a good idea to rinse them in a mild bleach solution first, one tablespoon per gallon. Then rinse well with clear water.

Onion family members, green and storage kinds, scallions and leeks, do not need bottom heat to germinate. An unheated green house, or a cool bright situation indoors, is all that is needed. The same goes for parsley and dill. Onions may be sown quite densely, in flats or six packs with an optimum distance of 1/4 inch between seedlings in all directions for unhindered root development. Green onions and scallions can grow closer than this in the seedling flat without growth restrictions. As they begin to grow, an extra two to three hours of artificial light will help things along very nicely. The idea is to raise strong, sturdy seedlings with large root systems. These will grow into large, sturdy plants, with large bulbs. Keep the seedlings sheared to three inches tall, another means of inducing seedlings to become strong and sturdy.

Dill and parsley are best sown into 4 inch pots. For dill, I like to seed 4 seeds to the pot, and for parsley, about 10 seeds to the pot. The easiest way to sow both onions and herbs is to scatter the seed on the surface, then add a 1/4 inch of soil to cover and press down lightly. Dill and parsley resent being uprooted and it is best to transplant the whole 4 inch pot without disturbing the roots. To this end, moisten the pot thoroughly to hold the soil together, then invert it in your hand, and tap it out gently in one piece, seedlings and soil and all.

Early cabbages and broccoli, like all the cabbage family members, require a soil temperature of 80 degrees F. to germinate. By far the best thing we ever did was to build an insulated, bottom heated germination box, which we used in our unheated greenhouse. This saved us heating the greenhouse, since the insulation in the box held the heat marvelously well and the seeds germinated like nobody's business. Marigold seeds sprouted in an astonishing 3 days! But a flat on a hot water heater works well for most people.

Sow cabbage seeds thinly, about two to three seeds to the inch, a quarter inch deep, cover and firm lightly. Thin to two inches apart in about three weeks, The important thing is to keep all cabbages growing freely at any stage, without set-backs due to crowding, which will result in small heads and "bolting", or going to seed prematurely. It's Nature's law and imperative; if there is stress and hardship, devote all energy to making seeds to carry on the species - and hope for a better chance in the next generation.

Transplant at around five weeks into four-inch pots individually (best), or four seedlings into a six-packs to avoid root crowding. For all cabbage family members add a liberal amount of agricultural lime the potting soil to increase the pH to about neutral, and for their high calcium requirement. Two to three tablespoon per gallon should do the trick; use your pH soil tester to make sure.

Celery and celeriac may also be started at 70 degree F. soil temperature at this time. sow about four to six seeds per inch, cover with soil an eighth of an inch deep, and firm lightly. Make sure to keep the surface moist at all times as tiny seedlings need this to stay alive. A spray bottle set to 'mist' works really well. And use your dirty dishwater for the perfect fertilizer. To keep soil warm, use lukewarm water. We find that a full water hose with a shut-off at the end, left lying about outside in a sunny area, provides more than sufficient warm water for this purpose, especially since the covered germination box, and the germination soil mix, conserve moisture extremely well.

If you are using soil-heating cables (the cat's meow) for bottom heat be sure to to check deeply for moisture as this arrangement dries out from the bottom up. I have been fooled by this as the surface can be moist while the soil underneath can be completely dry. On warm days, lift any cover of the germination box for ventilation. Next, we'll get into leeks.



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