Murdering Seedlings

Lettuce seedlings_LAH_9883I’ve waiting all winter for spring to finally arrive (and it took forever this year). The garden was planned, veggie varieties were chosen, seeds were ordered. When the package arrived, the seed packets were sorted and stuffed into baggies to wait until May. With the first warmer days, I finally ventured outside, prepared my planting beds, hooked up the soaker hoses, and sowed those seeds. Then I misted them daily, lest they dry out and die. Weeds sprouted and were carefully extracted from the seed bed. Then, at last, the first tiny cotyledons showed above ground. My seeds were germinating!

And now you want me to pull half of them out? You must be crazy!

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Taking Your Garden’s Temperature

soil thermometerThe calendar says late April, the weekend forecast is warm and sunny, but there’s still snow melting off the trees and loitering in the shadows. With our off-again, on-again spring, how can a gardener possibly know when to plant?

There’s no foolproof formula, but a soil thermometer can help take much of the guesswork out of gardening in Colorado.

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Abusing Your Seeds

If you’re having trouble getting some of your seeds to germinate, it may be that you’re being too nice to them. Armed with tough defenses against all that nature can throw at them, some seeds refuse to grow unless they’re forced to. This year, consider seed assault and battery, followed by water torture. Here’s how to abuse your seeds.

Scarification

Morning Glories have hard seed coats.
Morning Glories have extremely hard seed coats.

The coat of some seeds is very hard and tough. Normally, this protects the seed and ensures that conditions for germination are favorable. In nature, seeds may pass through the digestive tract of a bird or animal, or be burned in a fire. A hard seed coat gives these seeds a longer storage life as well.

Since you’re unlikely to eat or roast your seeds, you need to provide another way for air and water to reach the tiny embryo inside that armored seed coat. Using chemical or mechanical means to create a weak spot or crack in the seed coat is called “scarification.”

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Starting Seeds: Pre-germination

corn-germinating-on-towel-lah-1Vegetable seeds will germinate with or without soil. All they really need is an infusion of water to swell the seed coat, and sufficient warmth to signify spring. In fact, seeds for our most commonly grown food crops are among the easiest to start. They will begin their growth on a paper towel, a bed of agar, or even while still inside the fruit where they were formed! The home gardener can put this fertility to good use.

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Starting Seeds: Timing

Crumbly potting soil, warm water, tiny seeds—I love starting my veggie garden. Even though we had almost a foot of snow two days ago, I was happily planting lettuce and tomatoes, peppers, broccoli, kale and cabbage. When your growing season is as short as mine is, it’s essential to start many crops indoors.

pepper-cotyledons-vs-leaves-lahOf course, you can buy started seedlings at your local garden center. But where’s the fun in that? I prefer to take advantage of the wider selection of varieties found in the seed catalogs. I want seedlings that are stocky and healthy, not leggy and root-bound. Plus, there’s a certain satisfaction in knowing that you grew your plants yourself.

The first step to success is planning. What is the average last frost date for your area? You can ask a gardening friend, contact your local Master Gardener help desk, or check the Farmer’s Almanac website.

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