Laura M. reporting:
About fourteen of us gathered at the Jericho Town Library on March 21 to attend Laura Oliver’s informative workshop on Seed Starting. This was TTJ’s first in-person meeting since the start of the pandemic and fell on the first (lovely!) day of spring! Laura co-founded and heads the Jericho Seed Library and is an avid home gardener herself.
Here are some of the takeaways:
Whys of seed starting
Besides saving money, having flexibility with timing, and a wider choice of seeds, Laura said you are in better charge of the health of your own plants.
Types of seeds
1)Open pollinated which are pollinated by insects, birds and wind; 2)Heirloom which are passed down through the generations (all heirloom seeds are open pollinated) and; 3)Hybrid which are created from different parent seeds, producing a new variety; unusable for saving/replanting.
Laura said most seeds last for several years, with a few exceptions, such as alliums. For older seeds, simply plant more of them to assure germination. Laura took us through how to read seed packets to garner the useful info provided. For example, days to maturity refers to when the seedling is transplanted into the ground rather than when the seed is planted.
Seed tray options
After describing various options of seed trays, Laura ultimately recommended using soil blockers in which you mold your own blocks of soil, avoiding the use of trays altogether except for a bottom tray holder. She said locals are looking into the library obtaining a soil blocker for communal use.
Seedling maintenance and health
Laura suggested using warming mats for germination, then getting seeds under lights as soon as they poke through the soil. (Some exceptions like small-seeded lettuce germinate better with light). Seedlings need roughly 16 hours of light a day; bent stems indicate a lack of light!
Other tips for healthy seedlings and avoiding a fungal disease called damping off: don’t over water; just water when the top of soil starts to dry out; bottom water from the edge of the tray when seedlings are new and fragile. Once the second set of leaves show up, you can water from the top. Keep fan going for good air circulation. Fertilize seedlings after three with dilute fish emulsion. After 3-4 weeks, transplant either to the garden, or to larger pots if needed.
When to plant
Laura cautioned against starting seeds too early, saying that seedlings should be indoors for as little time as possible. While info such as Jericho being in zone four or the first official frost date being between May 15 and June 15 is helpful, there are many other factors like wind and land elevation to take into account. Reading signs of nature can be helpful too; Laura said she is cued by spring peepers and various migratory birds in knowing when to plant.
She recommended hardening off seedlings before outdoor planting, to slowly introduce them to the outdoors. She said it they’re cold hardy, they can be left outside overnight (under cover) but recommended bringing tender plants indoors if it falls below 50 or so degrees.
Keeping seeds cool and dry is best for germination; put dessicant packages in with your seeds!
Invest in LED lights; better for the environment, longer lasting and more effective.
Planting depth for seeds is generally twice the size of the seed being planted.
Garlic and chamomile tea help prevent damping off of seedlings.
Laura finished her talk by introducing us to the Seed Library; resembling a card catalog, it’s located on the first floor of the Jericho Town Library. Becoming a member and access to seeds is free and open to everyone.