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Starting From Seed January 28, 2009

Las Vegas has a wonderful growing season with only the extreme heat of summer and the extreme cold of winter, each being short, standing in the way of your harvest. And, these extreme months can be compensated for by bringing plants indoors or using shade covers, lights and/or heaters and greenhouses to regulate the temperature. Most plants won’t grow and stop setting fruit when temperatures exceed 90 degrees.

Starting your summer plants in the house in winter can give you a headstart for putting them in the ground after the last frost. Click HERE to check the weather conditions.

To start your seedings follow these steps:
For most growers, seeds should be sown indoors approximately six to eight weeks before the average last-frost date. February 16th is the average last frost date for Las Vegas, which makes it ideal to begin your seedlings at the end of December or beginning of January.

1. Plant your seeds indoors using a soiless mix. I like to use the little peatmoss pellets, soaked in water. I put these pellets in empty cardboard egg cartons, one per cell, and then fill them with water. [Use filtered water, like reverse osmosis or distilled whenever you water your plants–this is important especially if your water is softened. The salt remaining in the softened water will accumulate and eventually kill your plants.] Put one or two seeds in each moistened pellet and poke them down into the hole with a toothpick. I put these cartons inside a large foil pan. Re-water so everything is moist, and slip the whole thing into a large plastic bag, keeping the bag vented. This then goes on top of my indoor fridge or freezer so that the heat from the appliance warms the bottom of the tray, incubating the seeds. After about 3 days many of your seeds will have sprouted. You do not need to water again until after the seeds have sprouted.

2. Remove any sprouted seeds to another carton/pan and return the unsprouted seeds to the top of the appliance, covered with a vented plastic bag as described above. Some seeds take a long time to germinate, like desert plants. Be patient. Really stubborn seeds might need to be soaked or even scraped to get them to germinate. But seeds like tomatoes, carrots, beets, and basil will sprout within 3 days if the above method is used.

3. The sprouted seeds now need light. To provide light while indoors you can either put the seedlings in front of a very sunny window (not recommended) or under a grow light (recommended). I use a grow light since the seedlings need about 16 hours a day of very intense light, about 2 inches from the plants. I use an outlet timer to determine the time the light is on automatically. Keep the plants moist. You may suffer from fungus gnats in your home as you start seedlings since the soil needs to remain moist, not drying out between waterings, and the gnats will burrow into it & lay eggs. I suggest putting out sticky yellow paper traps to catch the gnats. These are available at all gardening stores, including Wal-Mart & Home Depot. Just position these traps around your seedlings. Keep your houseplants relatively dry as you start seeds so that the gnats don’t migrate & infest these plants, too. If that happens, reduce houseplant watering, cover your houseplant soil with fine sand and put sticky traps in them, too. Eventually you’ll win. Soggy soil is the host for fungus gnats.

4. The first little ‘leaves’ to emerge are not true leaves–they’re technically known as cotyledons. When the second set of leaves appears (these are true leaves, and plants will be about 2″ high), it’s time to transplant. Transplanting is important because it shocks the plant and forces it to develop roots. I transplant into jiffy pots, paper cups with holes in the bottom, old plastic nursery pots or whatever I can find. Transplant the seedlings deeply so just the leaves are above the soil level. Keep moist. Be sure there is drainage. I continue to use a foil pan as a drip tray.

5. Two weeks after transplanting use a diluted organic liquid fertilizer. Dilute or you’ll burn & kill your plants.

6. When plants are about 9-12″ high, they should be hardened off. This process slowly acclimates plants to sunlight, wind and true outdoor conditions. Start by setting plants outside in a slightly shaded area and then gradually moving them into the sun. It’s best to stress the plants by not giving them too much water now (if they wilt, then water them); this is part of the hardening off process. Also during this time, be sure to remove any blossoms that might form–eartly plant growth in the garden should be directed toward root and foliage development, not reproductive development and the formation of fruit.

Wind is a major concern for early planting in Las Vegas. It will whip your little plants around or desicate them to death in one night. I like to protect my transplants with a plastic water bottle with the top & bottom cut off & then fitted over the plant as a shield from the wind. As soon as the plants are hardened off you can plant them in your pots or garden as long as you have protected them from the wind.

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One Response to “Starting From Seed”

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