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Seed Starting Tips from Sandy Merrill

Successful Seed Starting
Gardens By D'esign, New London, CT 06320,

Why start your own plants?
 Earlier Harvest
 Better Choice of Varieties
 Stronger/Healthier Seedlings
 Cost Savings?

     Seed Biology
       Completely self contained next generation plant
 Root tip, stem, leaf, bud, and cotyledons protected by a seed coat
 Some have endosperm
 Some are in a true dormant state
     Choosing Seed
 Read the pack and talk to others
       Check for TASTE, Vigor, Performance, Stand-ability, Pest and Disease Resistance,
       Maturity, Hardiness, Storage and Nutrition
 Check for proper Storage Conditions: Dry, Not in direct sun, Cool temp.
 Seed Viability Chart

     For a Seed to Germinate
 “Right” Conditions
   Check Chart
   Warm Soil: 75-90 degrees (cooler-lettuce, hotter-peppers)
   Heat mats – Heat Cables
   Cool Air – at least 10 degrees cooler
   Some NEED light
   Grow lights vs. shop lights
    Red stimulates stem and leaf growth
    Violet/blue encourages stocky growth (enzyme and respiratory)
   Dust tubes
   14-16 hours per day
   No more than 3” above top of plants
   ‘Room’ temperature water
   From bottom
   ‘Green house’ cover vs. breathable row cover
   Choose light mix
   Not needed in beginning
   2-4-2 as seedlings
   Lower temps at night
   ‘Day’ length is really ‘Night’ length
 Break Dormancy
  Light Treatment
     Choosing a Medium
 What it needs to do
  Free from weed seeds, disease, and fungus
  Hold moisture
  Porous enough to allow air
  Kills good guys too, over 160 degrees releases toxic salts
 Pre-mix or Mix your own
  Milled sphagnum moss & vermiculite, blocking mix
  Fine milled sphagnum to cover seeds and prevent ‘damping off’
 Moisten any mix before using

 Soil Blocks
 From Paper Cups to Full Systems

 Food 2-4-2 half strength, weekly
 Water – maintain consistent
 Remove cover
 To transplant or not to transplant

     Harding off
 Inside – wind (fan)
  Cold frames, WOW, Hot caps
  Full shade & in at night at first
  Sun a few hours each day, in at night

     Planting Out
  Check soil temperature
       “Frost Free Dates” are really 32 degrees free. True “Frost” can happen above 32 degrees.
  Check chart
  Frost – last full moon in May
  What to do if the frost hits? – water and kelp!
 Soak hole & allow soil in pot to slightly dry out before planting
 Add Compost to holes
  Tomatoes down, Crowns up
 Supports NOW
 Shade and Frost Protection – KELP
  Cool crops as soon as established
  Hot crops when soil is really warm
   IRT, newspaper, bark, cover crop

     Direct Seeding
 One by one or Thin
 Timing – Chart


  At planting time
  At first flower
  At peak production 50% flower/50% fruit
  Late for perennials 2-4-2
  1” rule (use a rain gage)
  Be consistent!!!!!!
  Through July 4th
  Living mulch cover crop

     Problems to Watch For 
 Leaf curl – too much fertilizer. (Water leach or transplant into new container)
 Yellow lower leaves – too much fertilizer, not enough light, magnesium deficiency
 Leggy – not enough light, to warm air temp.
 Bud drop – air too dry, exposed to cold draft
 Leaf discoloration
  Pale – needs Nitrogen
  Red/purple undersides – Needs Phosphorus (or too low pH has tied up Phosphorus)
  Bronze leaf edges – Need Potassium or over watered.
  Discolored roots – excess salts, over watering (transplant)
  Mold – poor drainage, too low pH
  Damping off – fungal disease in seed, soil, air born – Rogue Out Plant
       Prevent it first
        Use fine milled sphagnum
        Provide good air circulation
        Soak seed in garlic water
        Nettle or Chamomile Teas foliar spray
        Water from bottom
  Poor root growth
   Poor soil aeration, poor drainage (use seed starting medium, not soil)
   Not enough Phosphorus
   Too high salt content
  No sprouting/poor sprouting
   Poor seed
   Improver temperatures
   Soil dried out after seed started to swell
   Seeds planted too deep
   No firm contact between soil and seed
   Possible lack of light for those seeds that require light.

     For any suspected deficiency – foliar spray of kelp
     The ‘Miracle’ From The Sea KELP
       Increases yields
 Longer storage life
 Improved germination
 Frost resistance
 Resistance to fungal disease and insect attack

 How to use?
  Soak seed and bulbs
  Spray young leaves early AM – undersides too
  Spray plants at first flower (just before bloom) to increase bud set and yield
  Spray to protect from frost or avoid froze damage (even after frost is noticed)

Successful Seed Starting - Now’s The Time to Plant! . . . . What?
Gardens By D'esign, New London, CT 06320,

Planting by soil temperature is much more dependable than a date or counting back from the ‘frost free’ date in your area. Published ‘frost free dates’ are based on the average last (or first) date that the temperature is expected to fall below 32 degrees in your USDA zone.  Unfortunately for plants, frost can settle on a localized area even when the temperature is well above 32 degrees. Low lying areas are more susceptible and cities less so. Sign up with a local garden center for email frost alerts, watch the local evening weather forecast, and get up before the sun rises on a suspected cool overnight (frost occurs most often in the early morning hours).  Protect your plants with remay or even a bed sheet suspended on patio chairs. If you find that your plants have been touched by frost – all may not be lost. Get out into the garden before the sun is high and start an overhead sprinkler. Water will often ‘melt’ the frost before it can burst the cell walls of the plant. Water the foliage with kelp too.

Having written all that, here’s the best I can recommend for Connecticut where our average TRUE FROST FREE date is around May 20th or the last full moon in May, whichever is later.

Check the instruction on the seed packet first!
Start Inside:
Onions 16-20 weeks before last frost (plant out 4-6 weeks before last frost)
Celery & Parsley 16-20 weeks before last frost (plant out 4-6 weeks before last frost)
Pansies and most Perennials 16-20 weeks before last frost (plant out 4 weeks before last frost)
Geraniums 12-14 weeks before last frost (plant out after last frost)
Peppers (Hot) 12 weeks before last frost (plant out 2 weeks after last frost)
Peppers (Sweet) 8-10 weeks before last frost (plant out after last frost)
Eggplant 8-10 weeks before last frost (plant out 2 weeks after last frost)
Tomatoes 6-8 weeks before last frost (plant out after last frost)
Lettuce 8-10 weeks before last frost (plant out 4 weeks before last frost)
Cole Crops 8-10 weeks before last frost (plant our 4 weeks before last frost)
Cucumbers & Melons 2-8 weeks before last frost (plant out 2 weeks after last frost)
DO NOT PLANT IMPATIENS EVEN FROM SEED! The disease downy mildew is now present in our native impatiens Jewel Weed and spores of the disease survived the winter in Maine.

In January  Plant Inside
  Onions, Most Perennials
In February  Plant Inside
  Onions, Leeks, Celery, Parsley, Hot Peppers, Eggplant, Geraniums
In March  Plant Inside
                      Broccoli, Cabbage, Cauliflower, Chives, Eggplant, Lettuce, Hot Peppers, Sweet Peppers, Early Tomatoes
  Plant Seeds in the Garden (when ground can be worked and soil temp is above 40 degrees)
  Leeks, Lettuce, Shelling Peas, Spinach, Turnips
In April Plant Inside
  Basil, Cucumbers, Melons, Peppers, Spinach, Squash, Tomatoes
  Plant Seeds in the Garden (when soil temp is above 45-50 degrees)
  Arugula, Beets, Dill, Endive, Kale, Lettuce, Parsnips, Edible Pod Peas, Radishes, Spinach, Swiss Chard
  Transplant Seedling into the Garden (after they have been hardened-off)
  Broccoli, Cabbage, Cauliflower, Celery, Onions, Pansies, Most Perennial Flowers
In May Plant Inside
  More Basil, Cucumbers, Melons, Squash, Nasturtiums
  Plant Seeds in the Garden (when soil temp is above 50 degrees)
  Snap Beans, Beets, Carrots, Collards, Kale, Lettuce, Radishes, Spinach, Swiss Chard
  Transplant Seedlings into Garden (After danger of frost is past and plants have been hardened-off)
  Cucumbers, Melons, Squash, Tomatoes
In June Plant Seeds in the Garden
  Basil, Brussels Sprouts, Corn, Kohlrabi, Okra, Pumpkins, Squash, Morning Glories
  Transplant Seedlings into Garden (when night-time temps remain above 60 degrees)
  Basil, Eggplant, Hot & Sweet Peppers, Tomatoes

Continue to direct seed many short term crops through the summer and cool crops again in August for a fall crop.

Soil Temperature Conditions for Vegetable Seed Germination

Veggie   Minimum temp   Optimum range (opt. temp)  Maximum temp
Basil         55°F                    55-85 (65°F)                        90°F
Beans (snap) 50°F               60-85 (80°F)                       95°F
Beans (lima) 60°F                  65-85 (85°F)                       85°F
Beet        40°F                          50-85 (85°F)                   95°F
Cabbage       40°F                       45-95 (85°F)              100°F
Carrot       40°F                          45-85 (80°F)                 95°F
Cauliflower 40°F                     45-85 (80°F)                  100°F
Celery     40°F                          60-70 (70°F)*               85°F
Corn        50°F                           60-95 (85°F)              105°F
Cucumber   60°F                   60-95 (95°F)                 105°F
Dill            45°F                      50-85 (80°F)**             95°F
Eggplant    60°F                    75-90 (85°F)                 95°F
Lettuce      35°F                     40-80 (70°F)                85°F
Okra         60°F                    70-95 (95°F)                  105°F
Onion      35°F                    50-95 (75°F)                     95°F
Parsley  40°F                     50-85 (75°F)                     90°F
Parsnip  35°F                     50-70 (65°F)                    85°F
Pea (shelling) 40°F            40-70 (70°F)                    80°F
Pea (edible-pod)  45°F       45-75 (75°F)                   85°F
Pepper (sweet) 60°F           65-95 (80°F)                 95°F
Pepper (hot) 60°F              70-96 (85°F)                  100°F
Pumpkin     60°F               70-90 (85°F)                  100°F
Radish      40°F                  45-90 (75°F)                 95°F
Spinach     35°F                 45-75 (70°F)                 85°F
Squash     60°F                  70-95 (90°F)                100°F
Summer Savory 45°F       60-85 (65°F)**              95°F
Tomato     50°F                  60-85 (80°F)                95°F
Turnip     40°F                   60-95 (75°F)                105°F 
Watermelon 60°F              70-95 (90°F)              105°F

* seed requires a cooler nighttime temperature to germinate – at least down to 60°F 
**seed requires some light to germinate – just press seed into soil or lightly rake seed in.

Compiled information obtained from Cornell, UofC-Davis, UCONN extension and the traditional ‘over the garden gate’ 



Insect Emergence Times - Connecticut Zone 5

from   Gardens By D'esign,
Insect Pests – you WILL have them in your garden. By timing your planting or being prepared for their arrival, you can help control any damage they may have planned for your yard.

These dates are a combination of data from the agriculture station and my own observations over the past 25 years of gardening here in Connecticut.  These dates are not perfect; every season is different from year to year, but it can give you a heads-up to be on the lookout for these pests.

PEST        -                   Arrival Date

Green or Black aphid   -  Mid April
Asparagus beetle  -   May (night temps above 45 degrees)
Colorado Potato beetle  -       Late May
Flea beetle   -  Mid May to early June (night time above 50 degrees)
Japanese beetle  -    Late June (emerges from soil, but active until Sept)
Corn worm  -  Early August
Tent caterpillar  -  Late April 
Gypsy moth   -  May, again in late July, and possibly again in late Sept
Tomato Hornworm   - Mid to Late July
Apple maggot   -  Late June (active until Oct>)
Plum curculio   -  Mid May (active until early July)
Mexican Bean beetle  -  Mid June
Cucumber beetle -   Mid June
Squash bug -    Early June
Squash vine borer  -  Mid June (most active in July)
Cabbage looper  -  Late June to Early July
Codling moth   -  Late May, again in Mid Aug.