Part 5: Starting seedlings

Certain vegetables need a longer growing season than Montreal can provide, so we need to start them off indoors. These include tomatoes, peppers, broccoli, cabbage, onions and flowers. You can buy all of these seedlings from a nursery, or at a market, but you will be limited in the varieties available to you. When buying seedlings, make sure to inspect each one carefully to make sure they are in good condition. The ideal size for a seedling planted June 1st (ideal date for tomatoes, peppers and onions) is 4” and it should not have any flowers. Any larger and the plant will experience too much shock in transplanting and the eventual vigour and harvest from the mature plant will be adversely affected. There is not enough light in the winter even in a sunny window to grow nice strong seedlings. You can provide light with a fluorescent bulb and fixture you can get for 20$ at a hardware store. You do not need a special grow light, which usually run 5 or 6 times that price. Hang the light 6” above the soil, and raised it as the plants start get taller. Give your seedlings 16 hours of light and 8 hours of darkness (easiest on a timer). Plants need the darkness as a part of their daily growth cycle. Plant the seeds in a growing medium: a mix of vermiculite, peat moss and worm castings (from your vermicomposter, or garden store) is best. As a general rule, plant seeds 3 times deeper than the seed width, so for a tomato seed, about ¼”. Keep them moist but not wet, and leave them uncovered so mold doesn’t form. Seed germination needs heat and moisture, so start your seedlings somewhere warm, like on top of the fridge, or on a heating pad (sold especially for this purpose) Seedlings need to end up in 4” pots for enough room to establish a healthy root system. Before planting your seedlings in the garden, you need to take them through a process called “hardening off”. To do this you bring your babies outside for only a couple of hours at a time for progressively longer periods until they are ready to spend the night. This greatly reduces plant shock, and will give you a much healthier and more productive mature plant. This process is especially important for fruiting plants such as tomatoes, peppers, eggplant and squash. The more gradually you go through the hardening off process the better, generally a week is sufficient. Start onions and flowers in February, peppers and tomatoes, mid-March. To make your garden extra productive, you can also start your lettuce, chard, kale, squash, cucumbers and many others as seedlings outside of your garden to maximize the time and space available to you (More on this later). The only vegetables that cannot start as seedlings are root vegetables such as carrots, radish, beets and turnips. Also spinach is finicky and doesn’t like being moved around either. You can find more detailed step-by-step instructions either on Google, in gardening books or in the upcoming maintenance section of our website.

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