by Verity Goodier
What works for me jump starting seeds in the spring – a few reminders:
1. If you collect your own seeds at the end of summer, make sure they are bone dry and store them in paper in the fridge, having ‘cleaned’ them of husks, etc. before storage. Label.
2. Everything used for starting seeds needs to be ultra clean. Good hygiene is essential. Using seed starter mix, fill container within ¼” top. Sow seeds thinly (fine seed can be mixed with sand to get better distribution). The soil is dry at this time. Tap down lightly to ensure seed contact with soil. Cover with vermiculite, sand or starter mix and place small container in a water-tight tray. Label. Water the seeds by adding water to the tray so that the container is watered from the bottom-up. I continue to water this way until the seeds are big enough to transplant, and have never had problems with damping off.
3. At this point cover the water-tight tray with a translucent cover and place over bottom heat. Heater cables are ideal, but top of fridge or hot water heater will do. Seeds need warmth and moisture. Check seeds every day.
4. As soon as there is a showing of green they need to be moved into full spectrum light to avoid becoming leggy. I use a bank of fluorescent tubes, one warm white and one cold white seems to be adequate. I use a timer on for 16 hours a day. The lights initially need to be about 5″ above seeds. Every day I take the lid off the tray, dry it and replace it. Seedlings need bright light and excellent air circulation.
5. Keep an eye on watering, don’t over water. Lift pot to judge if it needs water – too light = too dry. Use room temperature water that has been sitting overnight to dispel chlorine.
6. I fertilize lightly with 20-20-20 (just enough to faintly colour the water) about once a week once true leaves have formed.
7. If damping off occurs throw soil and seeds away and start over.
8. When large enough to pot on, I let the seeds dry out for a couple of days to make it easier to separate tangled roots (with a kitchen fork). Always handle by leaves, not stem.
9. Tomato seeds are still viable after many years of storage. I use a 9-pack cell container and put a single seed in each segment so that roots aren’t compromised when thinning out. Remember that when you pot on tomatoes you can bury the stem right up to the first true leaves – the stem will grow roots for you and make the plant sturdier.