Sunday, September 19, 2010

Day 1—Holy Cukes, Batman!

I've never grown cucumber from seed, but I was still shocked to see that the cucumbers germinated in one night. It seemed the little shoots popped up almost immediately upon planting them, which is good news for those of us with short attention spans. The picture here shows them at three days old.

The tomatoes all followed over the next 2-3 days. This might seem fast, but tomato seeds are actually pretty eager to germinate providing you give them two essential conditions: moisture and heat. Tomatoes germinate best when they're held at around 80ºF. Since I'm using Jiffy pots, I water from the bottom and just let the pots soak up water as needed (just don't let the pots sit in water—provide only as much as they can soak up).

Peppers take bit longer to germinate, up to 10 days or even two weeks. So while I've got beautiful cucumber seedlings after a week and clusters of tomato seedlings, not one pepper has poked its little head up yet. At this point, I'm still watering with plain water—there's no reason to feed these seedlings until the first true leaves have started to emerge.

I've often said this the hardest part—the seedlings—and I stick by it. Seedlings need tons of light, but not too much or they'll burn up. They need constant, plentiful moisture, but not too much or they'll suffer from a fatal condition called damping off. They appreciate a tiny bit of fertilizer—worm castings, diluted fish emulsion fertilizer when the true leaves begin to emerge—but most full-strength fertilizers will burn them up. They do best when protected and coddled a bit, which means keeping them away from wind and busy little hands.

But it's also completely worth it, in my opinion. I'm growing Brandywine and Cherokee Purples this year, which I can ONLY do from seed. And there's something very satisfying about taking care of a tiny sprout—it's the kind of thing that makes you pay attention because there really isn't much margin for error.

One final note: Don't worry if you haven't started seedlings yet, or you're just starting them now. You have PLENTY of time this season, and even starting now, your plants will still be in the ground relatively early. In fact, you still have time to do two full crops. And if you're planning on buying transplants from a garden center, wait a bit longer. With 90ºF days and still the threat of heavy rain, it's too early for tomatoes to really thrive outside. Kick back, give it a few weeks, and follow along as my seeds go from tiny to towering.

Up Next: Thinning out Seedlings

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