Germinating a seed is simply the first step towards a harvest. In between, there are countless steps that must be completed with precision and numerous opportunities for natural forces to derail the entire process.
At the Edible Learning Lab in Buffalo, WY we have approximately 500-1000 seedlings in various stages of development at all times. Caring for them properly is one of our most critical activities each day and something that our students have learned to manage as a team.
Here are the steps you need to master in order to care for those delicate young seedlings that hold the future for your garden.
Starve plants of water and they will wilt and root development will be stunted. Overwatering plants lead to root rot and possible disease.
Light them up
Too little light and plants get leggy. They grow rapidly developing a long stem as they search vertically for light.
Fan for stem development
Fanning with a piece of cardboard several times a day or passively with a small fan helps strengthen stems.
Thin as needed
Often, multiple seeds are sown together to ensure germination and then thinned leaving only the strongest start.
Handle with care
Handling a seedling by the stem can lead to pinching or other damage to the structure.
Pot them up
When the roots are visible through the holes in the bottom of the cell it’s time to pot them up into a larger container. Waiting too long can lead to root bound seedlings which can stunt their initial growth after transplanting.
Fertilize with caution
Seedlings rely on the food storage in the cotyledon leaves, those first leaves that appear immediately after germination. Dosing young starts with a heavily diluted liquid fertilizer once they’ve developed true leaves can promote growth but be careful not to give them too much.
Harden them off
When starts are ready to move into the garden or outdoor raised planter they must be hardened off to prepare them for the new conditions. Start by acclimated them for an hour the first day and increase it by an hour each subsequent day. Move them to a protected space outside that is shady and out of the reach of the wind.