Kelle’s Seed-Starting Methods

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Newly started Kale plants under lights

Seed starting and transplanting times are based on the last frost date in my microclimate in the mountains of Central Pennsylvania. Readers in areas that are frost-free in May can plant and transplant earlier. Warm weather crops could also be planted and transplanted earlier and protected with row cover.

Mid-March-Start cool weather crops (lettuce, kale, collards, cabbage, broccoli, spinach, kohlrabi, cauliflower, brussel sprouts, pac choi, and parsley) and tender crops that take a longer time to grow (celery, celaraic, herbs)

Lettuce plants

Lettuce plants

Mid-April-Start warm weather crops (tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, basil) and second crop lettuce

Containers-6-packs for most crops; 6 oz yogurt containers with holes punched in bottom for plants that grow larger (tomatoes, peppers, eggplant), and flats for onions and leeks

  • Reusing containers-Before each planting wash thoroughly with soap and water, sanitize with white vinegar, and rinse

Potting Mix-1part sifted compost, 1 part peat moss, ½ part perlite

  • Mix in water until all material is moist—Mix should remain loose and not be sticky when squeezed

Planting Seeds (6 packs and yogurt cups)

  • Fill to top; press mix down gently; add more mix and press down again; level should be slightly below the top (1/8-1/4 inch) to prevent water from running off during watering
  • Make small depression in center of container, plant seed, push mix from edge of depression to cover, pat down
  • Water thoroughly until water runs out bottom of containers

Planting Seeds (flats)

  • Fill flats half way; press down gently; add more mix and press down again; level should be about half of flat; sprinkle seeds as evenly as you can on surface, spread a light layer of mix over top of seeds; pat down
  • Water thoroughly until water runs out the bottom of the flat; check that all seeds remain covered
  • I plant fairly densely—1/16 oz packet of seeds per flat—and get many plants; plant less densely if you want fewer plants

Grow Lights (3-Tier Stand)

  • (2) 4-foot fluorescent light fixtures (with 2 bulbs each) for each tier
  • Cool white bulbs-no need to buy more expensive daylight bulbs
  • Containers sit on 26X18 inch restaurant trays; 2 trays per tier
Homemade 3-tiered grow stand

Homemade 3-tier grow stand built out of 2x4s

18" x 26" x 1" fiberglass trays

18″ x 26″ x 1″ fiberglass trays – we have found that the fiberglass ones last a lot longer than the plastic ones.  You can find used ones on ebay.

Grow Lights (2 Tier Stand)

  • (1) 4-foot fluorescent light fixtures (with 2 bulbs each) for each tier
  • Each tier has a removable tray so no need for restaurant trays
2-tier stand from Gardeners.com (donated by a friend)

2-tier stand from Gardeners.com (donated by a friend). This retails for over $500.  We recommend building one over buying one.

Seedling Care

  • Check need for water every day: water when soil surface is lighter brown
  • Turn lights on when seedlings germinate-start with lights about ¼-1/2 inch above plants
  • Lights are on 14 hours/day (around 6:15 am to 8:15 pm)
  • Raise lights as plants grow
  • Temperature-I have wood heat so the temperature fluctuates between 60 and 73 degrees; peppers do okay but prefer warmer temperature

Hardening Off

  • 1-2 weeks before transplanting
  • Plants are very sensitive to direct sunlight at first so gradually increase their exposure to sunlight
  • Plants are also not as resistant to frost at this stage, even hardy plants like kale
  • I have a table where I set my plants outdoors and cover with shade cloth during the time of day when sun is most intense; as plants get more used to sun, I leave them uncovered longer
  • If forecast predicts temperatures to go below freezing, I bring my plants onto my back porch at night and take back outside in morning when temperatures rise above freezing again
  • Continue to check need for watering regularly especially if it is a hot, sunny day

Transplanting

  • Cool weather crops-mid to late April-use row cover to protect lettuce from frost; erratic weather patterns have made it difficult to harden off plants, so now I cover even the hardy plants
  • Warm weather crops-June

Direct Seeding

  • Snap Peas, Carrots, Beets, Radishes, Bunching Onions, Turnips-early to mid April-except for peas, cover with row cover for frost protection
  • Arugula-May
  • Squash, cucumbers-June

Kelle Kersten lives and gardens veganically with her husband at their vegan homestead Ahimsa Village (www.ahimsavillage.org) in the mountains of central Pennsylvania.

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