By Sara Creamer
Fayette County Master
WASHINGTON COURT HOUSE — Soon the seed catalogs will be pouring in. Whether you are a flower grower or a vegetable grower, you can start planning now. Seed packets have a wealth of information you need to plan your 2017 garden. The packet tells you when to sow seed, when it is safe to plant outdoors, how tall and wide your plant will be, how close to plant in the garden, and what kind of light it requires.
The packet will tell you what year the seed was packaged. If the seed is too old, it may not germinate. Germination is the goal. The fancy definition is the initiation of active growth of an embryo resulting in the emergence of a new seedling capable of independent growth. Of course, it just means the seed grows a new plant.
Do you want to grow plants from seed you have? To evaluate the viability of your seed, try using the ‘rag doll’ method. Put ten seed in a moist paper towel and wrap it up. Place it in a warm area (70° F if possible). The packet should tell you about how long it takes the seed to germinate, so be patient.
Eventually the seed will put out a seedling root. You can count the number of seed that begin the process of germination. This gives you a germination percentage. Just 1 seedling is only 10 percent while 5 seedlings is 50%. Any seed with a germination rate below 50% should be discarded. Purchase new.
Maybe you have decided to grow your own plants for the first time. You may wonder, “What do I need?” The simple answer is seed, growing media (please, don’t call it dirt), and a container. Of course, it is not that simple.
You also need proper internal and external conditions for seed to germinate. Unless you have gathered dormant woody plant seeds like acorns, the seeds in packets already have the proper internal conditions. They will not be dormant.
The proper external conditions are light, water, temperature, and oxygen.
The hardest one of these for the homeowner to provide is light. A sunny window in most homes does not provide enough light. I recommend 40 W fluorescent shop lights suspended on a chain. The chain allows you to move the light up and down to keep it within 4 inches of the top of the plant. The light should be on for at least 16-18 hours a day. Try using a timer. A fluorescent bulb is fine. You do not need an expensive grow light.
Water is the next external condition that trips up someone growing for the first time. Seedlings will not survive if allowed to dry out or drowned. They need to be evenly moist. Lights will dry out seedlings. They will use more water as they grow. Check them daily.
My ‘Rule of Thumb’ optimum temperature is 75° F. Warm season crops may like it warmer (hot peppers, 80° F). Cool season crops like it cooler (cabbages, 70° F).
Seeds need oxygen for complex chemical reactions that allow germination. If you do not over water and use the correct growing media, you won’t have to worry about this one.
The growing media should be clean, sterile, and fine textured. Use new. You can find it at big box stores. Don’t sweat over containers. Egg cartons and fast food plastic salad containers work just as well as containers intended for starting seed. Be sure they are clean and have holes in the bottom. Lidded containers will help keep humidity in. The lid should be removed as soon as the seedling begins to touch the lid.
One last piece of advice, resist planting your seed too soon. They get big fast. The seed packet will tell you how many weeks before last frost to start your seed. A safe frost free date for most of Ohio is May 15. If the packet says sow 6 weeks before frost, count 6 weeks back from May 15 and sow the seed on about April 1.
I hope you feel more prepared to ‘Grow Your Own’. If you have more questions, call your county extension professional.
Sara Creamer can be reached at (740) 335-1150 or firstname.lastname@example.org.