KUSA - With cool season gardening starting in just a few weeks, gardeners can use special equipment to get the proverbial jump on spring. Some cool season vegetables and flowers are best planted directly in the ground, while others are best started under controlled circumstances indoors.
Seeds of plants that should be direct sown outside include poppies, bachelor buttons, love-in-a-mist and larkspur, as well as root crops such as beets, radish and turnips. None of these fare very well in six packs.
On the other hand, it's often beneficial to germinate some seeds inside and expose them gently to life outdoors. Some, such as lettuce and spinach, do well either way. Your circumstances will dictate what works best for you; it takes a few seasons of practice to figure it out.
The right equipment is a great aid. Use plastic flats and six packs to germinate seeds. Cover the flats with clear plastic domes to create a humid mini greenhouse effect. A seed mat underneath the flat will warm the soil gently; seeds will germinate very quickly (usually in just a few days). Remove the flat from the mat as soon as the seeds germinate. Prop open the plastic lid to allow fresh air to enter for a few days before removing the cover altogether.
Use the same procedures and equipment in April to germinate warm season crops and flowers such as tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, zinnias and marigolds for May planting outside.
All of the flats, six packs and domes can be cleaned and reused every spring. Some gardeners prefer to plant seeds in small peat pots. These can be transplanted directly into the ground with minimal root disturbance and the peat pots degrade in the soil.
If you choose to plant in a tray or pot, thin the seedlings as needed to prevent overcrowding. Seeds planted in close proximity to save space can be separated after germination. This is known as "pricking out." You need the hands of a surgeon to delicately transfer the tiny individual plants into individual six pack cells. I use a small pickle fork for this.
If you don't have bright sunny windows for your seedling, there are small table top grow lights available. You can set up your growing operation in a spare bedroom or even on a bathroom counter.
After the seedlings have germinated, expose them to the sun right away and leave them outside on nice days; bring them in if it's below freezing. Check them for moisture several times a day as young seedlings dry out quickly. Keep them moist but not soggy. With patience, you'll be eating fresh garden salads in April.