Spring is finally almost here, but in many parts of the world (including ours in the Pacific Northwest of America), we have quite a few months to go before it is safe to put many plants directly in our raised Togetherfarm Block beds because of the danger of low temps, late frost and hail.
March is the perfect month to start plants and seeds indoors that require a long growing season (like tomatoes, peppers, eggplant and broccoli) so that when the later Spring months of May and June roll around, they already have a good start on their growth, and you can move them in your Togetherfarm Blocks raised bed.
Depending on the area you are planting in, you may start your seeds for different plants earlier or later. This handy planting calculator can help determine when to plant your seeds and starts according to your zip code.
Using sanitized seed planters is key to disease-free starts
Seeds and small plant starts are especially prone to contracting bacteria or harmful plant disease that may be left over from an earlier season in your planting pots. To avoid transmitting disease to your seeds and starts, just toss your Togetherfarm Blocks into the dishwasher for one cycle–the Blocks can be safely sanitized in the dishwasher and then ready for use year after year.
Light exposure and warmth
There is little as frustrating as trying to get a strong start from a seed, but ending up with a weak and spindly stalk that cannot “weather” the transfer to an outdoor climate. The secret to a strong start begins with the amount of light it is exposed to each day. Here are some tips on getting the most light for your seeds and starts–even in the dead of winter when light is scarce.
1. Choose a south facing window and put your starts in a place without shade and make sure if it is close to a window that the environment is warm enough to get the seeds going. Ideal temperature is between 70-85 degrees.
2. Head to a hardware store and pick up a fluorescent light, and keep the light pointing at the tops of your plants and planter. The light should not be very far away from the planter—2-3″ above them at most. The plants should be exposed to this light for 10-12 hours per day for best results.
Soil and moisture
Small starts, and especially seeds require a very light soil (organic seedling potting soil works best) as the heavier potting soil for mature plants is too heavy and will not allow the small seeds to push up to the light. When covering your seeds with the potting mix, be sure to go no deeper than 1/8″ inch, and in some cases even less, depending on the size of the seed.
Water your seeds and starts every day, preferably with a sprayer so that you do not disturb the seedlings growing process. Never allow your seeds or starts to dry out! A consistent even moist (but not drowned!) environment is ideal.
Don’t fertilize your seeds with anything until 2 or more leaves have formed on a stem. With your small starts, you may start fertilizing them with a light to medium strength, lower nitrogen organic fertilizer such as sea kelp liquid or fish emulsion. When your seeds have formed 2 leaves, fertilize the plants once a week to help form a strong root system.
Transferring your starts from potting container to outdoor raised bed safely
After you have gotten your seeds and starts to a state in which they are ready to be transferred to your raised bed, you must first “condition” them to a colder overnight climate than what they have been used to in the indoor environment they were grown in. This process is called “hardening off” and it is essential to a smooth transition and for survival of your seed starts.
About 10 days to two weeks before the time to move the plants outdoors, start by putting the plants in a shaded, cool place on your porch or patio that is protected from the wind. You can leave them for up to 2 weeks, and then move them to a shady area in your garden close to the area that holds your raised bed. Leave them in this area for another 7-10 days and then if the ground is warm and there is no frost forecast, plant them in your Togetherfarm Blocks raised bed. You can shield them further from wind, birds, squirrels, etc by placing a barrier such as a milk carton with the ends cut off around them until they are sprouting at least 2-3 bunches of leaves off of one stem.
If frost is forecast, bring them in for the night to protect them or until frost danger has passed.