This year I started my tomatoes indoors much earlier than I usually do. Normally I start them on April 10 at 10:14 a.m. Only kidding. I start them, most years, during the second week of April. That way they are well established by the time they are planted outdoors eight weeks later -- but not crowding the root space provided by a standard flat.
But this year I started most on March 24, three weeks earlier. Why? Because the winter was so long and harsh I was ready to see little green things growing under lights -- and was willing to take on the responsibilities of nurturing them. But this year I will have to transplant my seedlings into three-inch pots in May to avoid root crowding.
I will pick a date for transplanting according to the Stella Natura calendar (www.stellanatura.com). This is a biodynamic planting calendar that is "supported by lunar and planetary rhythms." For each day of the year, and every hour, the calendar designates one of five categories: good for working with or planting flowers, fruit, roots, leafs, or none of those -- a "black-out day." I will pick a fruit day for my transplanting .
I’ve done just a little testing of the recommendations of the Stella Natura calendar, but enough so that I feel obliged to follow it. Probably you have had times when you planted seeds and got a bad germination rate. I have. I blamed the seeds -- or my planting technique.
According to the calendar, "scientific studies showing that plant metabolism, growth rate and water absorption tend to peak around full moon. ... The full moon enhances germination. Sow seeds two or three days before the full moon to receive its optimal drawing power."
It’s important, when transplanting seedlings to bigger containers, to use a planting mix that is warmed indoors for a day or so. Potting mix coming right from the barn might be chilly enough to shock tender little roots. I use a two-quart juice pitcher and measure out 10 quarts of commercial seed-starting or potting mix and 10 quarts of compost in a plastic recycling bin.
I stir in a cup of Pro-Gro or other organic fertilizer and a cup of Azomite or other rock powder, then moisten the mixture enough so that the dryness of the commercial potting mix, which contains peat moss or coir, is overcome. Then I let it sit for a day or more to warm up indoors.
Azomite is a rock powder mined in Utah that contains 70 naturally occurring minerals and trace elements harvested from a layer of volcanic ash that was later inundated with sea water. Although I do not have scientific proof of its ability to improve growth and vigor of plants, I have done some informal experiments with rock powders, and believe that they help.
If you use the same plot every year for decades, as I have, trace minerals of the soil may well get used up, so adding a wide variety of minerals makes sense to me. I add Azomite or finely ground granite powder to increase mineral diversity in my planting mix and also in my soil.
I re-use plastic pots each year, and believe it is a good practice to clean them before re-using. I wash them in the sink with soapy water, or sometimes fill the top shelf of the dishwasher to clean them. This helps to eliminate any bacterial residues that might not be good for my seedlings.
Also key to success with indoor seedlings is a good light source. I use ordinary fluorescent lights that I hang over my seedlings. I keep them about six inches above the seedlings, Light intensity diminishes exponentially with distance. My lights hang on chains, and I raise the lights as the seedlings grow. I have the lights on a timer so they are on just 14 hours a day. Little plants need rest, too.
Don’t keep your seedlings too warm. Sixty-five degrees is good for the day time, but leave a window ajar at night to let temperatures drop to 55 degrees -- though I admit that don’t do that most nights.
Growing seedlings from seed requires some work, but I do it every year because I love tending my seedlings. I save money doing it, and can grow plants I would never find for sale at a garden center, too.
Henry Homeyer can be reached at P.O. Box 364, Cornish Flat, NH 03746. Please include a self-addressed, stamped envelope if you want a question answered by mail. Henry’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org. His website is www.Gardening-Guy.com.