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Starting Seeds by Jack LaRue

Orginally published in the N.E.P.G.A. Newsletter - March, 1998

Most of you have spent a good deal of the past fall and winter getting your ground ready for planting. You may have spent weeks conditioning your soil with leaves, manure, and mineral additives. Now it is time to plant your favorite seeds, the same seeds you have spent hours trying to select. You want them to germinate and produce that giant pumpkin. So how do I get them started?

I tried several methods in 1995, asking myself that very question. Many of the methods left rotted seeds and empty shells. These methods included damp cloths, wet paper, direct garden planting, and some starts in potting soils. Direct planting is similar to Mother Nature’s way, but that resulted in too many losses. There had to be a better way waiting to be developed. It was a planting box.

This box is made out of plywood 12" wide, 18" high, 30" long with a Plexiglas door. Inside the box are 2 grow lights. The reason for the lights is to mimic sunlight. This should draw the young plants toward the sun. The lights also produce heat. The seeds sprout best at 85-90 degrees. The lights alone will not keep the box at the desired range, so additional heat is required. Joel Holland heats glass jars of water in the microwave and places them in the box. This gives off the additional heat and some moisture.

Seed preparation is next. Gently file the edge of the seed coats. This will weaken the coats and allow the young plant to shed the dead coat once it has emerged from the dirt. This filing also allows for better water absorption. After filing the seed, drop it into a cup of warm water for a few minutes. Then take the seed and drop it into a sandwich bag that contains Captan or another fungicide, and shake the bag. (Captan is a powdered fungicide that helps prevent mildew and fungus.) After the seed is covered with Captan, use tweezers or forceps to retrieve it from the bag, and push it into your planting medium. (Because the seed is covered with fungicide it should not be touched with bare hands.) The planting medium should be of soil components that will not compact or harden. The planting container is one of personal preference. The size will depend on how long the grower plans to leave the seedling in this container before transplanting. We use Ben & Jerry’s 1-pint ice cream containers. Getting the containers empty is the most popular pumpkin project around our home. It is the only phase of pumpkin growing that our children offer to help with. After washing the containers the lids are placed on the containers. Next, drainage holes are punched in the lid. The container is then turned upside down, the bottom is cut out and it is filed with your soil mixture. The seed is then planted in the container.

When it is time for transplanting, the seedling is taken to the cold frame. The planting hole is dug, the container is then placed on its side next to the hole and the lid is removed. Upright the container in the hole and the seedling slips cleanly out of its waxed planting container. This method seems to help prevent shock of the young seedlings and allows the grower more control over germination.

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