Tomato plant(82862)

To be sucessful at growing vegetable transplants takes some preparations and planning. First a proper area has to be set up for planting the seeds and allowing them to sprout and grow. The perfect spot would be in a greenhouse, but a nice sunny window sill or a table with grow light can be used. It is important to have a warm area for the seeds to sprout with temperatures above 65 degrees. If using a window sill or table be sure to cover it with plastic to prevent moisture damage to the surface. Don't try to sprout seeds on top of or too close to hot air vents or radiators as they can dry out the soil and cook the young plants.

Next comes setting up the needed supplies which include, planting trays, watering trays, plastic covers, planting soil, peat pots/plant pots, and if needed heating pads and grow lights. It is easier to water and move the young seedlings if they are kept in planting trays. The large plastic trays that commercial bedding plants are sold in, are a nice size and can be reused. They can be filled with soil and seedlings grown directly in them or they can be used to hold small pots or peat pots. To make a watering tray, take one of the plastic trays and line it with a doubled garbage bag. The planting tray can simply then be set down inside the watering tray or in a water filled wheelbarrow to water all the seedlings at once. Newly planted dry peat pots and planting soils will want to float if watered from the bottom, so place a board or empty tray over them to weigh them down for that first soaking. All previously used plant trays and pots need to be washed and sterilized before being used to guard against plant diseases. Add a teaspoon of bleach per gallon of water to make a good disinfecting soak and wash for the planting containers.

It is important to use good sterile planting soil for starting seeds. The soil needs to be fine, not filled with sticks and straws, and should drain well. There are many commercial seed starting mediums offered in the gardening stores so don't skimp on buying good planting soil. Fill the peat pots, plant pots, treys with the soil and tamp it down well. If only filled loosely the soil will settle after being watered leaving the pots/tray only half full.

Spend some time picking the vegetable varieties for planting and if ordering the seeds get them from a trusted seed catalog source. Fresh seed packaged for the current season will give the best germination results. Follow the directions on the seed package for planting the seeds in either rows or a few to each pot. It is best to water the newly planted containers from the bottom especially those planted with small seeds so there is no danger of washing the seeds away. Once the soil is good and damp, the rate of germination can be sped up by turning the containers into mini-greenhouses. Simply cover the trays/pots with plastic wrap or slide them into a plastic bag to keep the humidity level high and warmth inside. If planting several different varieties be sure to use row markers to keep track of which ones are planted where. White plastic knives make good long lasting row markers and can be written on using permenant markers. For long variety names use a code system to keep track of them.

Plan carefully for your planting dates because you don't want to have to keep the young vegetable transplants out of the ground for long. The bigger the plants are the more transplant shock they will go through when set out. Larger plants will also need more light and will be permanently stunted if they don't get enough. Finally keeping the young plants in pots too long will cause them to get root bound and will mean more root damage when they are set out in the garden. Be sure you know how soon the seeds should take to sprout. This information should be in the description given on the seed packet. How fast your seedlings grow will depend on many factors such as the available light, warmth, seed variety, and soil fertility, but I find that in most cases the young transplants will need to be set out within two to three weeks.

Watch for any signs of sprouting and get the seedlings into the light as soon as they sprout. It is important to have bright light so the seedlings will not grow spindly. If grow lights are being used, they should be within 6 inches of the soil surface and gradually moved up as the seedlings grow. Water the young transplants with a half strength mixture of water soluble fertilizer. For seedlings that come up to thickly, use a spoon to transplant the excess seedlings while they are still tiny to limit distrubing their roots. Water newly transplanted seedlings by pouring water around the roots to settle them in well. Don't let the seedlings get more than a couple of days old before thinning them out so they are at least an inch apart or there are no more than two to a two inch pot.

Adequate lighting in very important when raising vegetable transplants. If you are using grow lights they need to be within 4 inches of the tops of the seedlings as they grow, so you will need a means of varying their height as the sprouts get taller. Plan on keeping the grow lights on for between 12 to 16 hours a day to prevent having spindle weak transplants. While window sills can be used as a spot for sprouting seeds, they rarely provide enough light for the transplants to grow for very long without bending over or getting long and spindly. You can make a reflective wall out of cardboard and some tin foil to increase the affect of any sunlight coming into a window. Just stand the foil covered cardboard on the three sides of the tray opposite from the window so light is reflected back onto the plants.

Once your vegetable transplants are ready for the outside world and the outside world has warmed enough for them, it is important to harden them off. Get them use to the garden environment, take the seedlings outside to a sheltered area for a couple of hours each day to start with and then gradually increase the amount of time over a period of a week. Gradually cut down on the amount of water and stop fertilizing them during the week before setting them out. If possible set the transplants out on a cloudy day and protect them from the wind. A good way to protect the young plants from cold, drying winds and from cutworm attacks as well, is to surround them with a protective collar. Cut the bottom out of milk jugs, plastic drinking cups, or soda bottles and push them down around the plants to create protective collars. Cut the top off too if needed. If the seedlings are in peat pots, be sure when planting them to completely cover the peat pot so its upper edge won't act like a wick and pull water away from the plant roots. I like to cut peat pots open when setting the transplants out to be sure the roots are totally free to spread. Plants such as tomatoes, eggplants, and peppers can be planted deeply in soil up to the first set of leaves. The buried stem of these plants will grow out more roots so planting them deeply will be good for them. Water the vegetable transplants well when setting them out and fertilize them with some water soluble fertilizer to help them get over the shock of being transplanted. There are some garden vegetables that don't do well when grown as transplants and are better planted directly into the garden. Vegetables that don't transplant well would include, root crops such as carrots, beets, turnips, and parsnips, corn, okra, and potatos.

Cabbage and lettuce plants