Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Starting Plants

Last August was hot and dry. 107 (42 Celsius) degrees in the shade with humidity under 20% killed much of our garden, even though I was watering. That’s why successfully raising vegetables in Arkansas means getting them started early in the spring. But, because we have frosts as late as April, it is best to keep the plants indoors until the danger of frost is minimal.

Purchasing a lot of plants for the garden is rather expensive. Therefore, I’ve tried many times to start them indoors from seed. There are lots of ways to kill the tiny plants. I’ve destroyed seedlings by over fertilization, sun burn, too hot, too cold, and especially excessive water. This year we were highly successful, especially starting tomato plants. I’ve discovered that to avoid damping off disease you must keep the little seedlings almost agonizingly dry. And you must put the seedlings in the wind or in front of a fan. This makes their stems strong. After putting our home started tomatoes in the ground, we saw some not much bigger for sale at $9.95 per plant ! Kit said, “Forget raising tomatoes. We’ll just sell the plants.” And so we plan to try selling seeded plants along with selling propagated plants such as figs and raspberries.

Another technique that we had developed in South Caroline was starting cool season crops like broccoli in mid winter by sowing seed directly in the garden. As shown in the picture, you can plant them in the soil under mini-greenhouses such as old milk containers. The container caps can be removed on warm days and replaced during hard freezes. The translucent plastic is better than clear plastic, which could allow sunburn of the emerging seedlings. This mini-greenhouse technique seems to be working equally as well in Arkansas. We’re currently building up our inventory of containers.

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