By Barb Delisio
OSU master gardener volunteer
With February here, we’re ready to actually plant seeds indoors — somewhere warm, with adequate light.
The first seeds to sow, this week, would be spring cold-weather veggies: broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, onions, lettuce, kale, swiss chard and any other greens. Carrots, parsley and early potatoes, also cold-weather veggies, should be sowed directly in the garden around April 1. Be sure the area has proper drainage.
Remember, cold-weather veggies are not damaged by frost. Our frost-free date in the Mahoning Valley is toward the end of May. That should be your target to set out warm-weather crops. So if you’re planting tomato, pepper, eggplant or any other warm-season crop indoors, you need to wait until the first of April. There are no guarantees, but those dates are fairly safe recommendations. You can plant earlier if you have a hot house or hoop structure.
I sow my seeds in a three-celled plastic container, which gives more soil to each plant than a four- or six-pack. Moisten your planting mix before filling your containers and make sure they have adequate drainage holes. Fill to 3/4 inch from the top. Level the soil, but don’t compress it too much or poor aeration and decreased root growth will result. Using a pencil or finger, make an indentation for the seeds. I plant three in each cell. Cover them with dry mix, to a depth usually two or three times the diameter of the seed. Tiny seeds need just a fine sifting.
Moisten the surface with a fine mist or place the containers in a tray of warm water to absorb moisture from the bottom. I keep them there the entire time they are in the house. Bottom-watering helps avoid damping off by keeping the soil surface dry. Cover the container with plastic film or glass to retain moisture. No additional watering should be necessary until after the seeds have germinated. Place them in a warm location. Bottom heat works best, on top of the fridge, on a pad for heating, but not in direct sunlight.
Once the first leaves appear, remove the covering and place plants 4 inches under two regular fluorescent light bulbs. As the plants grow, maintain the 4-inch distance by lowering the tray or raising the bulbs. I find that the plants become leggy, too tall and spindly if they are just placed in a window for light.
As seedlings grow, make sure you have only one plant per cell. Cut off, at soil level, any others that have germinated. Pulling the tiny plants out will disturb the roots of the plant you want to continue to grow in the cell.