I got another seed catalog in today’s mail to go with the multiple email requests that I have also received this week. These companies like to prey on gardeners like me who want to try out new seeds. (S)He who dies with the most seeds wins, right?
One “cure” for the winter blues suffers amongst us is to begin planning (not planting, yet) for starting seeds indoors for transplanting outdoors later. It's also a good way to grow certain varieties of plants that are not readily available as transplants in the nursery.
Some problems occur, however, when you grow your own transplants. Many homes are too warm and have inadequate light, resulting in soft, spindly and pale seedlings. Sturdy, healthy seedlings are grown under high light intensities and fluctuating temperatures (warm days and cool nights). For example, desired daytime temperatures may be 70 to 75 degrees and nighttime ones 50 to 55 degrees depending on the species.
One answer is to construct a special hotbed/cold frame structure. Using an unheated basement or other cool room, and adding solid warming cables and artificial light also works. A combination of incandescent and florescent lighting is preferable.
"Damping off" is another problem that often plagues seedlings. It is a fungal disease, caused by one of several soil-born organisms. Damping off may prevent seed germination altogether by plugging up the conductive tissue of a developing seedling. Seeds may be killed just as they are approaching full development. Using pasteurized soil or a soilless mix can help you avoid this problem. Providing correct temperatures, correct light and avoiding over watering are also beneficial.
Novice Gardeners often plant seeds too early, in hopes of having large transplants. Unfortunately, these giants often develop growth and production problems. The transplanting procedure shocks plants. They have the best chance of recovering quickly when they are smaller rather than larger.
Ideally, transplants (ex: tomato, peppers) should be about the diameter of a pencil when transplanted. Many purchased transplants are much larger than this, and may take more time to get established in the garden.
To grow transplants of the appropriate size, decide when you want to plant them outdoors. Find out the seed-to-transplant time and add seven to ten days for hardening off. Backtrack the total amount of time from your desired transplanting date and you have arrived at the seed planting date. For example, let's look at peppers. The goal will be to plant hardened-off pepper plants outside May 30 (two weeks after the “frost free date”). It takes 8 to 10 weeks to grow a pepper transplant, so that would be (using 10 weeks) March 21. After including 10 days for hardening off time, the planting date becomes March 11.
Hardening off is the next step. This process prepares the transplants for outdoor conditions and plants will struggle if not subjected to it. A few days before "hardening" starts, reduce the amount of water plants receive, but don't allow them to wilt. To harden, begin by putting plants outdoors in a protected area for a few hours, then bring them back in. During the next ten days, gradually increase the amount of time they are outside and increase their exposure to wind and sun. After they've experienced several days of 10 to 12 hours outdoors, leave them outside 24 hours a day for a couple of days.
Well, I’m not sure this is necessarily a “cure” for SAD, but it is sure fun to begin some plants indoors. For now, I will just collect the catalogues, because (s)he who dies with the most seed catalogs DEFINITELY wins!