It can be fun and educational to grow your own vegetable transplants. You can also save a lot of money. Seeds are much cheaper than transplants. Although it is almost the end of January, you can start growing transplants for an early spring garden. In the Augusta area, we can set out broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower, and other cool season vegetables in late February and early March.
The first step in growing home transplants is selecting the appropriate containers. Seed flats, peat pellets, peat cubes, or peat pots make excellent containers. Purchase these materials at garden centers.
Select a good soil mix that has been sterilized to kill weed seeds and disease organisms if using flats you fill with soil. A good quality potting soil is fine. Dampen the mixture before planting. Sow the seeds to the depth recommended on the seed packet and try to maintain a temperature of 70 to 75 degrees during the day and 60 to 70 at night. Different plants will vary on how long they take to germinate. It will tell you on the seed packet.
Transplants will require a lot of light once they germinate. Usually artificial light is necessary. Grow lights will do well and cool white florescent lights will also do fine. The main thing is to keep the plants fairly close to the light.
Make sure that the plants get between 12 to 14 hours of light per day. This is the mistake a lot of people make. They don’t give them enough hours of light and the young seedlings begin stretching and become too thin and leggy. I remember several years ago when I was growing transplants, I left my seed flats on top of our washer and dryer at night and left the lights on overhead until about 10 o’clock.
Keep plants well watered and fertilized. When the transplants are small and fragile, be careful not to break them when watering. You are almost better off misting the soil to prevent damage to them. Plants may tend to dry out quickly when they are growing, particularly if the heat inside is running a lot. To insure growth, fertilize often with diluted house plant fertilizer. I prefer using a third of the recommended rate on the container label and do it twice weekly.
Put the plants outside on trays during the daylight hours each day for 5 to 7 days before setting the plants into the garden. You can even set them outside on days it is warmer than normal so they can get more light. But don’t set them in direct sunlight as it may burn them.
Setting plants outside will help them acclimate to the cooler weather outdoors before you plant them in the ground. When the day comes to set the plants in the soil, remove some of the lower leaves. This reduces stress on the root systems until the plants can take hold.
At planting, water the container holding the transplants before setting them out. This is especially true if you use peat pots. It is a good idea to tear the peat pot away from the root system. Set the plants in the ground using a hand trowel. Firm the soil around it and water.
About a week after the transplants have been in the ground, fertilize them one more time with the liquid solution used to grow the transplants. This fertilization will get the plants off to a good start.
Remember that the above procedure is for early spring vegetables. Wait until about mid-February to start transplants of tomatoes and other warm season vegetables.
Reach Sid Mullis, the director of the University of Georgia Extension Service office for Richmond County, at (706) 821-2349 or firstname.lastname@example.org.