You CAN start a garden from seed. . .

Last year, I had very good success in starting plants from seeds.  In fact, ALL of my tomatoes, cucumbers, squash, cabbage, hot peppers and sweet peppers were all started from seeds that I planted during the winter months. By the time the gardens opened (LATE, I might add!) the plants were large and healthy enough to set out.  My harvest was excellent!  Not to mention that I was able to grow unusual varieties such as “Flying Saucer” squash, “Cool Breeze” and “Homemade Pickles” cucumbers, “Black Sea Man”, “Paul Robeson” and “Amish Paste” tomatoes, “Caraflex” and “Baby Choi” cabbage, “Kung Pao” and “Ancho” hot peppers and “Goliath” , “Gypsy” and “Fooled You” sweet peppers.   It is TRUE:  growing from seed allows you much better choices than the plants found in local home centers and gardening stores.

This year, I am going to grow more Oriental Greens, herbs for Vietnamese PHO soup, and a bush celery called “Par-Cel”.  You will never find this in the stores locally, but growing from seeds makes it all possible!

Many gardeners don’t bother growing from seed.  They have suffered all of the pitfalls (and there are a few) and they simply want to have a sure thing.  I understand perfectly.  So they go to the local home centers or garden stores and buy whatever plants are there.  The problem with this is that you are stuck with someone else’ s choices.

For example, I plant only heirloom tomatoes.  Leggy, indeterminate vines, but the rich delicious flavor cannot be beat.  Also, the QUALITYof the fruit!  Last year, I was harvesting plum (paste) tomatoes that weighed at least a pound apiece.  And the sauces and ketchup I made was outstanding!  But you can only get this from starting from seed.  None of the local garden shops carried the species of tomato I planted.

Also, if you are a seed saver (I am), you can actually save seeds and plant them for the next season if you grow the heirlooms.  You cannot save the seeds from the hybrids that most home centers and garden shops sell. Plus attempting to save and grow hybrid seeds is ILLEGAL because the plants are patented.  Betcha didn’t know that!!The number one reason why gardeners give up on starting from seeds is that the seedlings fail.  And the top two reasons why seedlings fail is leggy-ness and Damping Off Disease.  In this episode of The Dusty Hoe, I am going to give some tips that will make growing your garden from seeds much more successful.


We have all seen this.  Your seedlings come up just fine, then they start to grow longer and longer stems, generally stretching in one direction or another.  This problem is called “leggyness,” and it is caused by only one thing:  lack of light.

Seedlings that are planted in areas of inadequate light will “stretch out” toward the direction of any available light so that photosynsthesis can occur.Photosynthesis is the way plants get their food and survive.  A simple solution is to make sure that the seedlings have plenty of light for at least 14 hours per day.  In a previous blog, I told you how to build a grow-light system.  If a plant does turn leggy, you can help it by replanting it.  Simply get a larger pot (clean and sterilized, of course) and replant.  Bury the plant up to within a few milimeters of the leaves.  Make sure the plant gets plenty of light after that.   The long stem will become a root and then the leggyness problem will be solved.   Doing this helped me to save a number of my tomato plants last year. . .

Damping Off Disease

Damping Off is the most disappointing thing about growing a garden from seed.  Every gardener has seen it:  your seeds germinate and the little plants come up. Then, within a few short days, those small seedlings start to wilt.  The stem gets a “pinched” appearance at its base, and then the plant stretches out, topples over and dies.  When you look closely, it almost seems as if the stem has been cut off at the soil level and the soil itself is covered with mold.  What’s worse is that Damping Off disease is contagious. It can quickly spread from plant to plant.  It’s a bad start to the new gardening season.

This problem is so common and so disappointing that many people simply refuse to buy seeds at all. Many gardeners who resort to the purchase of expensive plants will tell you that it is just too much trouble to start seeds at home.  For them, the plants are a sure thing and the seeds are a gamble.  And it is both frustrating and time consuming to watch seedlings so carefully planted die, causing you to have to start all over again.  But Damping Off is preventable.  By following some easy tips, you can be successful at starting a whole garden from seed.

Damping Off Disease is caused by a fungus that normally lives in soil.  It loves cool, dark, wet or damp places.  Lack of air circulation also encourages its growth.  Also excess nitrogen in the soil feeds the growth of this disease.  Like I said previously, Damping Off is contagious; that is to say that it is airborne and spreads easily from one plant to another.  Once you have a single cell in a tray full of plants affected, it will not be long until the entire tray is destroyed.

Many gardeners make the mistake of starting their seeds indoors, in the basement.  This is not good because cool basements are breeding grounds for this disease.  Also, some gardeners forget to WASH  their seedling trays and equipment before use.  This allows the disease to spread to from contaminated trays to the new seedlings that are planted.  Here’s some really good news….. Damping Off Disease can be easily prevented.

(1)       Make sure that your trays and pots are CLEAN.  Wash all of your pots (if plastic ), trays and seed handling equipment.  If you use clay pots, they may have to be discarded if contaminated with Damping Off.  Clay is porous and difficult to properly clean.  A simple wash with a LITTLE dish soap and a good rinse in hot water to which Hydrogen Peroxide has been added (see formula below) will do.  Afterward, dry thoroughly.  Equipment that you are not going to use immediately should be stored in a CLEAN plastic or paper bag so it stays clean.

(2)      Don’t start your seeds in the basement if your basement is not above ground.

(3)      Use only sterilized seed starting soil.  Don’t use old garden soil or potting soil that is not sterile. This is the secret of greenhouse growers and farmers everywhere.

(4)      Avoid the use of peat pots.  I wrote about their problems in a previous blog.

(5)       If Damping Off happens, act immediately to eliminate it. Remove diseased plants and their pots from your trays so it doesn’t spread.   Replant, if needed, in fresh sterilized soil and clean containers. Throw the old soil into the compost bin or else discard it. Do not reuse the soil. Wash and sterilize any pots that you save.

(6)      Make sure that your seedlings get as much light and air as possible.

(7)      NEVER use so-called “humidity domes” on your seedling trays. Let the air circulate.

(8)      Allow the soil to dry out between watering.  Watering from the bottom is best.

(9)      Use only Distilled water to water your seedlings.

(10)  Do not use any type of fertilizer on your seedlings.  NOPE, not even the blue stuff that you add to water.  Nitrogen in the fertilizer will cause Damping Off Disease.

Some people believe that there are certain home remedies for Damping Off.  Gardeners have reported success with the following:

–Soaking seeds in a small amount of water to which a crushed clove of garlic had been added;

–Misting or watering the seedlings with Chamomile tea;

–Dusting a little bit of fireplace ashes over the top of the soil after the seeds are planted;

–Dusting a little bit of Cinnamon over the top of the soil after the seeds are planted.

Hydrogen Peroxide Solution for sterilizing seed growing equipment:

A Hydrogen Peroxide solution may be made using the same Hydrogen Peroxide that you find in drugstores and supermarkets (3%) , by adding it to a gallon of distilled water as follows:

1 to 4 Tablespoons; for watering seedlings and potted plants. Prevents Damping Off.

3 to 6 Tablespoons; for watering outdoor plants.

5 to 8 Tablespoons; for dipping seeds or roots prior to planting or repotting.

10 Tablespoons for rinsing pots and trays.

Full strength for cleaning tools and wiping down work areas.

Next time, we’ll talk about garden planning again.  Planning is the only sure way to make sure your space is utilized to the maximum!


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