If you’re like me, you have some need to start garden plants indoors. Anything that needs a long growing season has to have a head start in order to have any chance of being productive in the short zone 4 summer here. Knowing how to start transplants, and keep them alive is a great skill to have in your prepper bag.
A few basics – Have a way to warm your seeds and seedlings. Anything from plug in heat mats, and sunlight, to compost. Yup, compost, properly built a compost pile will radiate spare energy as heat. I’m sure there’s a goldilocks zone for ratio of compost pile to seed bed, I don’t have enough hands on knowledge to know the answer there, but I do know that it’s one of the questions that Practical Farmers of Iowa is doing research on. There’s a lot of interest in using compost to heat greenhouses and hoop houses.
Have a way to water your seedlings. They can be fragile in the first couple of weeks, and having a gentle way to water them can be key.
Have a good bit of sunlight for them. A southern facing window can work, as can plug in fluorescents.
Don’t baby them too much, if they never feel wind or sun, they’ll be poorly prepared for life outside. I use small fans in my greenhouse and make sure to give them plenty of outside time in the weeks leading up to their planting dates. You’ll know the seedlings are getting enough of both if they have strong stems and dark green color.
Have more than you think you’ll need. Plant enough so you’ll have extras. One to die, one to plant, one to keep on hand in case a freak storm rips out every last one of your transplants. (One to give to a neighbor, one to give to a child… it’s never hard to find homes for extras.)
Look up “Root Bound” and try to avoid that. If you plant too early and don’t properly pot up, your transplants will have roots that are all knotted together and that can be hard for a plant to recover from. Can be fatal in stressful years.
Choose your transplants carefully. Some plants have more fragile roots than others. I’ve never had much luck transplanting corn, peas, beans, cucumbers, and I’d certainly never try to transplant carrots.
Know your last frost date, and know your limitations. Good luck! Shout out in the comments if you have any specific questions or issues to discuss. I’ve got Leeks and Scallions sprouted, with tomatoes and peppers seeded. What’s growing at your place?
– Calamity Jane