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Romancing the seed.


One of the magic moments in gardening comes that special spring day when for the first time you stretch a string across your garden to mark your line; you hoe a trench, and with great anticipation you set out your very first row of seeds. Next you close the trench and firm the soil. You water, watch, and wait for the miracle to happen.

Although many gardeners prefer to start with nursery transplants, starting from seed offers greater challenge and better variety. Seed catalogs, available free from seed companies, offer the best selection. They provide good reading and inspiration; in fact, many are so colorful and packed with information that you may want to collect them.

Choose seed varieties that have time to mature in your climate. Always look for early germination and high yield. Disease resistance is also important. Compact varieties are especially suitable for small garden spaces. Prospects of great size will interest those who want a listing in the Guinness Book of World Records. In some areas the plant's heat or cold tolerance will be important.

Advanced gardeners may want to try new selections and exclusives offered by the seed companies each spring. All-America selections, offered in most catalogs, are a good source of winners for your garden. Sometimes it's fun to try oddities, such as yard-long beans, blue potatoes, lemon cucumbers, or white eggplants.

Starting your flowers, vegetables, and herbs from seeds is easy. Varieties that require a long growing season (tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, etc.) should be started indoors. Simply fill two-inch plastic pots with a sterilized lightweight potting soil; plant four or five seeds in each pot; label the pots with the name and the date; cover them with plastic wrap; and place them on the furnace or anywhere they will get good bottom heat. The moment the seeds are "up," remove the plastic wrap and gradually place the pots in successively brighter light until they are in the sunniest place available.

When the "real" leaves develop--they are noticeably different from the first "seed" leaves--thin the crop to one plant per pot. When the weather moderates, place the pots outside, protected from sun and wind. This step is called "hardening off," simply an adjustment from the comfortable life indoors to the less predictable life outside. After all danger of frost is past, plant the seedlings in the garden on a cloudy day (so you don't shock them with too much sun on the very first day out). If you can't wait for a cloudy day, do your planting in the evening.

Before planting, be sure to dig deeply and to incorporate as much organic matter and compost as you can. A granular 5-10-5 fertilizer or the equivalent should be included for long-lasting effect. (A fertilizer with a high middle number promotes flowers and fruits in your vegetable and flower garden. The only exception will be leafy crops, which should be fertilized with a high first number to promote green growth.) If your soil is very poor, try building a raised bed.

Plant your seedlings at the level they grew from in the pots--a deep planting could strangle them. (But plant tomatoes as deeply as possible.) Plant started in peat pots should be removed before they are planted. Plant the usual straight rows, or else try square groupings close together (a good solution for the gardener with limited space, and it keeps weeds down, too). Lightly score the roots of root-bound plants with a pocket knife to encourage growth into the new soil; otherwise, the roots may grow in circles and eventually strangle the plant. As you plant your seedlings, firm the plants into place so the roots contact the soil; then water them with a diluted solution of liquid fertilizer (one-quarter strength).

If cutworms have been a problem in your neighbors' gardens, remove the bottom of a paper cup and slit one side of the cup lengthwise. Set this cylinder around the stem of your plant and about a quarter-inch into the ground to prevent cutworms from nipping your plants at ground level. Once the stems strengthen, you can remove the collars: cutworms, true garden gourmets, eat only the tender young stems. Keep the garden watered (one inch a week minimum) and treated with a liquid fertilizer once every four or five weeks. (Unlike the granular fertilizer you dig into the soil, liquid fertilizer is quick acting and not as long-lasting, so apply it more often.)

You can seed some flowers and vegetables right into your garden. Prime candidates are zinnias, marigolds, cosmos, cucumbers, squash, beans, and pumpkins. Be sure the soil is well-prepared, and bury the seed three times deeper than its size--not too shallow or too deep. After germination, thin the seedlings to allow enough space for development. You can eat some types of thinnings or else transplant them. If you have more than enough, give them to a neighbor. Whenever you have a question, just rfer to the seed packet or the seed catalog. Either one will contain a wealth of information about how to grow garden plants from seeds, especially information about timing and light requirements.

Remember--the mission of the seed is to produce a plant that will yield more seed to continue the species. After that, it withers and dies. Prevent seed formation by removing faded flowers and by harvesting vegetables before they get old. Your plants will put all their energies into producing even more flowers and vegetables for your continued pleasure and enjoyment. That's your mission in the summer garden. Enjoy it!
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Copyright 1988 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:planting seeds in spring
Author:Henke, Ellen
Publication:Saturday Evening Post
Date:Mar 1, 1988
Previous Article:Touch o' the green.
Next Article:Putting your home on automatic.

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