Have you had trouble with
damping-off — a series of fungal diseases that attack seedlings just when you
think they’re doing really well? I don’t anymore — not since I started
top-dressing the sowing medium with a thin layer of chicken grit (3). Chicken
grit is fine gravel, usually flaked granite, used for raising poultry and sold
at farm supply stores. If you can’t find chicken grit, you can buy parakeet
gravel at the supermarket or pet store and use that.
When starting seeds indoors,
the first thing to do is decide where you are going to raise your seedlings.
They’ll need strong light in a warm, humid place. Florescent tubes work best as
a light source (1), and if you hang a fixture with lightweight chains, you can
easily raise or lower it. (A light cart with several shelves and banks of light
fixtures is great. Pots are gently heated from the lights on the shelf below.)
I fill three-inch or
three-and-one-half-inch square pots to the top with sowing medium. I scatter my
seeds (2), burying large ones to a depth equal to their thickness, and sprinkle
grit over the top (3). I tent the fixture and pots in flats with plastic film –
either a drop cloth, dry-cleaner bag, shower curtain or the like. I may sow as
many as 100 seeds in the pots, and they all may sprout (4). When the seedlings
show their second set of leaves, there first “true leaves,” which resemble the
adult plant’s, I ease the medium out of the pots sideways, and simply peel each
seedling from the top – holding them by one true leaf (5). Then, I move the
seedlings to flats with individual planting cells or small pots to place back
under the lights. It works!
For more information, listen
to this week’s show, and look for a copy of my book Making More Plants: The
Science, Art, and Joy of Propagation
at the library.
Click on the small black arrow at the left on the bar below to start
listening, or click on the MP3 link to download the show into Windows
Media Player or iTunes: