Plant seeds indoors, grow them on a windowsill and get a jump start to spring

March 28, 1993|By Nancy Brachey | Nancy Brachey,Knight-Ridder News Service

March tempts gardeners. One day it is warm and sunny as June; the next, chilly and gray as January. For gardeners, this is rough because you yearn to plant tomatoes, sow cucumbers, tend marigolds. You want a straight shot into summer.

Tomatoes and cucumbers and peppers on the windowsill give us that shot. And part of the magic is watching the transformation of minute seed to growing seedling.

Sure, you can buy the plants for most of your summer beds at garden centers, which will be stocked with huge numbers of perfect plants in spring. But part of the fun of home gardening is growing from seed.

But this project is not without its pitfalls. Those perfect plants you see in garden centers were raised in perfect conditions: greenhouses with careful attention given to light, humidity and water.

Your house is not a greenhouse. But a sunny window and regular misting will help provide your young plants with the light and humidity they need. And a normal household temperature of about 72 degrees should suit most seedlings.

Much of the fun of growing these plants takes place before they get to the windowsill.

The equipment you need is simple. Seeds, of course. A sterile, packaged growing mixture available in garden centers. A clean clay pot, shallow seed tray or peat pots. Many indoor gardeners also use fluorescent lights and little electric heating cables to keep the seedbed warm.

Fill your container with the seed mix and moisten it before sowing the seeds. You can wet it thoroughly, taking care to let the excess water drain out. This is not bog gardening.

Once the container is ready, read the seed package. Some seeds require darkness for germination, so you will have to take care to cover them; others require light.

Sow the seeds sparingly. Overcrowded seedlings get thin and weak. Save some of the package as insurance against disasters.

If you have bought seed trays with individual cells for seeds, sow two seeds in each, and prepare to sacrifice one.

Use labels. Its easy to forget whether you have tomatoes in this pot or zucchini in that one, and it makes a difference when you set them in the garden.

The top of a television set or refrigerator will provide a warm spotfor the pot or tray during germination. The seeds must not dry out, nor must they be soaked (the rot problem). Plastic film over the pot or flat will create a greenhouse effect, but remove it if moisture appears.

Once the seeds sprout, they will require light at the window or under your fluorescent lights.

After they grow two pairs of true leaves, transplant each seedling to an individual peat or plastic pot, fertilize regularly and

keep them in a sunny spot until planting time.

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