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Lowenfels: Ignore the snow; there's still time to start seeds indoors

Jeff Lowenfels
ERIK HILL

I know it snowed like crazy since last Thursday's column, and I know that really set us all back. But honestly folks, I keep records on this sort of thing and by my accounts it shouldn't be but six weeks (give or take a few days) before we will actually have our hands in the outdoor soils. The end is really in sight.

This means, of course, that those of you who have not started something from seed need to get into the swing of things. Forget snow. We may even have more. It is nonetheless, time to plant a couple of things indoors, from seed, so that you can say you really are an Alaskan gardener and not just one that buys everything started by someone else.

A few questions always come up when planting seeds. Perhaps because it is so dang simple to succeed that some question how to do it. It can't be that easy! Yes, it is and the few instructions needed are on the back of each seed packet, but let me try and answer the perennial questions I get.

Let's start with mycorrhizal fungi. These are the guys that go out and get many if the essential nutrients for plants in return for carbon from the plant. They are not on the seeds nor in compost and most commercial starting mixes. Their spores need to come into contact with plant roots to grow. Many gardeners simply roll seed in them to infect them. Others wait until the seedlings are transplanted and dust the exposed roots. I do both. The only exceptions are members of the brassica family. They don't feed mycorrhizal fungi and so don't form mycorrhizae.

Next, if the instructions say plant an inch apart, that means an inch all around the seed not just up the row. One per cell pack is just fine or, plant in small sized, individual containers. The soil should have been thoroughly wetted several times before placing the seed. Pay attention to the cover requirements. If it is 1/8 of an inch, simply cover the seed so you can't see it. Deeper may require punching a hole. I use a wooden pencil, also an excellent tool for placing seed into holes.

Once planted, the soil should be kept just wet enough to help swell the seed. Do not overwater. Plant roots need air, so overwatering is a real problem. View the soil as cake, not pie and a light fluffily cake at that.

After seedlings have germinated, they will need to be transplanted into individual cells or containers. When transplanting, use a chop stick or similar instrument to move as much of the plant's root and accompanying soil as possible. Try and hold on to the leaves. Make sure to label the individual plants.

Turn your plants as they grow. They will lean into the light and this will help keep them straight. They will also need good air circulation from the git-go. This allows the plants to evaporate greater quantities of water from the stomata which has the effect of pulling watering into the plant at root level. This water contains the nutrients needed to feed the plants.

Try not to expose the plants you grow from seed to plants you bring in from nurseries and even friends' greenhouses. It is extremely hard for a commercial nursery to be bug free without killing all the people who work there. So you run the risk of white flies and aphids, but there is no need to expose your home-grown plants.

It is easy to grow most of the plants that need to be started indoors in the next six weeks. They usually are large seeds which make it easier to handle and place. These seeds will germinate and grow quickly, which makes it more fun. Best of all, all the seeds you need are available locally, along with good compost, mycorrhizal fungi, containers and plant labels. Everything is available from a local nursery. With only six weeks to become a real Alaskan Gardener, it is time to visit a few this weekend.

 

Join Jeff Lowenfels at "The Garden Party," 10 a.m.-noon on Saturdays on KBYR AM 700.

Garden calendar

VEGGIES TO START FROM SEED: BROCCOLI, CAULIFLOWER

FLOWERS TO START FROM SEED: ASTERS, NICOTIANA, CLEOME, ANNUAL ICEPLANT, ZINNIA

HERBS TO START FROM SEED: SUMMER SAVORY

DAHLIAS: EXPOSE TUBERS TO THE SUNLIGHT SO THEY START TO SPROUT. PLANT THEM NEXT WEEKEND.

PEONIES IN ALASKA: 10 A.M. ON APRIL 20. JULIE RILEY FROM COOPERATIVE EXTENSION WILL TALK ABOUT GROWING PEONIES IN ALASKA. PEONIES ARE EASY TO GROW AND ARE A BEAUTIFUL ADDITION TO THE LANDSCAPE. THE CLASS IS FREE, BUT PLEASE CALL TO REGISTER, 276-6016.

ALASKA BOTANICAL GARDEN: LOCAL WILDFLOWERS CLASS WITH VERNA PRATT AND DR. MARILYN BARKER WILL TAKE PLACE OVER FIVE WEEKENDS IN MAY. FOR INFORMATION CALL 770-3692 EXT. 0.

 


JEFF LOWENFELS
Gardening