Vegetable seedlings are the starting point for a healthy and productive organic garden, once you have your garden layout and soil well prepared. You will be surprised at how small, no-cost changes in how you manage your vegetable seedlings can make such profound difference to their success. I list simple tips below that I work with, refined over many years of my food growing.
Plant source – In my last blog I recommended using open pollinated seeds as the source of your planting stock, since these will give you certainty about saving seed. If you can’t find out whether the seedlings are from open pollinated seeds, then assume they are not and do not save seeds from them.
Seedling quality – For vegetable seedlings to survive the shock of moving from a seedling container into your garden bed, they should have achieved a reasonable size, for example lettuce seedlings must have good size leaves and be appropriate colour. I have seen seedling suppliers selling tiny lettuce seedlings that are yellowed. These will die as soon as planted. The vegetable seedlings must look healthy and should not have gone to flower. Don’t be tempted buying cheap seedlings that are looking a bit off. You would be better off saving money by getting some open pollinated seeds and growing them yourself.
Planting in season – It is very easy to be trapped with this one as some nurseries will sell vegetable seedlings all year round, whether they are in season or not. Make sure you have a planting calendar that is independent or use a seedling supplier that grows the seedlings in your local climate. Keeping a journal of how your plants go from year to year to develop your wisdom on timing of planting.
Preparing your garden bed – Clear your planting space of old plants and weeds, loosen soil with a pitch fork to get air in the soil (don’t turn it over), add some organic liquid manure fertiliser, water the bed so its very moist and cover the bed with mulch (make sure the mulch is not mouldy as this will transfer to the plants, lucerne hay and sugar cane mulch can be like this at times)
Planting the seedlings – Make space in your mulched bed for the seedling and put a handful of compost in your planting hole, plant the seedling straight into the compost and move the mulch up close to the base of the plant. The picture above shows this process.
Watering the seedlings – Because you have already made the soil moist from watering it before mulching, you will only need to lightly water the seedlings (try not to stress them with too much water pressure). Water them every few days as they settle in and keep watch, if the weather is very hot, you may need more regular watering but seedlings have small roots that are close to the surface so if your soil does not hold water very well, you will need to water more often. In the first watering, it can help to add liquid fertiliser such as Seasol. I tend to use biodynamic soil activator called cow pat pit which we make at our workshops. I find this is great for giving the plants that extra bit of vitality as they cope with the stress of settling into a new environment.
Other factors – Planting your seedlings after 3pm is helpful in providing the cooler evening times for the seedlings to settle in during the warmer months (planting a lettuce in the morning on a hot day will ensure its dead by the end of the day). Planetary forces in the late afternoon and evening tend to be more downward on plants and help them to settle into the earth better. Planting your seedlings on a planetary day that matches the grouping of your plant (for example, planting root crops on an earth sign and fruiting crops on a fire sign). Its quite amazing how much these planetary forces impact the robustness of plants if you time your gardening to optimise their impact.
In our organic gardening and biodynamic gardening workshops, we also work with all these techniques as part of the very practical help we provide in getting plants started. With the planetary impacts, these are an important part of biodynamic gardening practice, so you learn how to easily tap into these forces to help you garden success.
I am always excited at planting out a bed with new seedlings as its the start of another living journey in the garden. You can never be totally sure how well it will go, but working with the tips above and then adopting appropriate garden management techniques, you will have covered most of the bases.
PS: My favourite vegetable seedling supplier in Brisbane where I live is Rumbalara Nursery, fantastic open pollinated seed plants and always healthy. Caboolture market on Sundays is where to find them. Where is your favourite supplier, it would be good to share as a comment to this post.
Authored by Peter Kearney – www.myfoodgarden.com.au