18 May 2012

Transplanting Seedlings

Title:  Transplanting.  Subtitle:  The Brain Surgery of Growing Things.
Container salsa garden:  tomato, garlic, green pepper, and cilantro.
I'm not an expert gardener.  In fact, I've only just recently learned that when you start gardening, seeds are NOT where you should start.  It seems counter-intuitive, unless you've ever tried to grow your own seedlings.  Seedlings are difficult, which makes sense.  When you think about living things, when is the time that they need the most care?  When they are babies!  Similarly, a seedling is a) needy, b) easy to kill and c) very sensitive to changes.  Seedlings require the right conditions - the right temperature, the right amount of sunlight, the right amount of water, etc.  It is much easier and much less time consuming to buy a plant that has already made it past the needy stage.  Once you put plants in the ground, it's a lot more difficult to kill them.

I started my peppers and tomatoes in February.  Peppers are exceedingly frustrating to grow because it takes them SO LONG to germinate, and especially with hot peppers, germination rate is low.  Or maybe that's just my experience with them.  True confession:  my tomatoes look like I planted them a week ago (pathetic).  I will be supplementing them with greenhouse tomatoes.
You don't want to transplant a seedling until it is big enough to handle the transplant.  It's important for the plant to have developed a good root system so that it will hold the soil together when you transplant it - the roots don't like being disturbed.  In order to facilitate holding the soil together, it helps to water the seedling.

To pop a seedling out of the 4-pack, hold the plant very loosely between your fingers and gently squeeze the sides of the cell to break the soil free.
You should be able to flip the 4-pack upside down without any of the other plants falling out, but still be careful when you invert the 4-pack.  Ideally, all the soil in the cell will come out as a block and will not crumble.  This doesn't always happen, though, and when things fall apart, that's when it starts to feel a lot more like brain surgery.
Carefully set the block in a new pot, then fill in the sides with dirt to support the seedling.
Serrano peppers
When you transplant peppers, you don't really need to bury them any deeper than they were before.  When you transplant tomatoes, you should always bury them as deep as the next set of leaves.  For instance, when transplanting a tomato for the first time, the very first set of leaves should be completely under the soil in the new pot.
Gardening is messy!  But look at how happy all the seedlings are in their new pots.
 In order to get them ready to plant outside, it helps to keep them outside for increasing amounts of time each day.  They need to adjust to the changing temperatures and especially the wind.  It helps to either run a fan on them for a while indoors, or even run your hands through them every once in a while to simulate wind.  Plants like being outdoors far more than they like being in pots though.

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