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Starting the Plants

Earliness, economy of garden space, and lengthening of the growing season may be obtained by setting the plants of many vegetables instead of sowing the seed directly in the garden.

Moreover, it is almost impossible to establish good stands from seed sown directly in place in the garden with delicate plants, such as celery, under average conditions.

In the warmer parts of the United States, practically all vegetable plants may be started in specially prepared beds in the open with little or no covering. In the temperate and colder regions, if an early garden is desired, it is essential that certain crops, such as tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, early cabbage, cauliflower, and early head lettuce, be started indoors, in hotbeds, or in cold frames. Occasionally onion, beet, cucumber, squash, and melons are started under cover and transplanted.

Starting Plants in the House

Seeds can be germinated and seedlings started in a box, pan, or flowerpot of soil in a window. In addition to having at least 6 hours of direct sunlight each day, the room must be kept reasonably warm at all times.

Washed fine sand and shredded sphagnum moss are excellent media in which to start seeds. Place a layer of easily drained soil in the bottom of a flat and cover this soil with a layer �about three-fourths inch thick�of either fine sand or sphagnum moss. Press the sand or moss to form a smooth, firm seedbed.

Then, using a jig (fig. 4), make furrows in the seedbed one-half inch deep. Water the sand or moss thoroughly and allow it to drain.

Sow seeds thinly in the rows and cover the seeds lightly with a second layer of sand or moss. Sprinkle the flat, preferably with a fine mist, and cover the flat with a sheet of clear plastic film (fig. 5). The plastic film diffuses and subdues the light and holds moisture in the soil and air surrounding the seeds. Plastic films offer advantages over glass coverings in that they are light in weight and are non-shattering.

Place the seeded and covered flat in a location that is reasonably warm at all times and has 6 hours of direct sunlight each day. The flat will require no further attention until after the seedlings have developed their first true leaves (fig. 6). They are then ready to transplant to other containers.

It is seldom possible to keep the transplanted plants in house windows without their becoming spindling and weak. For healthy growth, place them in a hotbed, cold frame, or other place where they will receive an abundance of sunshine, ample ventilation, and a suitable temperature.

Strong, vigorous seedlings can be started under 40-watt fluorescent tubes (fig. 7). These tubes should be 6 to 8 inches above the seedlings.

Temperatures should be about 60� F at night and 70� during the day. Best results are obtained if the fluorescent fixture is next to a window to increase the amount of light reaching the young plants.

Soil pellets are the simplest and easiest method for starting plants and are readily available from garden supply stores and other sources. Soil pellets are a well-balanced synthetic soil mixture and are free of soil borne diseases and weeds (fig. 8).

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