by Matt Lebbanister
Seeds are sacred in the growing world. They contain all the genetic information acquired from both parents. By carefully selecting the proper seeds suitable for the indoor growing environment, one can grow a strain that is most desirable to the grower’s personal preferences. Qualities such as taste, size, smell, pest and disease resistance, heat and cold resistance, and any other favourable attributes are mainly determined by the genetic makeup of the strain chosen.
Giving seeds and seedlings a healthy start can greatly affect the overall yield and quality of the finished product. Plants started well will grow more quickly and bear more fruit and flowers than plants that were neglected as seedlings. If the ideal temperature is maintained and seeds are germinated properly, the average gardener can save themselves time, effort, and therefore money.
When selecting seeds, choose ones that are fresh, dry, and under 1 year old because they will sprout quickly and grow into robust plants. Seeds that are older than 1 year will sprout slow and have a low germination rate. Although some seeds, such as corn kernels, can last hundreds of years when properly dried and stored, most seeds will not last more than 3-5 years.
Once some quality seeds have been chosen, it is time to germinate them. The first step to successful seedlings is to soak the seeds in a cup of water overnight. Night time is best because the seeds should be kept in the dark for the highest germination rate. Growth is activated when seeds take in water. Letting them soak more then a day will lead to Oxygen depravation and the seed dying. Adding a drop of beneficial enzymes and vitamin B1 can greatly improve the speed and success rate of germination.
Once seeds are soaked for 3-8 hours they are ready to be planted in a rockwool starter cube, peat puck, or loose soil-less medium. If one chooses to grow in rockwool starter cubes, it is best to soak the rockwool cubes the night before. It is also recommended to add beneficial enzymes and vitamin B1 to the PH balanced water used to soak the medium, regardless of which is used. This mix helps relieve any stress the seedling might experience preemptively, and allow for rapid root growth early on. Once this is done, place the seeds in the medium and cover the hole with some loose medium to keep the light off the seeds. Most seeds will not germinate when exposed to the light.
Seeds need water, heat, and air to germinate. To speed up the process, it is recommended to place the medium containing the seeds in a tray on top of a seedling heating mat. This ingenious product allows the grower to control the exact temperature of the medium the seeds have been planted in. By keeping the medium at 75-80 F, one can greatly speed up the sprouting process and increase the rate of germination. Make sure to never get above 90F, because many seed varieties become dormant when temperatures exceed 90F. The use of a humidity dome is also recommended to be used in conjunction with the seedling heating mat. Seeds develop quicker with humid air that is kept 5-10F cooler than the medium. Humidity domes should be removed when the first sprout appears. Once seeds “pop”, it is best to toughen them up and turn off the heating mat as well. Also, seedlings will begin to stretch and become lanky if the temperature exceeds 85F for too long.
Each and every seed contains all the nutrition necessary for germination. This means that seeds only need straight PH’d water for the first weeks. However, there are many varying opinions as to when it is best to feed the seedlings and what is best to feed them with. In this writer’s opinion, it is best NOT to feed young seedlings anything with an NPK at all. The reasoning behind this is simple; developing the root system is the most important aspect of seedling growth. By giving the seedlings nutrient the gardener is running the risk of over fertilizing the fragile root system. Seedling roots are very sensitive the levels of nutrient and even giving them nutrient at ¼ strength can cause extensive root and leaf burn. If one is set on feeding their seedlings at such an early stage, the best choice is to use a product such as pine oil. The risk of nutrient burning is almost nonexistent with pine oil, yet it contains high levels of nitrogen making it the perfect nutrient to feed young seedlings.
Another reason nutrient is best not fed to seedlings is that it actually speeds up the development of the young root system. By starving the young plants, one forces them to grow roots down and out in search of a source of nutrient. Giving seedlings nutrient too early on can actually stop roots from growing. If the gardener is providing food for the plant early on, the seedling has no need to search for food and therefore no reason to grow and extensive root system.
When a seed germinates, a white taproot grows downward into the medium. Soon seedling leaves appear and shortly afterwards the first true leaves will appear. When the seedling leaves appear it signals the seedlings need for light. It is now time to place the seedlings under a light. Seedlings need at least 16 hours of light a day. The lights best suited for the job are fluorescent lights. Fluorescent lights give off the perfect amount of light to get seedlings started. HIDs are too strong and the light intensity alone will burn leaves if one is not careful. Not to mention that the heat given off by HID light bulbs is enough to fry fragile seedling roots. T5 fluorescent light bulbs are quickly becoming the bulbs of choice for developing young seedlings, because they are cooler than HIDs and more efficient than traditional T12 fluorescent bulbs.
After a week under the T5 fluorescents, the white taproot will likely break through the bottom on the starter cube, peat puck, or hydroponic medium of choice. A couple days after the taproot breaks though, lateral roots will begin to break through the sides of the medium as well. When that taproot first pops through the bottom of the starter cube, it is time to transplant the seedling. Waiting too long to transplant can cause damage to the young, fragile root system. Transplanting seedlings too soon can drown a young root system and lead to rotting and the growth of fungus or bacteria.
Just prior to transplanting the seedlings is the best time to remove weak or sickly sprouts. Gardeners should focus on the survivor plants because they generally are healthier and will produce higher yields as a result. These stronger plants deserve the resources the gardener has to offer. Transplanting weak or unhealthy plants is a serious waste of time, space and resources.
Once the seedlings have been transplanted to a larger rockwool cube, bigger pot, or other hydroponic medium, one can expect rapid root growth and shortly afterward, rapid leaf growth. This rapid foliage growth signals the end of the seedling phase and the beginning of a new phase of growth. The plants are now able to handle being fed nutrient and can be placed under HID lights. It is now time to begin the vegetative phase.
Seeds are so very sacred. Each and every seed contains the spark of life. By giving care and nurture to seedlings, one truly learns the secret to a successful garden. If gardening has taught us growers anything, it is that you get what you give. That by increasing our knowledge and putting that knowledge into practice is the real secret to success in the indoor garden.
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