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Caring for Germinating Seeds
Gardening is not one of those ‘fix it and forget it’ tasks in life. You might feel like taking a break from the garden once the soil has been prepared and the seeds are planted. But those newly planted beds will need some extra attention for the best results.
Water Them In
After planting your rows of carrots, beets, beans, peas, etc…you should water them long enough to soak the soil and give your seeds the moisture they need to germinate. Use a very gentle sprinkler or drip hose to provide water to the new beds. A heavy spray is likely to cover the seeds with too much soil or wash the seeds away. Be sure to keep the soil moist until the seedlings are up and growing well enough to handle a day or two without watering. Once their roots are well developed, they are able to absorb water from deeper in the soil. But as new sprouts they are susceptible to drying out and dying without proper moisture. Of course you don’t want to lose them after all the work you’ve done!
To Weed or Not to Weed?
We all like a nice neat garden with nary a weed in sight. Such is the stuff of legends and the gardens of the rich and famous. But weeding your newly planted beds needs to be done with great care to prevent disturbing the germinating seeds. I like to hoe between the rows to remove the majority of offending vegetation. Usually I wait until the garden seeds germinate and the little plants are easy to see, making it easy to hand pull the weeds without pulling my seedlings in the process. Don’t wait too long to weed your new beds or the weedy roots will come up with clumps of soil and your prized seedlings too.
Ok, maybe fertilizing isn’t all that fun but the results are well worth the effort. If you start out by adding a healthy dose of well rotted compost to your beds before seeding, you may not need any additional nutrients until the plants get larger or start to set flower buds. I like to use compost tea, kelp meal, or fish emulsion for getting my new seedlings off to a great start. Make sure that plants are well watered before you fertilize to prevent chemical burning.
Check the N-P-K numbers on your bag of fertilizer.
Nitrogen = Green Growth
The first number is the N, or nitrogen, content and this is necessary for leafy growth. Some typical fertilizer formulas are 5-5-5 and 5-1-1. A higher nitrogen content will encourage leaves and vegetative growth, so use a fertilizer such as a 5-1-1 formula for green growth, but don’t use the higher nitrogen on fruiting plants. They will put their energy into leafy growth instead of fruit! Green leafy crops, such as lettuce, kale, and spinach, will perform best with light applications of organic nitrogen.
Phosphorus for Fruit
For crops that produce fruit, such as tomatoes, peppers, corn, pumpkins, etc, feel free to give small amounts of nitrogen fertilizer while they are putting out their leafy growth but don’t over do it! I avoid fertilizers with big numbers, like 20-15-10…they usually aren’t organic and it is much easier to burn tender plants with these formulas. As soon as you see the flower buds starting to form, switch to a fertilizer with a higher middle number (phosphorus) to provide the nutrition your plants need for the formation of flowers and fruit.
Potassium Stimulates Roots
When you set out young transplants it is important to stimulate root development and the best fertilizer formula has a higher K (potassium or potash) ratio. So look for a formula that is something like 1-1-5 to help your baby plants put their roots down. Again, don’t over do it with the application of these fertilizers. A little goes a long way and several small applications are much better than one large dose.
Ready, Set, Grow!
With proper attention and good weather, your newly planted seed beds should be off to a fantastic start. Be ready to cover tender young transplants if the weather turns cold or a hail storm is brewing. Too much sun or wind can also damage newly planted vegetable starts. Be sure to provide shade or protection when needed.
As you can see, preparing your seed beds is not the end of your gardening journey. Keep the weeds under control, water during dry periods, and fertilize to keep your garden productive and happy.