| Environmental Columns

Seedlings: preparing for spring

Dreaming of a vegetable garden for the summer? The sowing season starts at the end of February or early March for a wide range of vegetables and flowers so that the shoots are mature enough to be transplanted around mid-May. Preparing seedling is an ideal family activity since everyone can contribute to the various stages and see their shoots grow!

Being well prepared

Starting seedlings is an activity that requires a little preparation and time to ensure successful seed growth. Consult the seeding and planting calendar (lien vers le calendrier de l’Espace pour la vie) to plan the best time to start your seedlings. It is also important to follow the directions on the seed envelope, since some seeds can be planted outdoors without the need to grow seedlings beforehand.

The easiest way to choose vegetables and flowers is to opt for species that you are familiar with and that you like. You also need to make sure you have enough space in your yard, garden or balcony to accommodate the chosen species.

Another aspect to consider when choosing a species is their resistance to the various physical and weather conditions specific to your surroundings: the type of soil, the climate, the shade and the exposure time. Do some research or ask a nursery worker to help you make the wisest choice.

The type of substrate, i.e. the soil in which the seeds are sown, depends on the species chosen. It is advisable to use a substrate made of peat moss and vermiculite, a material of mineral origin that helps make the substrate lighter and promotes root development. Using soil that contains mycorrhizae can also be very effective. These fungi develop symbiotically with plants and help them find the water and minerals they need for their growth, while fighting diseases. Fertilizers are not necessary for seedlings.

Before you get started on your seeding adventure, here is the equipment you will need: small pots, a tray and a transparent plastic or glass cover, seeds, substrate and, if necessary, an additional light source, such as neon lights. The pots used must be clean and sterilized to avoid contamination. Small yogurt pots, egg cartons and even toilet paper rolls can be used as seedling containers. It is important to make a hole in the bottom of the pots to allow excess water to drain out.

The tray and the transparent cover can be found among your recyclables: transparent plastic trays, black tray and transparent plastic dome used for takeout and plastic packaging used for roast chicken are a few examples. Lastly, to identify the seedlings, you can use plastic blind slats, toothbrush handles, popsicle sticks, twigs found in the garden, broken wooden clothespins, and so on. You can get creative in your repurposing!

Starting your seedlings

Different methods are used to start seedlings, based on the species. Seeds may require cold stratification, i.e., a gradual change in temperature to simulate the end of winter and the arrival of spring temperatures, or may need to be planted directly in the ground or sown indoors. Root vegetables such as carrots, radishes or beans should be planted directly outside to avoid handling that could damage them. Cucurbits (squash, melons, cucumbers, etc.) must be grown in small peat pots that can be planted directly in the ground to avoid handling the plants, whose roots are very fragile. Tomatoes can be grown directly in individual pots so that you don’t have to transplant them after the first leaves appear.

Indoor growing is done for plants that require a start early in the year, while the Quebec climate does not yet allow for germination and growth outdoors. Several online resources are available for growing seedlings.

Here are the main steps to follow:

1. Get the material

  • Seeds
  • Substrate
  • Pots, tray and cover

2. Prepare the pots

  • Moisten the substrate
  • Fill the pots up to 1 cm from the edge
  • Plant the seeds
  • Label the pots

3. Create the greenhouse

  • Place the pots in the tray
  • Water
  • Place the cover on the tray
  • Temperature ideally between 21 and 24°C
  • Wait for germination

4. Ensuring plant growth

  • Remove the cover
  • Don’t over water
  • Place them where they will get 12 to 14 hours of light per day
  • Temperature between 15 and 18°C

5. Transplant or replant

  • Transplant into larger pots if necessary
  • Gradually acclimatize the plants to outdoor conditions
  • Plant them in the garden or vegetable patch once the risk of frost is over

All that’s left is to enjoy your garden!

Growing your groceries

In addition to seedlings, it is also nice to keep growing vegetables from your vegetable patch or purchased at the grocery store throughout the year. Some fresh produce only requires water or potting soil to redevelop roots and grow.

The following vegetables grow back by placing their hearts or bases in a container filled with warm water in a bright, ventilated area:

  • lettuce: While you won’t get a full head of lettuce, a few leaves will grow, extending its life
  • Chinese cabbage
  • green onions
  • leek: you have to plant the base of a leek that still has roots
  • fennel
  • celery stalks
  • lemongrass

It is important to remember to change the water regularly. It is also possible to repot these plants when the roots have developed.

The following vegetables grow back when placed in potting soil:

  • garlic cloves: when the clove germinates, you must keep the stem and remove the garlic flower. Garlic takes several months before it produces buds.
  • Sprouted potato: it can be cut into two or three pieces containing sprouts and planted in potting soil
  • fresh ginger: plant a fresh ginger in potting soil and store it in a humid place. Ginger takes several months to develop a new plant.

For basil, first place a few branches with a stem long enough to form a bunch in water. When these have developed roots, simply transplant them in potting soil.

Lastly, the most seasoned or patient indoor gardeners also attempt to grow pineapples or avocados. These exotic plants will require moisture and a lot of time before they give fruit again. In the meantime, they make beautiful indoor plants!

Websites consulted:

References for starting your seedlings:

On mycorrhizae:

General information on seedlings: