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Don't Rush Me

Seeds sewn, readers respond

" . . . asking a plant question to gardeners is like waving puppies around in front of women. We have to respond. "

April 17, 2013 - Last week I pondered on what to do after I sowed some seed in the warm confines of my own home. The seeds have sprouted, I wrote, now what?

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Don, I asked my Dad why my indoor seedlings toppled as soon as I took them outside. He said they need to get used to a breeze before they get too long and "leggy." Mine had worked hard looking for sun and were not strong enough to stand on their own. I had braced them gently to a stick with a twist tie and they were CUT OFF with a breeze." Heather M.M.

To which I responded, "So I need to blow on my seeds --- or get a fan on them?"

To which Heather responded, "The first may be exhausting and the latter might be too much. Maybe move seedlings near a vent once up and a drafty window when weather is mild. Place pots outside on the best days until getting to real earth!"

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Don, I'm sure you know that asking a plant question to gardeners is like waving puppies around in front of women. We have to respond.

The biggest threat to your little plants right now is damping off. Thats when the cool moist soil sets up a fungal type attack on the stems of little seedlings right at the surface/stem contact. You will know when it hits because the tiny plants fall over, and you can see the skinny pinch mark in their stems where the disease has hit them.The top of the soil should be kept as dry as possible to avoid this dreaded thing, so there is an art to watering them.Water from the bottom by letting the pots soak up water on their own from beneath. Water at a time when its going to be warm and dry so the soil surface doesn't get so wet, or at least dries very fast. Do not water in the evening, for instance. I hope those egg cartons you used were cardboard.

PS. Your egg cartons won't be able to keep your plants happy for very long at all . . . probably a poor choice. The roots will have outgrown them in short time. You will need to transplant soon. Good luck! Angie A.

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Oh my poor friend, new tomato plants and no where to plant them till spring! As a caretaker, my wife says you should take your new plants and transplant them to larger pots. Then take a shop light, four feet is good, and hang the light over the plants at a height of four inches above the very top of the plant.

Let plant grow 24/7 until they reach the lights. Continue to move the lights four inches higher every time they reach the lights. Do this till May 15 when it is safe to transplant your tomato plants outside for the summer. Don't forget to water and mist daily. A small fan set on low will help the trunk of the plant to strengthen so they will be accustomed to breezes. Don't forget to pick off the suckers as the plant grows. Add some Miracle Grow or other plant food once a week to give plant a good start. DON'T over fertilize! A little goes a long way.

Drop some off at the American Legion Post 108 in Oxford so I can taste some of what you grew. Robert T.

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Mr. Donny Green Thumbs: Welcome to the world of growing heirloom tomatoes. Brandywine is a good variety to start growing from seed indoors. You'll have much more satisfaction when you pick the first tomato, smile and say, "I grew this from last year's seeds."

Are you aware that there are many fellow "Green Thumbs" locally who grow tomatoes and compete for bragging rights at the Oakland County Fair? Annually, youths and adults compete for "Best Cherry Tomato Plant." These are truly growing competitions because all the cherry tomato plants are the same variety and dispersed at 4H Discovery Day on Saturday, May 4. Master Gardeners will help show local youth how to plant and grow their tomatoes and many youth will return with their plants to compete at the Fair for bragging rights and trophies.

So what to do with your "itty-bitty seedlings?" You have a good start and hopefully have made a hole in each of the egg carton sections so the seedlings aren't drowned when watering. You need to thin the seedlings to only one per section either by carefully pulling them apart and replanting or snip the smallest one(s). Depending on rate of growth, your egg carton may be good for 3-4 weeks when your seedlings need to be transplanted into larger containers.

I feed my plants once per week one-half strength liquid fertilizer and grow lights are on 14-16 hours per day. Large growers may use fans to circulate the air to strengthen plants but you can brush the tops of the plants as you walk by to help toughen them. I've been told music helps plants grow but never tried it so I can't recommend any songs but would assume local ones would like Kid Rock and Bob Seger. Tomatoes thrive on warmth and sun, so don't plant them in your garden or leave them outside until the soil temperature is above 60ºF and nights are warm.

Best of luck and hope you stop by 4H Discovery Day, May 4, 9-3 at Springfield Oaks.

BTW – A few years ago when the Fair was later in July, the winning youth entry had 502 tomatoes on a seven-foot plant! John O.

Don is Assistant Publisher for Sherman Publications, Inc. He has worked for the company since 1985. He has won numerous awards for column, editorial and feature writing as well as for photography. He has two, sons Shamus and Sean and resides in the area. To read archived copies of his columns, click on his name, just under his picture up top . . . He can be e-mailed at: don@dontrushmedon.com
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