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The Passionate Gardener for April 1, 2010

by Karyn Ames

Master Gardener

New Mexico Certified Nursery Professional

    This column addresses some of the questions I’ve received about seedling growth problems, as well as information about using food stamps to purchase food-producing seeds.

Question:  Some of my seeds just won’t germinate.  Why?

Answer:  There could be many reasons.  Different seed varieties need different temperatures to germinate and temperature control is crucial and tricky to maintain.  The photo shows my set-up for seed-starting.  I control soil temperature by a soil probe (out of soil for photo) from the thermostat attached to the heat mat.  Additionally, I verify soil temperature with a separate digital thermometer (see photo).

    Some seeds rely on light to germinate.  My seed-starting station is lighted as well as heated.  If seeds are very fine they can wash down into the soil and be too deep to germinate.  You can gently disturb the top of the soil to break the soil tension and perhaps allow light and oxygen into the soil.  If you have seeds left over, replant if your efforts aren’t encouraging germination.


Question:  My seedlings look pale and spindly.  What can I do?

Answer:  In my last column, I mentioned that seedlings need at least 12 hours of light.  At this time of year, the much of that light has to be artificial.  If you place your seedlings in a bright, south-facing exposure, they get light now for only 6 hours a day, and much of that light is so intense that it can burn the plants.  Direct, filtered light in a greenhouse or grow-light stand is ideal.  Once your seedlings become compact and green, you can cut back on the light to 10 hours, similar to a summer day in the garden.


Question :  What is the reason that around some of my plants I have green soil and around other plants the soil is hard and dry?

Answer:  In both cases the soil needs to be gently disturbed to allow air into the soil.  The green is from algae on top of wet soil.  Disturbing the soil will help it dry out, but be careful not to touch the roots or stems of your seedlings. Conversely, water the dry soil after you have stirred it up.


Question :  What are you planting now?

Answer:  Last week I planted my cole crops, which are broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, kohlrabi (70 degrees, seeds lightly covered with soil), and eggplant (75, cover).  This week I will be planting dill (60, not covered), cilantro (60, lightly cover), radicchio (75, cover), Chinese cabbage (70, cover), and begin successive plantings of lettuce (70, lightly cover).

Question :  Did you know you can get vegetable and herb seeds and plants with food stamps?

Answer:  I did not know this and it’s not an April Fool’s joke.  Thanks go to Dave Roberts of Redwing for uncovering this information.  Article 4.4010.2 in the application for food stamps states that food-producing seeds and plants fall under the same category as food purchases.  For more information, you can contact the Walsenburg Food Stamp Office at 738-2810, extension 32.