Soil blocker for seedlings. (Mary Lowther photo)

Mary Lowther column: Starting seeds to beat the slugs, wood bugs

My favourite sorts of seedling starters are the plastic cells that fit inside trays

I’d like to hate slugs and wood bugs, but now that I know they break down compost, turning rotting vegetation into black gold, well, I can’t completely hate them. They can’t help being ugly and slimy, bringing out the worst in an otherwise gentle gardener when they devour entire crops in the garden.

Since these garden-destroying critters abound in our shady, damp yard, I grow most of my seedlings in flats in the greenhouse, re-potting them as needed until dry, warm weather proves to be too inhospitable to these pests. My favourite sorts of seedling starters are the plastic cells that fit inside trays, and soil blockers for when I run out of cells.

I sow several seeds in each small cell and either thin them out to one per cell or divide them and put each one into a new cell. As they outgrow the cells, I re-pot them into increasingly larger pots until it’s hot and dry enough outside to scare off slugs and wood bugs.

I have only the medium size of soil blocker that fills the flat with squares of potting soil so there is no need for cells or pots. I find these contraptions tricky to use and some of the blocks fall apart if I use too much water, but they come in handy when I run out of cells and need to start more seeds. Bottom watering helps. When these blocks fill with roots I transplant them into the ground right away because it’s too much hassle trying to re-pot them. I use a pancake turner to get them out.

Some folks suggest starting seedlings in a dampened paper towel, labeled then rolled up in a plastic bag and placed in a warm place to germinate. This saves wasting time in pots if they don’t germinate and it gives a good idea how fresh the seeds are: the more seeds germinate, the fresher. But others have done the work for me and have charted the usual viable length of time that each kind of crop is viable, so I look at the date the packet was filled and add the number of years the chart says the seed is good for and write this on the packet before I store it.

Since I grow out half my seeds, when I reach the last year of viability, I just grow out some more seeds. If it’s a store-bought packet that I haven’t succeeded in reproducing, I’ll do the test, and I always do the test on hard to germinate crops like spinach. Also, if some seeds just don’t germinate in my potting soil, I try starting them in the paper towel routine.

Here’s a good recipe for potting mix that works for soil blockers too:

3 buckets reconstituted coir or peat moss

½ cup lime,

2 buckets coarse sand or perlite

3 cups fertilizer

1 bucket soil

2 buckets compost

Mix coir or peat moss with the lime, then add the rest of the ingredients and mix thoroughly. Use a standard 10 litre bucket.

Please contact mary_lowther@yahoo.ca with questions and suggestions since I need all the help I can get.

Columngardening

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