Saturday, 9 March 2013

Starting Leeks Indoors

In the depths of winter when the days are short and the sun is weak seed catalogues start arriving in the mail. The next few weeks are marked by whittling down the wish list (I'll take this page and that page) to seed packets, selecting individual species or cultivars from the dozens on offer.

Once the seeds have arrived it is probably time to start some indoors. Seeds need to be started inside either because they require a longer growing season than we have (peppers, tomatoes, basil) or because they can be transplanted outdoors as soon as the ground is sufficiently thawed and a headstart indoors  keeps them from getting lost amongst all the germinating weed seeds.

Leeks are the first seeds to be started and the first to be transplanted outside. They can be started from mid February to mid March. Successive seedings can help stagger the harvest in the fall. This can also be accomplished by using different varieties.

Seeds are started in a soilless seed starting mix. The mix needs to have water added first - it shouldn't contain peat moss (which is a non renewable resource) but like peat moss, the soilless mix will absorb many times its volume in water. For years I have spooned the soilless mix into 4 packs and added water  to the flat which was suspended over the sink. This year I stumbled upon a much more effective and less messy way to moisten the mixture - I put the soilless mix halfway up a bucket and added water to the 3/4 mark. Then just stirred and broke up the chunks until all the water was absorbed. After about twenty minutes the mix had absorbed all the water and it was ready to be spooned into the 4 packs.
Soilless mix with water added

From 4 to 6 leek seeds can be added to each cel. They don't need to be thinnel since once they are transplanted they will push each other apart as they grow.
Multiple seeds in each cell which don't need to be thinned

Once the flat is seeded I top each cell with a small spoonful of more soiless mix and then press each the top of each cell to ensure seed/soil contact. I happen to have an old gas stove with pilot lights on all the time which gives a nice even heat. The flat is enclosed in plastic. Each day for one to three hours you remove the plastic to prevent mould and fungus from growing.
The flat enclosed in plastic absorbing heat until germination starts

It is very gratifying to start with such failsafe seeds. After 5 to 7 days they will start germinating.
Germination has just started - the seeds were planted 5 days ago

Once they start germinating it is time to remove the plastic and move them to a sunny window. By the time the soil has dried out enough to transplant them they will be close to a pencil in diameter and 68 to 8 inches long.
On left leeks planted three weeks ago and on the right 5 days ago

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