Winter Growing of Vegetables in Cold Climates – Practical or Necessary?

The following exchange regarding growing during the winter vs extending your growing season with the Mittleider Method and storing your bounty for use during the winter is instructive.

A gentleman wrote:  “we need year round food growing in northern Utah and southern Idaho, not to mention northern Nevada.  Who do I contact to get involved with promoting that?”

My first reply was:  “Are you interested in doing it yourself?  There are difficulties to overcome, including lack of sunlight days in winter, and extreme cold during 4 months of the year.  In order to make year-round growing feasible you first need an inexpensive heat source.

Some folks have tried burying their greenhouse.  If you put it into a hillside on the North and insulate very well it can help.  Also, some folks fill black plastic barrels with water, and the radiant heat as the water cools each night helps keep the greenhouse air from freezing.  And if you have access to a thermal water or heat source you could probably do it if you have the sunlight.

Of course you might be able to grow enough for family survival by sprouting, and such.  And growing the cool-weather crops gives some success if you can maintain 50+ degrees in the daytime and avoid hard frosts at night.   

We fully agree that people need to be growing their own food in a serious way”.

He then told me he lives near some hot springs, and tries to get people interested in helping him finance a greenhouse operation, with little success so far.  He enclosed an Idaho Department of Water Resources paper from 1988 about greenhouse growing,

My final response was:  “Let me make some observations about year-round growing, and about alternatives.

In my view, unless things can be done by and for a substantial portion of the people it is probably not worth taking heroic measures to do the thing. 

If there is a very small community and a large geothermal heat source it might be possible to grow enough for the community, but the cost is high even then.

Our experience in 30+ countries has been that if food is grown using the Mittleider Method, so much is produced that there is ample to store and use throughout the winter months.

And cool storage is MUCH less costly than building and heating a greenhouse through the winter.  All you have to do is build underground and insulate.

Fall crops of potatoes, cabbage, carrots, turnips, beets, winter squashes, and even tomatoes can be stored and used fresh for many months if done properly.  I’ve eaten tomatoes from my garden in January.  And cabbage and carrots look and taste as if fresh picked as late as April of the next year. 

I recommend you study the articles I’ve written on 1) extending the growing season both Spring and Fall, and 2) winter food storage.  Using the inexpensive materials and procedures I describe can add as much as 3 months to your growing season, and proper winter storage can give you fresh vegetables for up to 6 months.   Those articles can be found in the Archives of the MittleiderMethodGardening@groups.yahoo.com, and in the FAQ section at www.growfood.com

Add to that the increased yields obtained with the Mittleider Method – amounting to 3 to 10 times traditional yields – and there is usually little real need to grow during the coldest winter months in my opinion.”

Winterizing a Garden in February?

Q.  We just moved into this house in late December.  The previous owner has a vegtable garden full of tomatoes, cucumber, cabbage, potatoes, pumpkin, red and green peppers, jalepenos, and I think grapes.  Unfortunately, the garden has not been tended to in months and I have no idea what I am doing, but i would love to give it a try this spring.  Is it too late to “winterize” my garden? If not what do I do?

A.  The first thing to do with any garden, after the harvest, is to remove all the old vegetation and clean the ground completely.  This is doubly important in your situation, where the plants have stayed in the garden for several months after the harvest.

Diseases and bugs have likely taken up residence in those places, and you need to remove all plant materials from the garden entirely.  If you can’t haul them off you should burn everything.

Before doing that, make a detailed map of which plants were growing in every part of the garden.  This is a classic case of the need to do crop rotation.  Do not plant nightshade plants (tomatoes, peppers, eggplant) in the same places where any of them were grown last year.  The same thing goes for squashes, and most other plants in the garden. 

You want to make it as difficult as possible for diseases and bugs to get re-established this year.  Bugs and diseases that love one variety may not do as well if a different variety of plant is grown in that spot for a couple of years.

If you can get a big propane torch and and burn the surface of your soil you might be able to kill some bugs and diseases.  Wait until the soil is thawed out, though, as you will want the heat to penetrate as deeply as possible into the soil.

Do not dig or till your soil until you have cleaned as much as possible according to the above instructions.  Putting these old materials into the soil only gives protection to the bugs and diseases that may be harbored there.

In the future, always harvest your crops at peak maturity, then immediately dispose of the plant residue.  If it is clean and disease free it is best tilled back into the soil.  Otherwise, remove it entirely from the garden area.

Extending Your Growing Season – Both Spring & Fall

Today I want to assist many of you who are wondering how to extend your growing season for a few more weeks.  For some it may be too late, as in high elevations like Randolph, Utah, where it was below freezing more than one night in August, but most of the lower elevations in Utah and around the country are still frost-free as I’m writing this article.

How can you deal with the special challenges of living in colder climates? Several difficult weather conditions make successful vegetable gardening an “iffy” proposition, unless you learn how to protect your plants against them.  The Mittleider gardening books, available at www.foodforeveryone.org, are excellent sources of information on this topic.  Let’s discuss briefly what these challenges are, and how you can successfully mitigate their negative effects.

First off, many places have late spring frosts, which keep us from getting started in our gardens – often until mid or late May.  Second, many of us have strong winds throughout the growing season that buffet our plants and dry everything out.  Third, others of us face the scarcity and cost of water.  And finally, we often have early crop-killing frosts, usually followed by several weeks of mild weather that could support continued growth and harvesting.

So how do you handle the shorter growing season with unseasonable frosts, the constant drying winds, and the lack of water?  Let’s deal with the wind first, since the solution to that also helps reduce the other problems. To protect your garden’s tender plants, build solid fences or plant trees and shrubs between your garden and the prevailing winds – but put them far enough away that you do not shade your garden! Always remember that growing vegetables need direct sunshine all day long. This means that you also want to place your shade trees so as to leave the garden in full sun.

Some of you do container gardening, or raised boxes. When these are subjected to hot winds they are difficult to keep cool and moist. Consider either larger Grow-Boxes – we recommend 18” or 4′ wide and up to 30′ in length – or growing in the regular soil. Remember that Dr. Jacob Mittleider promises “a great garden in any soil, in almost any climate.”

Next is watering. You will save ½ or more on your water usage by following these procedures. And it’s amazing how much heat and wind plants can handle if they are properly fed and watered. First, make certain your Grow-Boxes or raised Soil-Beds are accurately leveled, and that Soil-Beds have a 4” ridge around them. Then apply 1” of water right at the soil surface (not by sprinkling!) before your soil becomes the least bit dry – even every day in the heat of summer if needed. This will place the precious water right at the plant roots, and waste none. Finally, automating your watering using ¾” PVC pipes, with 3 tiny #57 holes every 4”, will make watering fast, easy, and efficient.

Extending your growing season is accomplished in two ways.  Next February and March we’ll discuss the first, which is how to grow healthy seedlings in a protected environment and transplant them into the garden after the danger of frost is past. The second thing you can do, even right now if frost hasn’t already killed your garden, is to make “Mini-Greenhouses” for covering your plants. By themselves they are good, but with a small heat source they can extend your growing season in both Spring and Fall even more, often by 4-6 weeks.

Use PVC pipe, bent in a capital “A” shape, but with a 6” flat top, to fit your bed or box, and covered with 4 or 6 mil greenhouse plastic. This provides some protection against frost at night, and will warm the plants on cold days. Cover the edges with dirt all around when frost threatens, and open up when it gets warm. More details are at www.foodforeveryone.org in the Gardening Techniques and FAQ sections. © 2006 – James B. Kennard

Jim Kennard, President of Food For Everyone Foundation, has a wealth of teaching and gardening training and experience upon which to draw in helping the Foundation “Teach the world to grow food one family at a time.” Jim has been a Mittleider gardener for the past twenty nine years; he is a Master Mittleider Gardening Instructor, and has taught classes and worked one-on-one with Dr. Jacob Mittleider on several humanitarian gardening training projects in the USA and abroad. He has conducted projects in Armenia, America, Madagascar, and Turkey by himself. He assists gardeners all over the world from the https://www.foodforeveryone.org website FAQ pages and free Gardening Group, and grows a large demonstration garden at Utah’s Hogle Zoo in his spare time.

Gardening Books, CDs and Software are available at https://www.foodforeveryone.org

Building Mini-Greenhouses from PVC Pipe

 I will give instructions for building a jig  and then making PVC arches for 18″-wide boxes or beds.
Materials needed:
11 – 5′ lengths of 1/2″ Schedule 40 PVC pipe – to place arches 3′ apart – for each bed or box you are wanting to cover.

6-mil greenhouse plastic – 5′ wide and 33′ long – one for each bed or box to be covered.

For Grow-Boxes only – 3 10′ lengths of 3/4″ Schedule 200 PVC pipe, cut into 24 15″ pieces for each box to be covered.  Plus 22 – 2 1/2″ nails and small 2″ X 4″ block.

 One 30″ X 30″ (or bigger) sheet of plywood, plus 6 – 2 1/2″ nails.

One heat gun (to heat and bend pipe).

The jig for bending the PVC pipe:
With a pen, make 3 marks at the top of the plywood sheet – one in the center, and one each, 9″ to the left and right of the center.  Go down 9″ on the plywood and make 3 marks exactly corresponding to the first 3. 

Draw lines from the outside lower marks to the top center mark.  Place marks on both lines 10″ up from the bottom.  Go down 18″ on the plywood and make 3 marks corresponding to the others.  Draw lines between the marks.

Make marks 2″ up from the bottom of both 18″ lines. Drive nails into the 4 upper marks, leaving 2″ exposed.  Drive nails into the marks 2″ up from the bottom of the 18″ lines, then drive nails 1″ to the left and right of these nails.

Cutting and Bending PVC Pipe
Cut 5′ lengths of 1/2″ schedule 40 PVC pipe.  Mark them at 18″ and 28″ from  each end.  Place one end of PVC pipe between nails on one side, with the end at the 18″ mark (2″ below the first 2 nails).  With heat gun, heat PVC pipe at each spot where PVC pipe encounters a nail, and carefully bend the pipe to fit the jig.  allow to cool  before removing pipe from jig.

For Grow-Boxes, place 15″ pieces of 3/4″ PVC adjacent to the Grow- Box at each end and at 3′ intervals on both sides.  With a hammer, and using the small 2″ X 4″ block of wood, hammer the PVC into the ground until the top is level with the Grow-Box.  Pre-drill a hole through the PVC pipe 2″ up from the dirt, and hammer the 2 1/2″ nail through both pipe and Grow- Box.  Bend the nail over on the inside of the Grow-Box to avoid getting scratched later.  Slip the 1/2″ PVC arches into the 3/4″ PVC holding pipes until they encounter the nails – about 6″ deep.

For Soil-Beds, just push the 1/2″ PVC arches into the ground at the peak of the ridge on each side of the Soil-Bed – again about 6″ deep.

Lay the 6-mil plastic over the entire box or bed, centered, with 18″ overhang on each end.  Place dirt on all sides of the plastic to hold it in place, as well as at the ends.

Whenever the weather is conducive, open the ends, and when it is above 60  degrees, take the plastic off from one side.

Remember, you must watch carefully that it doesn’t get too hot in your mini-greenhouses.  A thermometer in at least one bed is a good idea, to measure the temperature, and make adjustments in the exposure.

Remember also, that brassica’s can grow in cooler weather than the warm-  weather plants.  Tomatoes, corn, peppers, etc. must be near 70 degrees or above to do well.

Growing Tomatoes, etc. in Early Spring – “Poor Man’s Hydroponics”

Q.  I’ve heard about so many ways to grow tomato and other tender plants early – from using Wall-O-Water’s to taking the bottom out of wastebaskets, and they all seem to be a lot of work, with no guarantee of success.  What do you suggest for someone who’s serious about growing the high-value crops like tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants?
 
A.  If you are only growing a few plants the methods you use may not be all that important.  However, if you are wanting to grow a sizeable garden or maximize your production, you should pay careful attention to the following procedures as taught by the Garden Doctor, Jacob Mittleider.  Complete instructions and excellent illustrations are in Dr. Mittleider’s books at https://foodforeveryone.org/garden_books/.  And if these instructions seem difficult or too much work, just remember that you are learning “The Poor Man’s Hydroponic System” that will give you yields of tasty and healthy vegetables between 3 and 10 times what your neighbors get.  Here is a summary of the procedures:
 
1.  Plant your tomato, pepper, or eggplant seeds 8 to 12 weeks before the average last spring frost date – 8 weeks for 8-10″ plants in 4″ pots, and 12 weeks for 12-14″ plants in gallon pots.  Peppers and eggplant will take a little longer than tomatoes.
 
2.  Prepare growing mix by combining 25-35% sand and 65-75% sawdust (or other clean material such as peat moss or perlite, etc.), and adding the Mittleider Pre-Plant Mix at the rate of 1 1/2 ounces per 18″ X 18″ X 2 3/4″ seedling flat.  You can make your own natural mineral nutrient mixes by following instructions in the books, or look in the Fertilizer pages of the Learn section on the website at https://foodforeveryone.org/soil_bed_fertilizing/49/how-do-i-mix-the-pre-plant-formula.
 
3.  Using plain water, thoroughly wet the mixed materials, let sit overnight, then plant about 100 seeds in each of 6 or 7 very shallow rows in the flat and sprinkle sand over the top, just sufficient to cover the seeds.
 
4.  Place burlap over the flat, water gently so as not to move the seeds, and keep the soil moist, but not soaking wet in temperatures between 75 and 85 degrees fahrenheit.  No light is needed, but cold temperatures will kill germinating seeds, so pay particular attention to maintaining temperatures in this range if possible.
 
5.  As soon as sprouts emerge, water through the burlap, then remove the burlap and place the flat in full light all day long.  Waiting even a few hours will cause your plants to “stretch” looking for sunlight, and will create long, skinny, weak stems, from which your plants will never fully recover.  Temperatures can now be cooler than for germination, but remember that your plants will go dormant if temperatures go much below 60 degrees for any length of time.
 
6.  Begin watering daily or as needed to maintain soil moisture, with the Constant Feed solution of 1 ounce Weekly Feed mix in 3 gallons of water (16 ounces in a 55 gallon barrel).  Continue with the Constant Feed watering until plants are placed in the garden.
 
7.  When your plants have at least one set of true leaves (not the seed leaves), but before they crowd each other and begin to stretch, transplant at least 2″ apart in flats or 2″ pots. 
 
8.  When plant leaves begin overlapping, prune 2 or 3 leaves from each plant. This will shock the plant briefly, and it will make a thicker stem, then after a few days it will again extend the growing tip and produce new leaves.  This procedure can be done twice without harming the plant.
 
9.  When the leaves begin to overlap the third time, transplant into 4″ or gallon pots, depending on your time schedule for planting in the garden and the amount of space in your greenhouse or growing area.  When leaves overlap again, separate the pots to provide unrestricted light to all plants.  These procedures will give you plants with short, stocky and sturdy stems, very capable of handling the rigors of growing outdoors.
 
10.  If your plants begin producing sucker stems, prune them all off, leaving only one main stem on each plant.  And when the plants approach 12″ in height push a small stick or dowel into the soil near the stem and tie the stem loosely, protecting it from falling over.
 
11.  When the danger of frost is past, transplant your seedlings into the garden.  Harden off outside for 2 days first, and then immediately after transplanting, apply 8 ounces of ammonium nitrate to a 30′ row of seedlings – at a distance of 4″ from the plant stems, and water it in thoroughly.  Three days later, begin applying the Weekly Feed mix in the same manner.
 
If you have limited space and cannot accommodate 4″ or gallon pots, or you just want to put your plants into the ground sooner than the ideal time, you may have success using the Mittleider “Mini-Greenhouses.”   Cut 4′ lengths of 3/4″ Schedule 200 PVC pipe, then bend them into a capital A shape, with a 4″ flat top, 9″ sides and 13″ legs.  Put both legs into the ground at the top of the ridges to a depth of 5-6″.  Place a 4′-wide X 33′-long piece of 6 mil clear greenhouse plastic over the bed and bury the edges with dirt on all sides.  Pictures are in the Photos section of the free gardening group at MittleiderMethodGardening@yahoogroups.com. as well as in several of Dr. M’s books.
 
Open the ends during the day for air circulation, and on warm days, remove the dirt from one side and lay the plastic in the aisle.  Failure to do this may cause your plants to cook, as the mini greenhouses will heat up quickly with sunlight.  On nights when frost is expected, put an extension cord with a couple of 100 watt bulbs near the ends of your beds, and for a hard frost use a small heater (be careful you don’t melt your plastic cover).

Heat Source(s) for Mini-Greenhouses

Q.  In your answer on ‘extending your growing season’ you mention using a small heat source for the ‘mini greenhouses’. What heat source would you recommand and how is the best way to use it?

A.  Depending on the size of your Mini-Greenhouse and the severity of your frosts, you may be able to keep your plants from freezing by the use of a couple of lightbulbs placeda little distance from the ends.  Or it may require a 1500 watt electric heater, generally turned to low heat.  You will need to be careful that you don’t cook your plants or melt the plastic.  And always turn it off/unplug it when the outside temperature rises.

How To Save Crops From Freezing In Your Garden

Q. I have a farm in Afghanistan, which is about 30,000 square
metres, in which mainly grapes are grown. In the cold winter the
grape vines are buried under the ground because of the very cold
weather and then in the spring the vines are exposed to air and
light, then the vines become green. Mostly this works, but in some
years, after the plants grow their leaves and grapes, the weather
becomes cold again for only one night. All the grapes freeze and
become black in color, and there is no time for the plants to grow
new fruits because of the arrival of the winter.

Is there any solution for this problem other than a green house,
because it will be too expensive to cover all of the farm. Is there
a way to warm the plants for one night only? This year the whole
yield of grapes was frozen. Please help, PLease help!

A. 1) Watering everything, including the ground as well as the
entire plant, immediately before it freezes, can sometimes save a
crop if the frost is not too hard.

2) Another solution may be to have many small fires burning throughout your vineyard during the time temperatures go below freezing. In america this is done with propane and kerosene heaters, but that would be too expensive for you. We also use fans to blow the warm air throughout the orchard, garden, or vineyard.

The book Food For Everyone, available at www.growfood.com, is a college-level text with hundreds of pictures, and should be in the library of every serious vegetable grower.

Start Earlier in the Spring – Grow Later in the Fall

Extending your growing season

Today I want to assist many of you who are wondering how to extend your growing season for a few more weeks. For some it may be too late, as in Eagle Mountain, where it was 27 degrees one night this month, but most of the lower elevations are still frost-free as I’m writing this column.

How can you deal with the special challenges of living in these mountain valleys? Several difficult weather conditions make successful vegetable gardening an “iffy” proposition, unless you learn how to protect your plants against them. Let’s discuss what they are, and how you can successfully mitigate their negative effects.

First off, we have late spring frosts, which keep us from getting started in our gardens – often until mid or late May. Second, many of us have strong winds throughout the growing season that buffet our plants and dry everything out. Third, living in a desert we always face the scarcity and cost of water. And finally, we often have early crop-killing frosts, followed by several weeks of mild weather that could support continued growth and harvesting.

So how do you handle the shorter growing season with unseasonable frosts, the constant drying winds, and the lack of water? Let’s deal with the wind first, since the solution to that also helps reduce the other problems. To protect your garden’s tender plants, build solid fences or plant trees and shrubs between your garden and the prevailing winds – but put them far enough away that you do not shade your garden! Always remember that growing vegetables need direct sunshine all day long. This means that you also want to place your shade trees so as to leave the garden in full sun.

Some of you grow in small containers, or raised boxes. When these are subjected to hot winds they are difficult to keep cool and moist. Consider either larger Grow-Boxes – we recommend 4′ wide and up to 30′ in length – or growing in the regular soil. Many will remember that Thanksgiving Point’s fabulous vegetable gardens were grown in some of the worst clay soil we’ve seen anywhere, and Dr. Mittleider promises “a great garden in any soil, in almost any climate.”

Next is watering. You will save ½ or more on your water usage by following these procedures. And it’s amazing how much heat and wind plants can handle if they are properly fed and watered. First, make certain your Grow-Boxes or raised Soil-Beds are accurately leveled, and that Soil-Beds have a 4″ ridge around them. Then apply 1″ of water right at the soil surface (not by sprinkling!) before your soil becomes the least bit dry – even every day in the heat of summer if needed. This will place the precious water right at the plant roots, and waste none. Finally, automating your watering using ¾” PVC pipes, with 3 tiny #57 holes every 4″, will make watering fast, easy, and efficient.

Extending your growing season is accomplished in two ways. Next February and March I’ll show you the first, which is how to grow healthy seedlings in a protected environment and transplant them into the garden after the danger of frost is past. The second thing you can do, even right now if frost hasn’t already killed your garden, is to make “Mini-Greenhouses” for covering your plants. By themselves they are good, but with a small heat source they can extend your growing season in both Spring and Fall by 4-6 weeks. PVC pipe, bent as shown in the picture to fit your bed or box, and covered with 4 or 6 mil greenhouse plastic, provides some protection against frost at night, and will warm the plants on cold days. Cover the edges with dirt all around when frost threatens, and open up when it gets warm. More details are at www.foodforeveryone.org in the Gardening Techniques and FAQ sections.

Extend Growing Season 6 weeks both Spring and Fall

All who are interested in extending your growing season – particularly with vertical plants – may want to save the following description of covered T-Frames.  You can plant 4-6 weeks earlier in the Spring, and harvest 4-6 weeks later in the fall if you do it properly.  For pictures, visit the Photos page on the Group website at https://groups.yahoo.com/group/MittleiderMethodGardening/
 
In a garden with 18″ X 30′ beds and 3 1/2′ aisles, place 8 T-Frames at 10′ intervals in two adjacent beds parallel with the inside stakes, so that the 4″ X 4″ posts are 3 1/2′ apart.  The top of the “T” should be 32″ long, and thus the width of both together is 6′ 6″.
 
For stability, nail each set of two T-Frames together – bridging the gap between them – with  6 1/2′ long 2″ X 4″s.  Next, tie all T-Frames together lengthwise using 6 – 10′ 2 X 4’s.  Now you have a 6 1/2′ X 30′ greenhouse frame covering two Grow-Beds or Grow-Boxes.  
 
Buy 32  – 3/4″ 45 degree PVC elbows and 1″ pipe straps.  Nail or screw the straps and elbows at 2-foot intervals along both sides of the 2 X 4 frame, with the elbows facing up and to the center of the greenhouse.
 
Buy 16 – 10′-long pieces of 3/4″ PVC Schedule 200 pipe, 16 – 3/4″ pipe straps, and 4 – 8′ pieces of 1″ X 2″ lumber.  Cut the PVC pipe and the 1″ X 2″ lumber to to 7 1/2′ lengths.  Nail the 1 X 2’s together, using the 6″ pieces, making a single piece 30′ long.  Nail or screw the 3/4″ pipe straps to the 1 X 2″ wood at 2-foot intervals, on the same side of the wood as the 6″ pieces which hold the wood together.  Insert the 3/4″ PVC pipes through the straps.  With the wood on top, insert the PVC pieces into the 45 degree PVC elbows – creating the arched roof.
 
Buy a roll of 6-mil 24′-wide greenhouse plastic at least 37′ long (do NOT use construction plastic.  It will become brittle and tear within 3-4 months).  Cover the greenhouse, with 3 1/2′ overlapping on each end.
 
Buy 8 – 1″-long eye bolts and 130′ of 1/4″ nylon rope.  Attach eye bolts on the side of each T-Frame T – 1″ in from the edge and 1″ down from the top.  Cut rope into 8 – 16′ lengths.  Tie one end of rope to each eye bolt.  Hammer a 3 1/2″ nail into the top of the 2″ X 4″ on the upper outside edge near the eye bolt.  Tie short loops into ropes at 10′, 12′ and 14′ to give 3 levels of opening the sides of your greenhouse plastic.
 
Buy 16 – 8′-long pieces of 1″ X 2″ lumber.  Cut all to 7 1/2′ lengths.  Cut 2 into 4 – 3 3/4′ lengths.  Place wood on both side edges of greenhouse plastic along both sides of greenhouse and screw together, sandwiching the plastic between the two pieces of wood.  Alternate lengths of 1″ X 2″ between 3 3/4′ and 7 1/2′, to make the entire 30′ length strong.  Roll plastic sides up in warm weather, and lower in cold weather.
 
Fold and attach plastic on ends to secure an air-tight covering in cold weather, and open when weather is warm.
 
After a few of you handy builders have done this, you can help me improve the instructions, and perhaps provide all of us with some graphic illustrations.

 

 

Invite Spring Early – Grow in Your Basement

Winter’s the time to get ready to grow your own seedlings!  It’s not really difficult, and can extend your growing season by many weeks.  For example, by planting brassica’s (cabbage, broccoli, and cauliflower) in February in your basement under grow-lights, you can put large, sturdy transplants into your garden by the end of March or early April, and be eating them when others are just seeing them come up!  Great growing instructions can be found in the book Let’s Grow Tomatoes, a part of the Mittleider Gardening Library CD, and available at www.growfood.com.

Remember that photosynthesis, using light, heat and moisture causes plant growth.  Therefore you must follow a few key natural principles very carefully, or you will be disappointed.

First, seeds must have moisture to germinate and grow.  And the soil mix must be moist, but not soggy, or you’ll drown the new plant, since it must also have oxygen!

Second, while heat is essential, temperatures must be maintained in a narrow range for ideal germination to occur.  Most vegetable seeds germinate quickly between 75 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit.  After plants are up, many of them will grow in cooler temperatures, but most all will become dormant (stop growing) at temperatures below 50 degrees.

Third, light is not necessary for seed germination, but as soon as your seedlings begin to emerge from the soil, maximum light is required immediately for proper development. Therefore, to grow in your house, make sure your plants have a strong (but not hot!) light source directly on the plants, for up to 16 hours per day.  Note the pictures of two grow-light shelves.  The metal one is 6-shelf Commercial Chrome Shelving, from Sam’s Club costing only $70, and will hold 20 flats of plants.  Suspend shop lights with 2 cool and 2 warm 40-watt tubes 4 to 6″ above the plants.

The fourth principle relates to feeding.  A balanced nutrient mix of 13 minerals is essential to plants immediately after germination.  Those nutrients are mineral salts and must be very dilute in the soil moisture, otherwise osmosis will cause the salt to draw the life-giving moisture out of the plants, and they will die.  To ensure you never burn your plants, water seedlings daily using the “Constant Feed Solution” of one ounce (2 level tablespoons) of Weekly Feed dissolved in 3 gallons of water.  For the Weekly Feed formula, go to the Learn section at www.foodforeveryone.org, and look on the Fertilizer page.

Next, it is important to separate your small plants before their leaves begin to overlap with others’, or the tiny stems will become very weak and spindly as the plants all stretch – looking for more light.  By the time the plants have their first or second true leaf this step should be completed.  Failure to act for even a few hours can result in spindly, weak plants, which never recover.  Transplanting seedlings into 2″ 6-paks or pots will provide adequate space for them to grow an additional 2-3 weeks, depending on variety.  If it’s still too early to put them out into the garden by the time plant leaves are again beginning to overlap, prune the leaves, transplant again into larger pots, or separate pots, so the plant leaves always have maximum light.

Before transplanting into the garden, “harden-off” your plants outside, off the ground for 2 to3 days, to acclimate them to direct sunlight, temperature, wind, etc.  This is important so the plant doesn’t have the shock of a new environment added to the shock to its root system caused by transplanting.  If the weather turns cold at night, bring the plants back in the house.  The temperature adjustment needs to be gradual.

For many of your plants, the pruning process does double duty.  In addition to assuring maximum light, it shocks the plant mildly, causing it to pause in its growth and produce a thicker, sturdier stem. This process makes the plant much better able to endure the vicissitudes of the outside environment, such as cutworms, ants, etc. that often quickly decimate plants with weak, spindly stems.

For tall-growing plants, like tomatoes, be sure to provide small stakes tied to the plant stem, to prevent them from falling over.  And with tomatoes, begin immediately to remove all sucker stems as soon as possible, to assure a single, strong stem and maximum production from your plant.