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Start leek seedlings with a good soak

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Posted: Sunday, April 8, 2012 10:12 am | Updated: 1:53 pm, Wed Jan 16, 2013.

FAIRBANKS - Instead of listing the various components of the seed starting process, which I do every spring, today I am going to describe what today's leek planting session was like. This is in response to a reader who wrote saying that he has repeatedly tried to grow leeks, with no success, and wanted to know exactly how I start the seeds.

This morning I put the seeds into a bowl of warm water, leaving them to soak while I filled holey flats with premoistened seed-starting soil. I haven't done a scientific study, but anecdotal evidence has convinced me that soaking speeds up and increases germination rates so all of my seeds are soaked anywhere from a few hours to as long as overnight.

Last fall I set large tubs of finished compost and others of my best soil near the back door. I dragged one of each into the mud room a few days ago to thaw, so by today the soil was room temperature. I always add sterile seed starting medium or plain perlite so that the soil is not too dense. I mixed it all together in another tub, throwing in a 5-gallon bucket of each and then stirring. I filled the flats with the mixture, leaving a lip so when the leeks are older and need more water it does not spill out over the sides.

Leeks are about the only seeds I plant in flats, because I want them to get tall and leggy so I can transplant them deeper and end up with more tender white on each stem. I have vacillated on this, sometimes putting them in six-packs, because separating them is a pain, but really flats are better. After nearly four hours of soaking, I drained off the water and broadcast the seeds across the flat with a miserly hand. I only scatter tiny seeds across flats or six-packs; larger seeds are planted to a depth no more than three times their size.

After sowing, I sprinkled on a thin layer of soil and, over that, a very thin layer of light-colored milled sphagnum moss because it reduces damp off, a technique that has been verified by researchers from the University of California. I use a brand called NoDampOff. I finished the sowing by using a spray bottle to make sure the top of the soil was moist.

Since leeks don't need light to germinate, I don't bother tenting them in plastic to keep things moist. Instead, I put together five pages of newspaper, one set for each flat, and wet it very well before laying a set on each flat.

That's it, although I did take a minute to smile at the sight of a long table crammed with sown flats.

The room is at about 65 right now, and because excess warmth is not optimum for most seedlings, I'll turn the heat down to 55 each night.

Linden Staciokas has gardened in the Interior for more than two decades.

Send gardening questions to her at dorking@acsalaska.

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