Take good care of seedlings to grow into maturity

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Young seedlings of trees or vegetables need great care to ensure they grow into strong and healthy trees and crops. Continuous nurturing and good management is necessary for proper growth. The rainy season has started and is a good time to grow different crops and trees. The first step in successful trees and vegetable production is to raise healthy vigorous seedlings. This means that if a farmer is to get high yields and more returns from their trees and vegetables, proper care of seedlings must be done. This is also important in preventing crop failure.

Young plants need a lot of care particularly during the early stages of growth. They have to be protected from unfavourable temperatures, heavy rains, drought, wind, pests and diseases. When small-seeded vegetables are sown directly in the field, germination is not often guaranteed and the young plants grow very slowly and take a long time to mature. The season can also be too short for full development in the field.

To overcome these problems many trees and vegetable seedlings can either be bought or grown in nurseries before being transplanted in the field. Seedlings have the best chance of survival when planted soon after purchase.

Storage

Storage of seeds before planting affects the performance of seedlings. It is important for the farmer to store newly purchased seeds in a cool dark area. If your seedlings especially tree seedlings are stored for more than a few days, open the bag and dampen the roots periodically. Do not soak or leave the roots submerged in water while the seedlings are in storage. For vegetable seedlings, keep them moist but not soggy. Seedlings need moisture, so it is important they do not dry out.

When to plant

Plant seedlings as soon as possible, preferably at the beginning of the rainy season. This period is often ideal because soil moisture is very high. Farmers can expect a certain amount of losses through drying up, although this will depend a great deal on how carefully they are planted and weather conditions during the early period of transplant shock.

Where to plant

Like trees and shrubs, vegetables also have soil and light requirements that must be considered when selecting where they will be planted. They grow well if planted in locations with enough sunlight and in soils that have good drainage and enough top soil.

Proper planting and management of trees and even vegetables increases survival rates and good yields.

Seedling management

Watering: The seedbed or seed box should be watered carefully with a fine stream of water. After the plants are well established, watering should be done thoroughly but not too often. It is advisable to irrigate seedlings in the morning, not in the afternoon as this leaves the soil surface moist overnight, a condition favouring damping off condition.

Shading: Shading should be done to protect the young seedlings from high heat intensity in sunny areas and also from heavy rain. Shade can be provided by polythene nets or even grass. The shade should be removed some days before transplanting to allow the seedlings to acclimatize to field conditions.

Thinning: This is a way of regulating plant density in rows and in holes. During thinning, weak, diseased plants are pulled out to allow healthy seedlings to grow well. It is normally done when seedlings have formed a few true leaves.

Insect pest and disease control

This is a continuous process from seedling emergence to transplanting. It is normally done by physical means but organic control methods like use of ash can also be used.

Weeding: This is done by pulling out any unwanted weeds by hand.

Hardening-off: Transplants must be ‘hardenedoff’ so that they can withstand the change from a relatively sheltered and protected environment to a sometimes harsh open situation.

Generally, hardening is done from about 1 to 2 weeks before transplanting seedlings, hardening is achieved by gradually exposing them to higher (or lower) temperature and the higher light intensity prevailing in the field. It should, however, not involve any treatment that may reduce the rate of photosynthesis, such as nutrient stress. Care should be taken not to overharden plants, as this may delay maturity and in some instances even reduce crop yields.

Transplanting: This refers to the act of lifting the seedlings from the seedbeds or containers and transferring them to the field where the actual planting is desired. When transplanting, one should aim to interrupt growth as little as possible - if this is not done properly it can severely delay growth or in extreme cases cause death of transplants. Most vegetable seedlings are ready to be moved 4-8 weeks after sowing.

It normally takes four weeks for tomato, cabbage, broccoli, watermelon, kales and spinach seedlings to be ready for transplanting. Onions take about five weeks while hot and sweet peppers take seven weeks.

For additional information farmers can contact KEFRI, call Lugadiru 0708478705

>>Tell us how useful this information is to your farming enterprise. Share your experience by email to admin@theorganicfarmer.org

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