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Caring for plants, colds aren’t very different

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By Cheryl Steenerson

Having a cold is not my idea of a good time.
Sleeping becomes particularly annoying. The nose stops up, the mouth drops open and the next thing you know you’re drooling all over your pillowcase.
Whenever a bug has the nerve to enter my body, I go into full battle mode. Besides drinking gallons of herbal teas, water and juice, I start sucking down oranges and bananas, like ET going after Reece’s Pieces. I also take aspirin on a regular basis, eat right and try my best to sleep.
We need to feed our bodies right in order to stay healthy. The right amount of food, water and rest is what makes us strong. Then, when we do get exposed to something, we are better able to fight it off. Just like plants.
Last week we started our conversation about starting garden plants indoors. This week, we’re going into the next phase, keeping them healthy and growing. There are really only four more steps, feed them, give them room, pet them and toughen them up. By then, spring will have sprung, we hope.
If you’re using a soil-less mix without compost, begin to fertilize your seedlings as soon as they get their first true leaves. True leaves are the ones that come after the little round ones that first shoot out.
Water with a half-strength solution of liquid fish/seaweed fertilizer every week or two. Use either a spray bottle or add the fertilizer to the water you set the trays in, if you’re using the wick-up method.
If the seedlings outgrow their containers or crowd one another, repot them into larger containers filled with a mix that includes compost. Extract the seedlings with a narrow fork or flat stick (a tongue depressor works great), and handle by their leaves and roots to avoid damaging the fragile stems. Tuck the seedlings gently into the new pots, and water them to settle the roots.
Lightly ruffling seedlings once or twice a day with your clean hand, or a piece of cardboard, helps them to grow stocky and strong stems. I set up a small rotating fan to gently, continuously blow on the seedlings.
About one week before the plants are to go outside, start acclimating them to the fickle weather of the great outdoors. This is called hardening off. On a warm spring day move the containers to a shaded, protected place, such as a porch, for a few hours.
Gradually increase the plants’ exposure to sun and breeze each day. At the end of the week, leave them out overnight.
We have several programs coming up in the next two months at the library, and first on the list is the Farmer’s Market on Feb. 14 at 7 p.m.
The program is free and participants will learn all about the benefits of joining the market. There will be two vegetable garden seed workshops in March, so keep an eye peeled here to get the dates.
Now, get going on those garden plans and supplies. We only have seven more Mondays until spring. Happy growing.

Cheryl Steenerson is a gardening columnist for The Anderson News.