8 weeks to frost - transplanting

Last week I seeded the brassicas:  Broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower.  These generally are advised to plant 6-8 weeks before setting out, but since most of these are fairly cold tolerant, that set-out date can be a little earlier than the average last frost.  Depending on the forecast and how warm the soil is on a given year, I start thinking about setting cabbage and broccoli out in mid- to late-April, with the protection of row cover or a low tunnel.  So I do start these on the early end of the range.  Another good idea with these guys is staggering planting--start a few indoors early, seed a few outdoors later, and you'll extend your harvest. 

On the schedule this week are the remaining peppers, and a few ornamental flowers.  But, also on the agenda was transplanting some of my earlier starts:

In general, I lean towards planting seeds with an eye for the least amount of transplanting--ie, plant in the size pot the seedling can live in until being set out in the garden.  This saves work and stress on the plants.  Still, sometimes you accidentally or intentionally have a few extra seeds planted, and have to thin your pot to avoid crowding.  In this case it's fine to cull the weakest plant--just snip the stem close to the soil to avoid disturbing the remaining plant's roots.

But, if you need that plant (perhaps the cell next door had poor germination) or you just can't stand to kill an otherwise healthy seedling, here's how I transplant young plants.  In my case, I have deliberately overseeded a few things to save some space under my lights during germination, and this week I was ready to move them into their future homes.

My tool of choice for this is a wooden skewer.  I poke the blunt end under the chosen seedling, and gently lift until it is rising out of the pot with no resistance. Very gently, lift the plant by the stem, just under the leaves.  If all goes well you'll have a barely disturbed baby root ball.

The target pots have been prepped and are ready to go before I start.  Using the skewer, I form a hole in the new spot, and gently reinsert the seedling.  Sometimes, if there's a long root, I use the blunt end of the skewer to carefully guide that root into the hole as I go.

The plant spends all of a few seconds exposed before moving into it's new digs, and that way experiences almost no transplant shock.  I like plants about this size for transplanting--they don't yet have their first "true" leaves yet, but they are sturdy enough to take a little handling.  And if you have two close together, their roots are not developed enough to make them hard to separate. 
Occasionally you will have a fatality in this process, don't stress over it.  Here's where I also admit I've killed sproutlings by "helping" them out of their seed shells.  I think we've all done that, right?
Next up:  I fight with myself over the realistic date to plant tomatoes--the end of March--or the overly optimistic March 19th that for some reason I wrote on my calendar.  Maybe I'll split the difference? 

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