salad seedling photo

Even if you have yourself a bright green thumb, gardening tips can always come in handy when planting for the season.

Plants are similar to humans in that their ability to fight disease is directly connected to how healthy they are to start. The stronger a human’s immune system, the better armed they are against disease.

The healthier the soil in which a plant is grown and the healthier the seedling, the more likely the plant will thrive, producing a robust crop.

John Kempf, founder and CEO of Advancing Eco Agriculture, grew up on a farm in Ohio. His crops were no longer responding to the pesticides and insecticides they had formerly used, and one year they lost 65 percent of their harvest to disease. He knew that something had to give. In 2004, after renting land to plant cantaloupe, Kempf began to see the root of his farming woes. The cantaloupes growing in the new field were healthy and vibrant, while the cantaloupes in the old field were enveloped with disease.

Since then Kempf has devoted his life to optimizing plant health and soil biology to increase the yield, nutrient density and shelf life of crops both on his own farm and as a consultant to other farmers. He has outlined some obscure but simple gardening tips for the tens of millions of us that will try our hands at a home garden this year. Get your green thumb on this gardening season.

1. Choose small seedlings with the sturdiest stems.

“Most seedlings today are grown for appearance rather than utility,” Kempf says. “Instead of buying the largest seedlings, get the ones with the shortest, sturdiest stems.” For example, tomato seedlings should be 6 inches, not 12 inches, tall. If the upper part of the plant becomes too big for the root system, the roots won’t be able to get enough water to support the top of the plant, resulting in transplant shock.

2. Boost your seedling’s immune health by avoiding pesticides.

Pesticides make plants unhealthy because they break down the plant’s immune health, says Kempf. Instead, consider a biological fertilizer such as compost tea, liquid seaweed, kelp meal or alfalfa meal. When you’re transplanting, add these natural fertilizers to the holes immediately for an extra dose of nutrients.

3. Don’t dig too deep.

Too often we plant our seedlings in holes that are too deep. This can cause rot or fungus to grow on the seedling’s stem. Do not bury the stem, except with tomatoes, which are an exception to the rule.

4. Baby your babies.

When plants are the smallest, they can’t have the same level of stress as they can when they’re a little larger.

“The first three weeks after planting are absolutely critical for best performance,” notes Kempf. This includes proper watering and protection from frost.

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Image: Ruth Hartnup