Wow, remember several months ago when I did a "Part I" post about seedlings? And then there was never a Part II? My bad. I'm sure you're all just itching for an update on those little buggers.
To recap: we had our baby plant beds all set up and ready to start growing. Next step: BABY LEAVES! Or, to be scientific: cotyledons. And let's be scientific, because these are not actually leaves, but are part of the seed that acts as a food source as the plant begins to grow. During this phase, the plant is not using photosynthesis, so if you are keeping your bins in a dark place, there's no emergency to get them into the sunlight just yet. Do continue to keep the soil moist, by either gentle watering or spray bottle.
As you can see, many of these cotyledons look very similar from plant to plant, so this is where those plant labels come in handy. Soon, however, you will begin to see the first leaves of each plant, which will start to look quite similar to their final leaves. NOW your plants are photosynthesizing all by themselves and can be moved into the sunlight. *tear* They grow up so fast...
Unfortunately, during our move into the new house, these plant babies were disastrously neglected and stopped thriving. Luckily, one of our neighbors has a little greenhouse (of course she does, because our block is fully self-sufficient) and offered to let me put the plants in there. This was a great lesson, too, because it taught me how much everyone looks out for each other in this neighborhood. I stopped by the greenhouse after a run one day, and a few minutes later my neighbor came outside laughing, saying he had just gotten a text from another neighbor that "there was some runner chick in the greenhouse." We got each others' backs down here, man!
Once the plants grew a bit more in the greenhouse, I transplanted them into slightly larger containers. It became clear that they probably stalled for a lot of reasons, including the fact that they should have been moved to larger containers earlier in their lives. You can see in the photo below that their root systems had gone haywire searching for more space. Poor little things. I'll do better next year, I promise!
Soon after, each of these little stems grew second and third sets of true leaves, and this, my friends, is where things get a bit cut-throat. Your plants are now getting to the age where they need to be transplanted to bigger and better beds, and from now on... only the strong will survive.
In most of these cells, I planted two to three seeds in the hopes that at least one would germinate. And in most cases, it worked - I now had one or two (or sometimes three) tiny plants per growing cell. Unfortunately, this is not the best way to transplant them into the big, bad world in order for them to be the most successful adult plants they can be. *Sigh* We now must kill some of our babies.
Pour yourself a glass of local pain-numbing beverage, work up your courage, and then pinch or carefully pull out the weaker-looking seedling in each cell. Send it back to the earth from whence it came.
Once you are past the frost date, you can prep the plants to go outside. So now, after murdering their brothers and sisters in front of them, you must harden these little guys to live outside. It's like the Hunger Games, except it's you who is hungry, not the Tributes (too nerdy? ...Nah.). Place the seedlings outside in direct sun and wind for a few hours each day, slowly increasing that amount of time for about 7 to 10 days.
After this tough love sesh, your now toddler-aged plants are ready for their new spots in the garden or planter. Plant away, water regularly, and enjoy your veggies!