True leaves look like tiny wings to me: indicators that the fledgling plants are finally taking off. The experts say to wait for true leaves before moving seedlings to larger pots, before trimming off the weaker of two that started together, before moving on to the next stage. Most of our seedlings have their true leaves now, at three weeks after we planted the seeds.
I am now a believer in seedling heat mats, because ours doubled our chances of turning seeds into plants. I have more than 60 Cherokee Purple tomato plants (or whatever else was on that flat) that started on the heat mat, while only half that many of the Cherry Sweetie tomatoes survived without the mat. If my numbers are not precise, it's because I've been a bit sloppy with my labeling. I had a similar comparison with the two types of sweet peppers, although fewer of them in general seemed to germinate.
We've spent the past week with the mini-greenhouse constructed, using it when necessary, but often being able to have the plants outdoors for stretches during a range of cloudy to sunny days. By mid-week I decided to move the seedlings into slightly larger pots, many of which are compostable and made to go right into the garden. At that point, I started keeping the plants overnight in the garage instead of the warmer house. I was gradually helping the plants with their hardening off process so they'd be ready to live outdoors.
The next day after transplanting them all, 20 of the seedlings started to worry me. The little plant fiber pots started showing patches of what looked like fuzzy white mold on them. This was not on the plants or the soil, but seemed to be coming from the pots themselves. While they'd stayed outdoors the afternoon they were transplanted, they went back into the garage overnight and again the first half of the next day because of heavy rains. This lack of sunshine didn't help. I rounded up the last few old yogurt tubs and other containers I could find at home to transplant those 20 a second time before the mold could spread. Home Depot courteously refunded me the cost of the little square pots, and the Burpee company explained politely that it would look into the matter when I called its customer service line.
When she last saw them, my preschooler noticed that a couple of the plants "look sad" to her. I realize my seed starting and transplanting wasn't perfect. First, we weren't willing to spring for an indoor light this year, which might have boosted them more. Then, during transplanting, I probably tried to save too many by separating them instead of snipping off one in each cup like the pros do. But we did turn those complimentary packets from Sow True Seed
into seedlings, and that's something to celebrate! It's amazing now to look at the volume of plants produced from just four modest packets of heirloom seeds.
Later this weekend: meet the most beautiful furry gardeners!