Thank heavens for gardening. In addition to being a delightful, rewarding pastime, planning for the coming season is what gets us all through our long winters.
I’ve certainly been thinking a lot about gardening lately. Starting today, and for every Sunday throughout the 2014 gardening season, this is the place to come for timely and useful information. Let’s jump right in.
One of my favorite gardening tasks is starting vegetables and flowers from seeds indoors. For a long time, I did a minimal amount of seed-starting because I thought it would be tricky and time-consuming. I was wrong. For the past several years, I’ve switched to starting just about everything from seed and discovered it is an awful lot of fun.
For one thing, it allows me to grow many unusual varieties that you can’t find at nurseries. It also gives me the ability to start them organically so I have control over how each plant was raised.
Take a look at the information box at left to see what I’m growing this year. That’s an awful lot of veggies, isn’t it? Even so, it’s all doable and I enjoyed selecting interesting varieties as well as some out-of-the-ordinary crops.
What kind of materials do you need to start your own plants from seed? Any type of container can be used: flats with inserts, recycled plastic food containers, milk jugs cut in half and egg cartons are a few that come to mind. They need to be clean and disinfected with a mild bleach solution, if they were used to start seeds last year, and they need drainage holes.
Each container needs a clear cover to let the light in and keep the humidity high until the seeds germinate.
You also need a sterile potting mix. Avoid using garden soil as it can contain pathogens and it compacts easily, making it difficult for seeds to sprout and grow. I use organic germination mix, which can be found at garden centers.
You’ll also want a small bag of finely milled sphagnum moss to lightly sprinkle over the potting mix once the seeds are planted. It prevents damping-off, a nasty fungal disease that can wipe out an entire flat of seedlings.
Finally, you’ll need to provide your seedlings with a good light source. I have a two-tiered grow light set-up which is ideal, but a sunny windowsill will work, too.
Have you bought your seeds yet? Keep in mind that we have a relatively short growing season of about 120 frost-free days. Our last frost is usually in mid-May and the first fall frosts come in mid- to late September. Because of this, you should select short-season varieties of tomatoes, winter squash and melons.
When you’re shopping for seeds, there are some other details you should be aware of:
Some will be labeled as heirloom varieties, which means they have been cultivated for 50 years or longer. If you save seeds from these crops, the resulting plants will be identical to the parent plants.
Hybrid seeds are the result of cross-pollination of two types of plants that breeders have selected for their desirable traits: better disease resistance or earlier ripening, for example. If you save seeds from hybrid plants, the results will be unpredictable.
Open-pollinated seeds have resulted from pollination by bees, insects, the wind or even humans. As long as the plants haven’t cross-pollinated with other similar plants, you can save the seeds and grow them again the following year.