Starting seeds indoors
Now that we have a “plan” for our garden, we can start to hone in on getting the most out of our space. If you haven’t added aged compost or organic matter to your soil, it’s still a great time to do so. You want to add about 1” to the garden and incorporate to a depth of 6-10”. The addition of the amendment to your soil will pay dividends throughout the year
I will admit, watching as the Eastern Redbud (Cercis canadensis), Cherry (Prunus spp.) and Bradford pear (Pyrus calleryana ‘Bradford’) trees slowly dot the dull brown natural world with different shades of pink and white blooms, my hankering for a flush of green across a seemingly barren swath of ground nearly proved too much for my past teachings of patience. Nearly convinced that this was going to be an early spring, I just about started growing plants outside (in protected spots of course) on the farm… then, without much heed, it came! I guess the Farmer’s Almanac got it right again!
As we continue to look for things to do inside to avoid the drastic temperature swings of late winter/early spring outside, let’s use the warm sun-kissed areas inside our homes to start our transplants. Though, not all vegetables or flowers benefit from starting inside (i.e. beans, beets, carrots, turnips, corn, peas, radishes, cucumbers) or are difficult to transplant (beans, corn, cucumber, cantaloupe, mustard, peas, squash), there are many varieties that thrive with the added attention. By starting some of our seeds indoors and transplanting them into our garden space after the last average frost date, we can maximize our investment and give the plants a head start. It’s simple, you don’t need much space, and you can use items that you would regularly throw away (recycling!!!); additionally, it makes the inside living space a little cozier.
Start seeds four to eight weeks before your average frost date (hardiness zone). Miss timing could result in plants becoming spindly and overcrowding before you have a chance to plant them in your area. Use viable seeds: often seed reserved from last year wasn’t properly stored, thus resulting in poor germination in successive years. Additionally, seeds saved and dried from previous years have likely been cross pollinated, meaning you might not get what you think you’re getting.
Most any container will work. Just make sure they are well washed and you add drainage holes in the bottom. Seed starting kits can be purchased from your local garden supply. Seed staring mix bought from a store or garden supply is typically best because the soil has gone through a sterilization process to kill pathogens, fungi, and weed seeds. Though, you can use soil from home. The make-up of your soil (sandy, loamy, clay) will determine whether you need to add water retention materials (sphagnum moss) or drainage materials (coarse sand). Bake the soil in your oven 30-45 minutes at 250-275 degrees to kill weed seeds.
Soil should fill the container to just under the lip (approx. 3/4” below). Do not compact the soil, this will make expansion of the new roots difficult and can lead to other problems with water and diseases. Place two-three seeds per container/compartment and lightly cover with soil. A general rule, seeds should not be covered with more than four times the diameter of the seed with soil. This helps to ensure adequate germination. Make sure the soil is moist and place them in a cool room (60-65 degrees F), away from direct sunlight. Once the seeds have germinated, gradually move them to direct sunlight; this is usually done over a 2-3-day interval.
When you see the first set of true leaves, those above the ‘seed leaves’ (cotyledons), you need to thin the seedlings to one per compartment. Do not remove by pulling the small plants! Either use a tweezer to snip the small seeds or use scissors to cut them. Pulling the unwanted seedlings can disrupt the roots of the desired seedling and result in stunting or death. Keep the soil moist, and avoid rollercoaster watering (you know, forget one day so we water too much when we notice, then forget again…etc.). A spray bottle works well and is much easier on the newbies!
I’m a big kid now!
Preparing your seedlings to be transplanted