Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Growing Your Own: Seed starting

Let me say a word about seeds. You can pay the extra money and buy certified organic seeds and they will be great seeds. I know. I’ve used them. You can pay a little more than regular and a little less than organic prices and buy heirloom seeds and you will grow vegetables like you’ve never tasted before. Heirloom seeds are organic by nature. I know some purists will take issue with this, but by organic, I mean they haven’t been chemically altered or genetically messed with. They’ve just been proven winners for years and years. They’ve been passed down for generations, most older than you and me. And there’s a reason they have survived.

First of all, if they weren’t pretty hardy, they would have died out years ago. Second, if they didn’t produce great tasting vegetables, no one would have bothered passing them along. So I recommend buying heirloom seeds whenever possible. I’m blessed because I live in the same town as the oldest heirloom seedhouse in America – Landreth Seeds (http://www.landrethseeds.com/). But you can buy heirloom seeds in most garden stores and certainly, by mail order. You can also save your own seeds each year and trade with your friends. Saving and trading seeds is a bit of a cult, you may discover. I save mine each year and store the seeds in plastic medicine bottles stored in my basement. Saving seeds is easy. Collect them, rinse them, and dry them thoroughly. I put mine in paper lunch bags and hang them in my basement near the de-humidifier for several weeks. Store them in a dark, airtight, dry place. Nothing easier – you may never buy seeds again!

Just don’t save hybrid seeds, you never know what you’ll get. Hybrids come from two different parents, so the next batch could be one or the other or a bad combination of both. There are also some seeds that can’t be saved because some seed companies engineer their seeds so that their offspring seeds will not grow. That way you have to keep buying more of their seeds. Stick with heirlooms, you won’t regret it.

You’ll need to start some seeds inside according to the area you live in. I start mine in late February so that I can set them out in early April. This week I’m starting all kinds of annual and perennial flowers, onions, and lettuce. I’ll start my tomatoes and peppers and hot weather plants in mid March so they are ready to go by Mother’s Day. Look for seed starter that is organic or at the very least, doesn’t have chemical fertilizer (miracle gro and such) added to the medium. I use mostly organic milled spagnum moss because it’s cheaper than organic soil and easier to handle. If you haven’t saved your small yogurt containers (or asked a friendly neighbor with small children to save them for you), you can buy seed flats or make your own biodegradable newspaper pots (requires a special talent or the use of a wooden tool sold in garden catalogs). If you’re using small yogurt containers, you’ll need to put holes in the bottom of the container to allow for drainage and so you can water from the bottom. I use a tiny drill bit and a cordless drill and make quick work of it.

Grow lights can be set up anywhere. An easy way is to utilize a bookshelf you already have. Clear off the books and suspend grow lights from the underside of each shelf. You’ll want to use a spray bottle that has mist setting (you can recycle any spray bottle as long as it is thoroughly cleaned out) and be gentle when watering your seedlings. Investing in a timer for your grow lights is also a wise move unless you’re more reliable than I am about turning the lights on and off at the correct time each day. Popsicle sticks make fine labels so that you don’t forget what you planted. Your seed packet will tell you how deep to plant each seed and expected germination rate (when you'll actually see something green appear).

When deciding what to plant be sure you plant what you’ll use, not just what looks good. Another rule of thumb I use is if I can find it cheaper and yummier locally, I don’t grow it myself. I always plant broccoli because I love the way it looks in the garden. But it is a space hog for not a very large yield and truth be told – my broccoli isn’t any better than the local broccoli I can buy at my farm stand. So I have vowed not to plant broccoli this year – we shall see!

I can’t do without lettuce, spinach, tomatoes, cucumbers, beans, onions, garlic, peppers, and herbs. If I have space I add corn, watermelon, pumpkin, potatoes, carrots, peas, radishes, zucchini, and just for fun – decorative gourds. You plant what works for you. The planning is the best part – I love dreaming up my summer garden in the dead of winter.

No comments:

Post a Comment