Friday, April 16, 2010

Garden Adventures-Starting with Seeds

As spring is ushered in, my gardening instincts go into high gear. Often, when hardly anyone has given a thought to a garden, I am starting seeds in my dining room and basement. Yes, I said dining room. My mother got me a small portable greenhouse and I set it up to start seeds. My reasoning is simple. Our basement is COLD and seeds do not like to germinate(even on a warm seedling mat) in the winter. So I start them upstairs in the somewhat warmer house. I make pots out of everything from soda bottles to toilet paper tubes, oatmeal containers and milk jugs. Last year I acquired two garbage bags full of plastic greenhouse pots, so this year, I am using those. I already have my garden plan outlined as I do this in the dead of winter. So I pull out all my seeds and "commence ta plantin'".
I have an abundance of herbs and vegetables planned this year. Since we have only been living in our current home for a few years, most of the property is not garden-friendly. We have no pasture; we have five acres of woods. Full sun is not a term my yard is familiar with. Each year I try new tactics to expand my growing area. This year we are doing fabric pots and tire gardens in addition to the raised beds I made out of recycled window frames and the rows and beds that I have in one small area of the yard.

Isn't it a lot of work? 
You might wonder why I don't just buy plants at the corner feed and seed or home improvement warehouse? Mainly because if I start my own seeds I can often use seeds I saved from a previous year. But I can also save a lot of money. A packet of seeds, that might plant 50 tomato plants is less than $2.00. Six small plants can cost anywhere from $2 and up. I don't have to use all the seeds I purchased either. If kept in a cold, dry place, the seeds will last for years. Its a sound investment. Another reason for me, is the availability of heirloom and open-pollinated, organic seeds is much more plentiful than flats of the same. If you were lucky enough to happen across a flat of this type of plant, its unlikely that it costs $2.00!

the dining room green
house is the perfect
warm, moist environment
for seeds.
Getting Started
I am a long-time fan of square foot gardening methods for seed starting. I have tried organic mixes and found them to be useless. Most seem to be loaded with spores for various molds and I battle damping off and fungus; something I rarely had issue with when I used my own dirt. On this property, the lack of dirt has hindered my ambitious plans. We have clay and rocks. We also have rocks and clay. None of these are conducive to plant growth, unless you plan to raise moss. So, I have tried making my own mix this year using sifted compost and putting a small hole of vermiculite in the center to start the seeds off right. After placing a seed in each hole, I water with warm water that has been infused with chamomile tea. Chamomile tea inhibits damping off. Then
I label the pots using a variety of different types of labels. My favorite is to take a plastic tub, like for sour cream or cottage cheese and cut it into strips. I mark the plastic tags with a black permanent marker. I have found it best to label each pot since they get moved around and if you only label one in a flat, you may not know what you have later.

shoplights make great seed
starting lights
Once they germinate, I move them to the basement. I have a make-shift set up that involves shop lights outfitted with daylight florescent bulbs strung over a table that has a seedling mat across the top. I have also been known to wrap it in plastic to keep in the warmth on cold nights and to keep out the occasional mouse that finds anything green a tasty morsel. This spring it has been warmer, so I have not had to wrap things up. The mice don't care about being in the basement when its not too cold outside.

Are you wondering about the aforementioned mouse? One morning last year, I went down to dote on my seedlings, only to find all of the lovely plants completely gone; nibbled down to the soil's surface. Needless to say that set me back a few weeks. I replanted and wrapped everything up. A few weeks it happened again. The solution was to not only wrap it all up, but to add mousetraps all over my table. The traps would go off as I tried to unwrap my plastic barriers to water the plants. That was a cumbersome mess!

I bring my seedlings out during the day if weather allows and then bring them in at night. I try to keep the stronger, older seedlings in one tray as they can stay out longer and only let the little-guys out for a short time so they don't get fried in the sun.  Once the time nears for setting plants out in the garden, I leave them out for longer and longer periods of time to allow them to acclimate to the sun and wind. Then, on a cloudy day, I transplant them and water well. After that, I watch for new growth, which tells me that they are happy in their new home. At that point I can clean up the flats and set up for my fall garden, which I start planting in July.

This year I have planted 3 varieties of lettuce, cabbage, collards and peas. When it is warmer we will have 8 varieties of tomatoes, 3 varieties of cucumbers, 2 types of squash, 1 small watermelon and will put out 4 varieties of beans. In addition, we have garlic, onions and variety of herbs.

What have you planted in your garden?

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