salivating over catalogs: Start seeds!
By K. Brewer
Winter can be a long, hard dry spell for those of us addicted to gardening.
Oh sure, we can plant some pansies and a few bulbs, rake a few leaves
and turn the compost now and then. We might even make a wreath or two
out of flowers we dried last fall. But its not quite the same s springtime
digging in the dirt or watching plants blossom and grow.
For me, starting seeds indoors on a sunny windowsill each January is the
next best thing to real gardening outdoors. Right now, six to 10 weeks
before the last frost, is the perfect time to start seeds indoors.
After a couple of initial disasters, I've had moderate success starting
seeds over the last few years. There is something particularly rewarding
about eating a tomato or admiring a marigold in July, knowing that you
planted it from seed and nurtured it with your winter daydreams through
the cold, blustery days of January, February, and March.
Growing seeds indoors takes and spurs hope, faith and imagination. It
is not for the fainthearted or easily discouraged.
Here are a few things I've learned from books and my own experiences:
- Never use dirt or potting soil. This is the single most important
rule to avoid "damping off" and fungal diseases. Trust the gardening
books on this end and buy a special "soil-less" seed starting mix
at a nursery.
- A Southern exposure windowsill is best. An eastern exposure is
a second choice.
- Know your seed. Some seeds require light to germinate and some need
dark. A seed, which requires light to germinate, must be gently laid
on top of the planting mix and buried.
- Always water emerged-seedlings from the bottom, not from the top,
if possible. If you must water from the top, use a mister or dropper.
Never overwater. Check moisture daily.
- Different seeds have different moisture needs. For best results,
plant flats of the same kind of seed instead of mixing.
- Peat pots often fail to decompose on schedule after the seedlings
are transplanted into the garden, resulting in stunted growth. Use
yogurt containers, margarine tubs, Styrofoam cups from restaurants
and all the other plastic you can't put in the recycling bin. I poke
lots of holes in the bottom to ensure good drainage, and use the container
lids as drain trays.
- Use only a very, very watered down solution of organic fertilizer
and only on well-emerged seedlings. Some mail order catalogs have
formulas designed especially for seedlings. If using a regular strength
product like Bioform, increase the recommended water dilution rate
by several times. The mixed solution should still have the appearance
of water. If you are still worried about burning the roots, a sponge
or piece of felt placed under the pot will allow the seedlings to
soak up the solution more slowly.
- Busy people who want more convenience will be pleased with the
practically foolproof APS windowsill seed starting kit available by
mail order from Gardener's Supply. The kit is reusable year after
year. It features a unique reservoir system to reduce watering and
maintenance, and produces strong-rooted plant starts, which look like
they came from a professional greenhouse.
- Harden off" your seedlings before planting outdoors. Set them outside,
in the shade, off the ground, for a couple of hours at first. Over
the next few days gradually increase the exposure to the outdoors
and sunlight until the seedlings are accustomed to the conditions
under which they'll be growing.
- Maximize your results by growing plants that would either benefit
from an early start or be expensive to buy. Planting whole flats of
the same types of flowers will enable you to economically mass or
repeat colors throughout a large bed.
Some seed starting choices:
- tomatoes, marigolds, cosmos, purple coneflower, parsley
-alyssum, butterfly weed, snapdragon, squash
*Reprinted from Arlington Organic Garden Club Newsletter, January 1995