Grow Your Own!
What better way to embrace spring than to plant a few seeds and watch the creative life forces unfold before your own eyes… . Starting your own seedlings indoors is an easy and satisfying way to get into the gardening spirit while it is still freezing outside.
‘Growing your own’ has many other advantages too. It can save you a lot of money, and generally produces plants that are stronger and healthier than the chemically-fed bedding plants that are imported from California or B.C. and sold in most of our commercial greenhouses and big box stores these days.Here’s what you need to get started.
First off, decide what kind of plants you want to grow. Pick the vegetables, herbs, or flowers that appeal to you and that you will enjoy having in your yard, and on your table. Tomatoes, cucumbers and broccoli are reliable vegetables and oregano, sage, and parsley are common herbs that are easy to grow. Almost all vegetables, herbs and flowers can be started indoors from seed. If this is your first attempt, stick to two or three common choices.
Next, you need to find a few containers – small plastic plant pots are ideal but yogurt containers, cut off milk jugs, or egg crates will work just as well. If you are using solid containers, you need to poke a few holes in the bottom so excess water can drain out.
Fill your containers to just below the top with a soil mix. You can either purchase a bag of potting soil mix from a greenhouse or hardware store (not very expensive), or make your own (50% garden soil and 50% peat moss, compost, and coarse sand).
Carefully place your seeds on the surface of the soil in your containers and cover with just a fine layer of the remaining soil. As a general rule, you should cover the seeds with a layer of soil only as thick as the seeds themselves. If you put too much soil on top, the seeds will not have enough energy to break through the surface.
For germination to take place, the soil needs to be evenly moist (but not soggy) and warm. It is best to place your containers into a shallow tray of water so that the soil will “wick-up” the moisture as it needs it. You can place the containers near a heating vent or another warm spot in your house.
Some seeds will be up in a few days while others will take a couple of weeks or more – don’t give up! Once the seeds have germinated and begin to break the surface, place the containers near a south facing window where they will be fed by the sun! If you do not have a good southern window exposure, you can use fluorescent lights. The best type of artificial light for seedlings is “cool white” the type most commonly found in office buildings so don’t waste your money on the expensive “grow-lites” that many stores are now selling. The one hitch is that the lights must be no more than six inches away from your plants, otherwise, the light is not sufficient and the plants will become thin and weak.
Middle to late March is a great time to begin most herbs, flowers and vegetables such as tomatoes, peppers, and celery. You should wait until at least early April to start other vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, cucumbers, squash, and lettuces as they will become too big indoors if you start them before then. As your plants progress in size, you may need to thin them out or transplant them into larger containers if they are overgrowing the pots they are in.
Starting your own seeds indoors allows you to see and appreciate the full life cycle of your plants. There is nothing like biting into that fresh, delicious, and wonderfully healthy tomato in late summer that began as a small seed in your hand in early spring.
The Urban Farmer