It’s been decided. The first round of seed-starting 2008 starts today. I considered shooting a mini video how-to of this procedure to post here but decided against it because it is another miserably grey and sunless day in Toronto and video would require the additional hassle of setting up lights. And of course I would need to shower, dress, and “style” my hair. My friend Jen insists these extra steps are not required but I’m convinced that a video shot in my pj’s is a little more truthiness than I’m comfortable revealing to the world. Rest assured, dear reader, that despite the occasional slip into TMI territory you will never be asked to peer inside my fridge, or my bag.
And in truth a seed-starting video how-to is redundantly painful when I think about it. Certain aspects of seed-starting are certainly troubling, but the part that involves plopping some seed-starting mix in a container, adding some seeds, and covering the hole with more soil really is that easy. I’m going away for a long weekend soon, smack dab in the middle of a critical point in a young seedling’s life, so I’ll be starting this batch in my self-watering seed-starter — my neighbour has enough stress dealing with the cat and house plants, I don’t need to add Keeping Very Important and Very Fragile Seeds Alive to the list.
There are a million and one ways to approach just about any gardening procedure and everyone will tell you their way is THE RIGHT WAY when in fact there are lots of right ways. That is the first and most important lesson beginner gardeners should know if they want to save themselves a whole lot of future hair-pulling.
Below, in a nutshell, is how I get my seeds started:
- Assemble tools and ingredients including but not limited to: Seed-starting mix, empty containers or self-watering device, seeds, water. If your containers are previously used you’ll probably need to wash them in some hot soapy water. Add a few splashes of oxygenated bleach.
- Moisten a batch of seed-starting mix by dumping it in another container, adding in enough water to make the mix damp but not soaked.
- Loosely fill each container or chamber with the pre-moistened seed-starting mix and lightly press the soil to eliminate air pockets and bubbles. Another container of the same size works well and of course so do your fingers.
The goal here isn’t about seeking a perfectly level surface, reasonably level with suffice. The key is to try and leave a little space between the tamped soil surface and the top of the container/chamber so there is space to cover the seed/s later on. The only trick here is to make sure the amount of space left is relative to the depth each particular seed needs to be buried. Seed packets will tell you what’s what but a good general rule-of-thumb is to bury the seeds approximately as deep as they are in size. So following this theory a tiny seed like basil would need to be buried quite close to the surface while a pea or bean would need to be buried about a half-inch or so below the soil surface.
I prefer this method to making a hole because it allows me to space as many seeds as necessary. Of course making holes will work just fine too.
- Sow a seed or two or three in each container/chamber. I sow more than one to be sure at least one germinates but how many depends on the size of the container. You can always cut extras out later but you waste time trying again with seeds that don’t germinate. If you’re unsure about the shelf-life of a pack of seeds you can always try testing them out first.
- Cover the seeds with a layer of seed-starting mix. I’ve used vermiculite too but to be honest haven’t noticed a difference. Either works just fine. Remember that the amount of coverage required varies depending on the seed. Consult your seed package or use the general rule of thumb I mentioned above.
- Place your containers on a tray and water from the bottom (into the tray rather than the container). Remove any excess water that is still sitting in the tray 15 minutes later.
- Place your tray in a warm spot. It’s optional but I can’t say enough about a heating mat. They’re not cheap so I don’t recommend it if you’re not yet sure if seed-starting is your thing. However, a mat (sort of like a bottle warmer for plants) will provide constant heat at just the right temperature. At this stage in the game light isn’t an issue (for most seeds) but warmth is critical in aiding germination. Unfortunately the warmest spot isn’t always the most convenient — appliances make adequate but slightly dangerous make-shift heating mats!
- Tag or label each container. Do not delude yourself into thinking you will remember what you’ve started where. I’ve grown enough mystery plants to have developed a deep appreciation for labeling.
- Keep the soil damp like a sponge that has been wrung out but not soaking wet. Now relax and wait for the magic to happen.
I took this photo at the Ward’s Island Community Garden about a month ago back when the snow was deep enough to push the limits of my moon boots’ elastic barrier.
Organic gardener Bob Easter shows off his harvest at the Sunshine Community Garden in Austin, Texas last week. They are already harvesting carrots! Meanwhile, back in Toronto, home of the never-ending winter, we are only dreaming about the carrots we will grow and harvest in a few months. Sigh.
I took this photo last week while in Austin photographing gardeners for The Green Mind’s Project.
I was recently interviewed for the Garden Monkey’s Celebrity Hijack series. When the mysterious (and totally hilarious) Garden Monkey contacted me about an interview I jumped on the chance because I knew it would be fun. This interview was an absolute joy to answer and a bit of a thinker too. Plus I got to swear a wee bit. You have no idea how hard I work to reign my potty mouth in on a daily basis. While you’re over there be sure to check out the previous interviews with some of the UK’s most famous gardeners. I love that almost everyone prefers the title “gardener” over “horticulturalist.”
Given my brand of humor it comes as no surprise that the two most interesting interviews I have conducted recently have come from UK publications.
Read the interview here.
Another Seedy Saturday Toronto has come and gone and like last year I managed, with great effort, to make it around to a few booths and pick up some seeds. The event was more packed than ever this year making it nearly impossible to leave my brother/assistant alone at the table for any length of time or push through the crowds lingering around some of the larger seed sellers. The sellers I did manage to get to were often sold out of items on my wanted list. And forget the Seeds of Diversity trading table. I had high hopes but only managed to snag a pack of red orach seeds. Next year I plan to employ the strategy of browsing during setup, BEFORE the crowds arrive. Next year.
Here’s what I managed to bring home with me:
- Red Orach – A trade pack harvested from Jackman Public School’s Learning Garden.
- ‘Early Yellow Crookneck’ Squash – A trade with a You Grow Girl forums member. I thought I needed squash but then got home and realized I have several varieties in my stash. This is why I should have brought a list.
- ‘Dragon’ Carrot – Another trade that I already have. ‘Dragon’ is a beautiful purple carrot. If I had to choose I suppose I favour it over ‘Purple Haze’ although ‘Dragon’ would crumble in a Best Name competition.
- Love Lies Bleeding – I’ve been trying to grow more amaranth over the last few years and ‘Love Lies Bleeding’ is a classic that never gets old.
- ‘Blue Spice’ Basil – Another trade. I don’t think I have grown this variety which is kind of amazing since I’d swear I have covered just about everything in the unusual basil category at least once.
- ‘Purple Calabash’ Tomato – I fell in love with its ugly beauty last year. I am planning to grow less tomatoes this year and have not finalized my list as-of-yet. Who gets cut will be the hardest decision I have to make this year.
- Painted Lady Sweet Pea – I just love the fragrant sweetness of sweet pea flowers but tend to steer clear of them due to their attractiveness to aphids. I decided to try my luck and grow a few varieties this year. I can always pull them out if things get nasty. This variety really does look like the runner beans of the same name. I know it seems redundant to grow them when I can just grow the beans later in the season but I can’t cut those flowers and I am really craving cut sweet peas for my desk.
- Persian Broad-Leaf Cress – I have grown a number of pepper cresses but like that this variety is described as milder than other cresses.
- Tendergreen Mustard Green – I’m on a personal mission to try growing just about every salad green under the sun.
- ‘Queen Anne’s Pocket Melon’ aka ‘Plum Granny’ – I’m planning to grow some melon this year but admittedly this one was an impulse buy and not on the list. ‘Plum Grannies’ are tiny melons known for their intoxicating fruity smell. I can not resist a good back story and the story for these citrus-sized melons is that Victorian women carried them in their pockets to fight street stench. The thought of two of these in a breast pocket has me thinking about another derivative of the colloquial use of ‘melons.”
- Swiss Chard ‘Ruby Red’ & ‘Golden Sunrise’ – I’ve grown the ‘Rainbow’ mix and other coloured varieties but these two are my favourites for their saturated colours that look so beautiful in containers of contrasting colour or as a burst of brightness tucked beside boring veggie varieties.
- ‘Selway’ Lettuce - Brightly coloured greens are another edible trick I employ to brighten dull corners and containers. Consequently I am always on the look out for a good red variety. We’ll see how these fair against ‘Lolla Rosa’ aka ‘Lollo Rosa’ which still reigns as my favourite red.
- ‘Cimmaron’ Romaine Lettuce – An unusual romaine with a deep, reddish purple hue.
- ‘Yugoslavian Red’ Butterhead Lettuce – A really beautiful butterhead variety with shades of green tinged by deep red.
- ‘Black Spanish’ Radish – I’m very curious about the flavour and how to eat this root vegetable.
- ‘Black Jet’ Soybean – I have to admit I bought these for the dark bean colour. I’ve had a lot of success with soybeans in containers on the roof but that dang groundhog just LOVES to eat the plants as they emerge from the soil at the community plot.
Don’t forget to enter the Haiku Contest!