Seed starting made simple
I must confess that in my years as a gardener, I’ve had some spectacular seed-starting failures. Like the time I didn’t read the packet carefully and dutifully buried the impatiens seeds. Since they need light to germinate, nothing ever erupted from that dark grave except a wet crop of bright green algae. Or the time I attempted to start cosmos on a windowsill in the weak winter sunshine of December. The poor things stretched out for the scant light and soon flopped over from sheer exhaustion. I eventually had to put them out of their misery.
But I’m making this seed-starting thing out to be much more difficult than it is. Nature, after all, wants to grow, and seeds are often how it’s done. Home seed-sowing is lately enjoying an enormous renaissance, due several factors. People want to know where their food is coming from, and want assurance their produce and flowers are pesticide-free. Gardeners also realize that they can grow food and flowers at a fraction of the supermarket cost; that it’s possible to raise many unusual plants from seed, and that it’s easy and fun to grow your own plants.
If you want to be a part of things, here’s how to get sowing;
Purchase the seed. Not too much, however. Remember you’ll have to tend all the little plantlets you create, or discard the extras. Gather materials such as trays, mix and labels.
If working indoors, use soilless mix and make sure you have a good light source. Place trays someplace the kids or the cat won’t knock them over. And, as Ralph Snodsmith used to say, Read and Follow the Label Directions. Pay attention to what’s written on the seed packet and plant accordingly. Provide a greenhouse cover, water gently from above or below, and watch for germination. (at which point remove the greenhouse cover) Harden your heart, and thin seedlings so only the sturdiest remain.
If planting outside, have your soil tested prior to planting so you know what nutrients are needed. Whether you’re growing beets, broccoli or begonias, prepare the seed bed well. Spade or cultivate the area, making sure to incorporate lots of compost. Toss on the appropriate fertilizer, sow, label and water. Easy, fast maturing cool-weather crops such as lettuce or radish get the gardener off to a successful start; you can segue onto warm-weather adventures such as tomatoes or eggplants come late May. As autumn approaches, sow cool weather crops once again, getting the most out of your patch of soil.
For cool weather flowers to direct-sow now, consider cleome, alyssum, cosmos, and larkspur. Wait on the zinnia, nasturtium & sunflowers until mid-May.
The Home Garden Seed Association (HGSA, www.ezfromseed.org ) has a wealth of information on their website, including the ten easiest plants to grow.
When we sow a seed, we are extending a handshake to Mother Nature. So don’t be bashful; step up and look Mother right in the eye. After all, we’re all partners in the great sport of gardening.