From the dirt to our plate; the trials and realities of first-time farm ownership

Seed Starting – the first order of business for spring.

Seed Starting 1

Each year, as the days start to get longer every gardener can’t help but to anticipate getting their hands dirty. Starting seed whispers a promise that spring is right around the corner and the time has come to start planning for the garden season ahead. Not only are we able to time our starts for planting according to the climate zone we live in, we can also ensure greater variety by shopping seed catalogues and choosing the type of produce we wish to grow.

I’m a bit of an overachiever when it comes to garden planning. By logging what I grow, where I grow it and when I grew it, I am able to rotate crops to ensure the best use of soil and space. Planning forward to the next year’s garden in the fall, I make notes for soil improvement, any pest issues and what I hope to grow the following year. It’s always a great idea to track the start date of plants you grow from seed each spring. That’s how this year I know to plant a new row of lettuce seed every 2 weeks so it doesn’t arrive all at once!

Seed Starting 2

Seed starting is a relatively simple task. Beyond general plant knowledge you will need an area with heat, light, planting containers with growing medium (starter soil) and moisture. For some, this area will be a greenhouse, a room with a grow light or even a window sill facing south. Wherever you choose to start your seeds make sure all of the required components are consistent.

Starter kits can be purchased at any garden center or you can improvise and use something you already have. Egg cartons, rolled newspaper pots, toilet paper rolls stuffed with newspaper and growing medium – the options are endless.  Use a proper light-weight potting mix to help retain moisture and allow for adequate root growth.

Before filling your planting medium with seeds make sure you have a good idea how long each plant must germinate and how long before expected harvest. Here is a list of a few plants best started indoors – especially if you live in a northern climate with a shorter growing season.

  • Peppers 8 weeks prior
  • Tomatoes 6 weeks prior
  • Broccoli 10 weeks prior
  • Cabbage 10 weeks prior
  • Cauliflower 10 weeks prior
  • Eggplant 8 weeks prior

On average a good rule of thumb is to start germinating your seeds 8 weeks prior to the last frost date in your area. By doing so, this will allow enough time for the life of the plant to reach maturity before the frost hits in the fall. Many plants can be grown directly from seed in your garden and don’t require starting indoors.  Seeds with a harvest maturity of 27-60 days can typically be planted directly into the ground.

Seed Starting 3As a side note, propagation from cuttings is another great option if you over-winter plants in a greenhouse. This can be done 2-4 weeks later than starting plants directly from seed. I’ve done this successfully with cherry tomato plants I couldn’t bring myself to destroy when summer came to an end. Not only did I enjoy tomatoes all winter long, the next spring I simply rooted cuttings in water and enjoyed the fruits of my labor for the second summer in a row!

Knowing where your seed comes from and the quality of seed you are using is very important. With an ever-increasing interest in Non-GMO or Certified Organic produce there are a number of seed distributors who can furnish what you need. A personal favorite of mine is Seed Savers Exchange, they offer orders via catalogue and their website. Their mission is to promote and conserve heirloom varieties by collecting, growing and sharing heirloom seeds and plants. Once more, their catalogue is filled with spectacular images and educational articles on where their seed comes from and how to collect your own seed for future use.

There’s no better way to get your own garden started than by getting some dirt under your nails and some experience under your belt. Gardening can be a lot of trial and error but the rewards are undoubtedly wonderful. Try growing in a pot, box, or garden plot – even if you start small, at least you are starting somewhere!

Feel free to check out www.seedsavers.org for more information on the seeds they offer.

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