All the seed orders have arrived, so I have no more excuses not to get starting seeds. I have a pretty good sized garden (not as big as some of my friends – wow!), about an acre or so. It's a bit of a crazy quilt. I like to plant a lot of different things – vegetables, flowers, herbs, all jumbled together.
Reasons I Plant so Many Different Vegetables, Fruits, Flowers and Herbs
Pest Control – If the critters are going to come after my plants, I want them to have to work for for their lunch. I recommend the book Great Garden Companions for some ideas on how to use plant families and their companion plants to boost your garden production.
Biodiversity – I believe one of the best ways to preserve biodiversity is to eat it. We are loosing food plant varieties at an alarming rate. Even if I only plant a couple of plants of a particular variety, I'm still helping to keep that seed in production. I share with friends, too. I figure every little bit helps. (Love, love, love the book Heirloom Vegetables.)
If you look at the numbers, it's a pretty scary situation.
The world’s food supply depends on about 150 plant species. Of those 150, just 12 provide three-quarters of the world’s food. More than half of the world’s food energy comes from a limited number of varieties of three “mega-crops”: rice, wheat, and maize.
I've grown everything from sunchokes to mache to quinoa (although the quinoa wasn't very successful). This year I'm giving peanuts and hulless oats a try.
IT'S FUN! – Why grow only russet potatoes when you can grow potatoes that are purple, yellow and red? Why grow only red, ping pong ball tomatoes when you can grow tomatoes that pink, purple, green-striped, yellow, orange, white, turban-shaped, sausage-shaped – there are literally thousands of options. The garden starts humming with pollinators early in spring as the companion plants lure in beneficial insects, and keeps humming until hard frost. The scents, the colors, the flavors – it's lovely!
Here's what needs to go in the dirt this year.
Oh, and some of the bean seeds…
and a few other bulk seeds and saved seeds.
I'm trying out some new potting soil this year. (No, I haven't started mixing my own yet, maybe next year.) I found an organic brand at one of the local garden stores (Stein's, for those who live in the area). I won't use Miracle Grow potting soil any more. In my experience, when you use Miracle Grow it's a miracle if your plants grow. My mom had the same problems. I think they put so many chemicals in the stuff that it stunts and burns the seedlings. Don't believe me? Take a look at this photo from a few years ago.
Both of these cell packs were planted at the same time with the same seeds (Painted Tongue flowers). The one on the left was Miracle Grow potting soil. The one on the right was a competitor (Schultz? – can't remember). I refuse to buy Miracle Grow products anymore. I buy starter without added fertilizer and water with fish emulsion once in a while.
How to Start Your Own Garden Seeds
Choose the right seed starting mix – Along with the Organics potting mix, I've also got some earthworm castings from Whitetail Organics. My nephew has gotten into the worm business and set me up with some high-octane worm poo. I used some around the garden, but I saved a bag for seed starting. I tried a few cells with just worm poo, some with the recommended ratio of 3 parts potting soil to one part worm poo, and some with just potting soil. We'll see if I can notice a difference.
Our basement was set up so that it could be used as an apartment for aging parents (or any other friends or family who may need it), so I've got a sweet setup in the form of a kitchenette between my root cellar and the door to the attached greenhouse. Since we are currently without added housemates, it's my gardening area.
I've got water at the ready and my mess is contained quite nicely. Here's a peek at the organic potting soil and the worm castings. Potting soil is on the left, castings on the right.
Rule of thumb for planting – place seeds in dirt roughly three times as deep as the diameter of the seed. Seed packets should give specific instructions, but if you've got loose seed, this is a good general rule. Some seeds need light to germinate, so they should be planted on the surface or only very lightly covered.
I used to plant my flower seeds by lightly sprinkling them over the surface of a container full of dirt, wait for them to germinate, and then transplant the little seedlings into their own individual cells. The resulting seedlings often ended up, as my mom would have said, “thicker than the hair on a dog's back”. Transplanting was a huge headache, and the roots would become so tangled that the tiny seedlings would often suffer transplant shock, slowing their growth significantly.
In recent years I've switched to planting the seeds in individual cells. This is still a hassle, as these little buggers are tiny. Check out these photos. Here are several dozen petunia seeds.
Look at this Painted Tongue seed on the end of my index finger. (It's the itty-bitty brown dot.)
Planting many flower seeds is like planting grains of pepper. If someone's got a better way of doing this, please let me know. While this is less work than transplanting the fragile, often overcrowded seedlings, germination rates are frequently lower than 100%, which leaves me with empty cells. I do buy pelletized seeds for some things (like wave petunias), but they are much more expensive.
Mark your seedlings – many plants look similar when they are small. Last Sunday I finally buckled down and started planting – three “flats” with 72 flower cells each, blue wave petunias, Painted Tongue, and Denim Blue pansies (my youngest loves blue). I use popsicle sticks broken in half as biodegradable plant markers. They're very inexpensive, too. If you're new to planting, a general rule of thumb for depth of seeds to to plant a seed as deep as the seed is wide. So, with really tiny seeds, they are typically just barely covered or sometimes even left on top of the soil (most packages will have directions).
Here are my first “babies”, ready to get covered to keep them from drying out while they wait to sprout.
Provide adequate light and good air circulation. Several years ago, my husband built me a really nifty seed starting rack with lights on adjustable chains. I park this in front of our south facing windows in the basement (it was night by the time I finished planting).
To give the plants plenty of light with some downtime at night, I use a plug-in timer on the lights.
So, a couple of hundred seeds into the soil, many hundred more to go.
If you're looking for a chart of when to start your seeds, here's a nice reference to get you started. If you're looking for ideas about where to buy seeds, you can check out my favorite seed sources. If you have specific questions about starting seeds, feel free to drop me a note and I'll see if I can help. Heaven knows I've made just about every mistake at one time or another – from killing seedlings by keeping them too wet, causing “damping off”, to putting them out in the nice, warm, spring sunshine a little too long the first time out (which also killed them). Too wet, too dry, over-fertilized, under-fertilized, overcrowded, root bound…yeah, I've had these things happen at one time or another, too. One of my favorite things about gardening is that if you screw up you can always try again. 🙂
You may also enjoy:
- Build Your Own Seed Starting Shelves
- My Favorite Seed Sources, Seed Storage and Germination – Printable Seed Longevity and Germination Charts
- When Should I Start My Seeds? Printable seed starting calendar
- Tomato Mania – Seed Starting, Transplanting and Troubleshooting