Grow Your Own Plants What To Look For
Whether you have a massive plot, or just a few planters, growing vegetables is satisfying as well as healthy. From brassicas to blueberries, here is what to look for:
ADVANTAGES OF GROWING FROM SEED
Gardening has become one of the most popular hobbies in America today. Many people use gardening as a way to relax, relieve stress and enjoy the great outdoors. If you have been gardening for any length of time, you know how pricey the hobby can get. From an economic standpoint, growing plants from seed is by far the cheapest way to populate your plant community (unless a friend is sharing with you). A packet of seeds will cost about $1.50 to $2.00 depending on the variety. A flat of 36 plants can cost between 10 and 12 dollars. Planting seeds represent a significant monetary savings, not to mention it’s a lot of fun.
The more you learn about gardening, the more you realize how commercially grown plant selections can be very limiting. It is easy to go out and buy multiple flats of beautiful plants each spring, but you will probably have the same flowers as everyone else on the block. The need for immediate gratification is certainly satisfied, but it does not take long for a gardener to discover that growing plants from seed opens up a whole new world in terms of the wide selection of varieties that are available for your garden. Before you know it the “need for seed” is a driving force in your hobby.
Seeds make it possible to grow heirloom plants and rare, unusual annuals and perennials that are not commercially available. The seeds from these plants can be harvested every year and shared to ensure the continued survival of these plants. My 86-year-old grandmother gave me some poppy seeds that came from the plants that her mother (my great-grandmother) planted; these flowers have been faithfully reseeding and blooming on her property since the late 1940s. I truly feel like I have a link to our family history because I now grow the same flower. Thanks, Granny! If you are lucky enough to be the recipient of some treasured pass-along seeds, heed the advice of the giver concerning the seed’s requirements because if they have seed to share, they have obviously done something right!
Growing plants from seeds at home can also give you more control over the plants health and longevity. Starting the seeds indoors 8 to 10 weeks before the average date of the last killing frost (depending on variety and where you live, check the seed label) can extend the blooming or production time. It is also a certain cure for the seasonal cabin fever that afflicts gardeners about that time each year. When danger of frost has passed, harden off the plants over time to acclimate them to the outdoors and transplant them into the ground at the optimal time to avoid leggy or root bound specimens that you sometimes find at retail nurseries.
Growing plants from seed is an art as well as a science. Many different techniques will produce healthy plants. Experiment with different methods until you find what works best for you.
KNOWING AND PEPARING YOUR ENVIRONMENT
Six Steps, from Seed to Garden
A seed starting tray with a built-in watering system makes seed starting foolproof.
- Find the right containers
You can start seeds in almost any type of container, as long as it’s at least 2-3 ” deep and has some drainage holes. If you are the DIY type, you might want to grow seedlings in yogurt cups, milk cartons or paper cups. I prefer the convenience of trays that are made especially for seed starting. It’s easy to fill the trays, the watering system ensures consistent moisture and I can move them easily.
- Prepare the “potting soil”
Choose potting soil that’s made for growing seedlings. Do not use soil from your garden or re-use potting soil from your houseplants. Start with a fresh, sterile mix that will ensure healthy, disease-free seedlings.
Before filling your containers, use a bucket or tub to moisten the planting mix. The goal is to get it moist but not sopping wet; crumbly, not gloppy. Fill the containers and pack the soil firmly to eliminate gaps.
Remember that most mixes contain few, if any, nutrients, so you’ll need to feed the seedlings with liquid fertilizer a few weeks after they germinate, and continue until you transplant them into the garden.
Good-quality “potting soil” for seed starting doesn’t actually have any soil in it. This sterile, free-draining mix is perfect for seedlings.
- Start planting
check the seed packet to see how deep you should plant your seeds. Some of the small ones can be sprinkled right on the soil surface. Larger seeds will need to be buried. For insurance, I plant two seeds per cell (or pot). If both seeds germinate, I snip one and let the other grow. It’s helpful to make a couple divots in each pot to accommodate the seeds. After you’ve dropped a seed in each divot, you can go back and cover the seeds.
Moisten the newly planted seeds with a mister or a small watering can. To speed germination, cover the pots with plastic wrap or a plastic dome that fits over the seed-starting tray. This helps keep the seeds moist before they germinate. When you see the first signs of green, remove the cover.
- Water, feed, repeat
as the seedlings grow, use a mister or a small watering can to keep the soil moist but not soggy. Let the soil dry slightly between watering. Set up a fan to ensure good air movement and prevent disease. I use a fan that’s plugged into the same timer as my grow lights. Remember to feed the seedlings regularly with liquid fertilizer, mixed at the rate recommended on the package.
- Light, light, light!
Seedlings need a lot of light. If you’re growing in a window, choose a south-facing exposure. Rotate the pots regularly to keep plants from leaning into the light. If you’re growing under lights, adjust them so they’re just a few inches above the tops of the seedlings. Set the lights on a timer for 15 hours a day. Keep in mind that seedlings need darkness, too, so they can rest. As the seedlings grow taller, raise the lights.
- Move seedlings outdoors gradually
It’s not a good idea to move your seedlings directly from the protected environment of your home into the garden. You’ve been coddling these seedlings for weeks, so they need a gradual transition to the great outdoors. The process is called hardening off. About a week before you plan to set the seedlings into the garden, place them in a protected spot outdoors (partly shaded, out of the wind) for a few hours, bringing them in at night. Gradually, over the course of a week or 10 days, expose them to more and more sunshine and wind. A cold frame is a great place to harden off plants.