Monday, January 21, 2013

Seed Starting part 1: Decide What to Grow!

Yes, spring is still months away, but it is time to get ready to plant! If you want to grow tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant from seed, you will need to get those seeds started around the end of this month so they can grow into strong sturdy mini plants by the time the outside soil warms up. Seed starting is exactly what it sounds like: planting your seeds and getting them to start growing. However, since it is winter and your seeds won't grow well outside where it is cold and dreary, you will need to create a cozy spring-like growing environment for them using grow lights and/or heating mats. If all goes to plan, by the time spring rolls around, you will have beautiful leafy plants ready to put in your garden.

Perhaps you are wondering why anyone would even bother with seed-starting when they could stop by their local nursery in March to buy bushy tomato plants somebody else started. In fact, many of my gardener friends think I am crazy for starting my own seeds. It is a lot more work, but I find it to be more rewarding as well. At the risk of sounding like a complete weirdo, I feel much more emotionally attached to the tomatoes I grow from seed than I do to those I buy from OSH. That is not the main reason I start my own seeds, though. The main reason is: VARIETY.

Have you perused the Baker Creek seed catalog or website yet? They offer tons of rare, heirloom seeds with which you can grow tomatoes and other vegetables that you have never heard of and certainly can't buy at the nursery. Paul Robeson, Black Cherry, Orange Icicle, and Snow Fairy tomatoes. Sweet Chocolate bell peppers. Just a quick perusal through their tomato seed offerings might be enough to convert you to a hopeful seed starter. I love the idea of growing and eating rare vegetables, or vegetables I would only be able to eat if I visited another country. This year I went a little nuts on my seed order and am scrambling around trying to make enough space to grow TEN different varieties of tomatoes!

This week as I get ready to start my own seeds, I'll be writing a series of posts on seed starting so you can follow along with me. Trust me: it is not hard, and you don't need to be a gardening expert to do it. I am certainly no expert, but I have messed up enough gardening projects to have learned some things by trial and error.

The first (and for some of us shoppers, the most exciting) step is to decide what you want to grow in your garden this year, buy the seeds, and then figure out what seeds to start. In my early years of gardening I used to start every single plant from seed in January and have since determined that is NOT the way to go. Many plants, like peas, beans, sunflowers, zucchini, carrots, as well as lettuce and other greens start just fine when planted "in place." In other words, wait until after the last frost when the soil has warmed and is easy to work, and stick those seeds right where you want the plant to grow. If your soil is healthy and there is plenty of sunshine, they will germinate and grow just fine, sometimes better than they would if you started them earlier and then transplanted them.

Other plants, like tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant, take much longer to grow, which is why they need to be started within the next week or so. I am still on the fence when it comes to cucumbers - this year I will start a few cucumber seeds and see how they do. I have had very bad luck with transplanting cucumbers - once I plant them out into the garden they just sit there looking sad. So in addition to starting some cucumber seeds, I'll also plant some in place come spring. All that to say: by the end of this month, plan on having tomato, pepper, eggplant, and cucumber seeds ready to start. I am also starting some basil and flower seeds as an experiment. This is a helpful chart about seed starting - it gives tips on how to start a variety of seeds, as well as listing when it is safe to transplant your starts to the garden.

The weather is sunny and gorgeous outside today, and writing this post has me itching to get out my shiny new seed packets and put them in some dirt. The next post will talk about setting up a grow light system - much simpler than it seems. Happy seed shopping!

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