In my previous post, I mentioned some of our favorite heirloom, organic seed companies. Now is the time to start browsing, dreaming, planning, and getting excited about your garden!
But what do you do when your seeds arrive? Those tiny little bundles of garden promise must be planted and nurtured indoors until the cruel chill of winter has passed. Although every plant has its own timetable for germination and transplanting outdoors (which means that not all seeds should be started at the same time), and some seeds can be sown directly into the grown, mid-March through mid-April is roughly the appropriate time indoor seed starting here in Michigan. Before that time comes, you will need to determine which seeds to start indoors and gather all of your supplies.
I think one of the best things you can do to prepare for a gardening adventure is research. Blog posts can only cover a limited amount of information at a time, so I would strongly recommend investing in some good books that will serve as a reference for years to come. Some of our favorites are:
- Mini Farming: Self-Sufficiency on 1/4 Acre
- The Heirloom Life Gardener: The Baker Creek Way of Growing Your Own Food Easily and Naturally
- Four-Season Harvest: Organic Vegetables from Your Home Garden All Year Long
- Grow Great Grub: Organic Food from Small Spaces
- One Magic Square: The Easy, Organic Way to Grow Your Own Food on a 3-Foot Square
- You Grow Girl: The Groundbreaking Guide to Gardening
- Rodale's Ultimate Encyclopedia of Organic Gardening: The Indispensable Green Resource for Every Gardener
After a bit of research, you'll need to plan what to plant your seeds in. We have about a gazillion of the 72-cell plant trays which we purchased for peanuts at a local farm auction, but you don't have to be that fancy. You can use empty egg cartons, which are perfect and since repurposed, very eco-friendly, but you need to start stocking up if you want to have a decent collection of plants. You can also make cute little pots out of newspaper using this cool handy-dandy
PotMaker® The Original Pot Maker tool, which we actually did one summer. (OK, I have to be honest here... our friend Ron was staying with us at the time, and he was the one who made all the pots, over 600 of them.... I'm not sure I could have had the patience for that many, but if you don't need 600, it might be a great solution! A good job for kids?).
If you are a complete newbie to seed starting, you might want to go the easy (albeit slightly more expensive route) to seed starting and purchase a starter kit. Hydrofarm makes a nice starter kit, the Hydrofarm CK64050 Germination Station with Heat Mat, that includes a 72-cell tray, a heating mat, and a dome lid for around $25. With this kit, you will still need to purchase your planting medium, but that gives you some choice and flexibility to choose organic , which is nice.
We use and love Light Warrior® Agro-ponic® Grow Medium for starting our seeds (on Amazon, about $25/bag with shipping). It is so chock-full of nutrients that we do not need to fertilize the little guys. When we transplant to pots, we use the Light Warrior again, providing a burst of fresh nutrition, and it is quite some time before the plants are in need of fertilizer. You might want to find a hydroponics store locally, to save on shipping, although we still pay almost $20 a bag at our favorite local organic grow store, Horizen Hydroponics in Kalalmazoo. If you use soemthing like peat as a starting medium, you will need to fertilize regularly, since peat has no available nutrition. A great fertilizer to use would be Bonide Fish Emulsion Plant Food, 16 oz..
Where to keep your seedlings once they germinate? In most cases, simply setting your tray of plants in a sunny window will not provide adequate light, and your seedlings will be tall and spindly, if they grow at all. My husband is quite the handy guy and was able to build us a grow shelf out of 2 x 4s, pressed board, and standard shop lights (photo above, post to follow soon with instructions). Building your own grow shelf is by far the cheapest way to go, and you'll also end up with a much sturdier product, but if you are not inclined to building your own, then check out the
Hydrofarm JSV4 4-Foot Jump Start T5 Grow Light System . It gets pretty good reviews and should provide ample room for starting seeds for a small to medium garden.
Once your seedlings have reached a height of a few inches, they will need to be transplanted. You can use plant pots, or you can use paper or plastic cups, or you can be super eco-savvy and recycle household items like empty yogurt and cottage cheese containers, coffee cans, frozen juice cans, etc. Whatever you choose, it should be able to withstand at least a few weeks of watering without completely deteriorating.
Once your seeds are planting, you should mark them with the name of the plant and the date you planted. There are special wooden plant markers that they sell for this purpose, but they are outrageously expensive and unnecessary. We buy a jumbo box of popsicle sticks and use those. Voila! Any leftovers can be used in a kids' log cabin building contest.
And finally, you will need to provide ample water and and nutrients to your little babies. A simple watering can is all that's needed. This OXO 1069727 Good Grips Indoor Pour & Store 3.17-Quart Watering Can, Blue is a nice little one if you want something sturdy and attractive. But why not be eco-friendly, and turn an empty 2-liter bottle into a watering can following these simple directions? So easy, free, and green! (Just make sure your holes aren't too large, you don't want to drown your delicate seedlings.)
Whatever you choose for watering, I recommend a spout with mutiple small holes, as opposed to a can with just one larger pouring spout, so that you don't flood your tiny plants. Some people mist instead of watering, but in my experience, it takes an awful lot of misting to keep those babies damp, especially if you are using a very bright light.
So start browsing, planning, arranging... planting time will be here before you know it!