My Favorite Thing About Spring…Planting Seeds
The thing I like best about spring is starting seeds inside my home. Starting seeds is easy and very rewarding. Before spring arrives, however, one of the joys of winter is mulling over the colorful seed catalogs that arrive in the mail.
A few years ago I bought a small “greenhouse” that fits nicely in my sunroom. It’s 3’x4’ wide and about 6’ high. It has four shelves and each shelf holds two flats of seeds, so I can start lots of plants in a compact space. It’s on wheels so it turns easily to allow optimal sunlight for the seeds and seedlings. It has a plastic cover with a zippered door so regulating heat and moisture is easy.
However, you don’t need a greenhouse. You can use a table (or other space) where your seeds can be left for about six weeks. I recommend a south facing window and it’s important to control the temperature of your seeds. Most seeds germinate at 70ºF. You can use a warming mat or find a warm spot in your home such as the top of a refrigerator. You will need to determine when your average last frost date is for your area. If you don’t know, you can consult the cooperative extension office in your area. Count backwards about six weeks to determine when to start your seeds. Generally in central New York it’s the last day of May.
I start with clean flats and good seed starting medium (I recommend that you purchase a premade mix), and of course, lots of seeds. Start with some easy to grow varieties that are suited to your area. Some of my seeds are purchased and some are harvested from the previous year’s plants. I’ve gotten pretty good at saving seeds. I found the best way to dry them is in old hosiery in a jar half full of rice. This gets all the moisture out quickly and transferring to storage is easy. I save all sorts of small glass jars (jelly, mustard, etc.) to store the seeds after they have dried.
I try new varieties all the time, but have some favorites that I plant every year. One of the old-time Master Gardeners recommended Scarlet Runner Beans for a nice climber. They have beautiful red flowers and are edible. The bean seed itself has an interesting purple and black design. I also start Morning Glories to plant around my mailbox, and Nasturtium for a peppery and colorful addition to salads and soups. Yes, a lot of flowers are edible.
I start by planting seeds in trays of peat pots with seed-starting potting mix. After watering well, I cover them with plastic wrap until they sprout and grow to about an inch high. I then uncover the seedlings and let the greenhouse take over. All the seedlings need is warmth, water and lots of sunlight. When the seedlings are ready to plant outside the peat pots can be planted right in the ground.
Check your seeds daily and keep the planting medium moist. If you water with chlorinated water, let it to sit overnight to allow the chlorine to dissipate before using it. Most seeds do not need light to germinate, but as soon as they break through the surface, give them plenty of light. To develop healthy stems and leaves, plants need about 14-16 hours of daylight. You can also fertilize your seedlings with a weak liquid fertilizer after they have developed a few leaves. When you are close to the time to transplant your seeds into the garden “harden them off” by gradually exposing them to the outdoors. Place them in the shade of a tree for an hour the first day and increase the amount of time each day until you are ready to plant.
You don’t have to fret if you don’t have space for a big garden. I often plant pots of flowers and veggies on my deck. Herbs like basil, sage and dill, and veggies like lettuce, tomatoes and peppers look really nice planted amongst flowers in big pots. If you have flowerbeds, you can add vegetables in between your annuals and perennials.
Let this be the year you try planting some seeds! It’s economical – and it will give you the tremendous satisfaction of growing something from start to finish. And, did I tell you that it is easy?