By Mary Ellen Shaw
If you are looking for something different to do with the free time you may have right now why not try growing plants from seed?
I have been doing this for about 30 years and it’s a great way to obtain exactly what you want for flowers or veggies. There are some very high-tech ways to accomplish this as well as some simple ways. It’s always best to start off with an easy method and move up as your knowledge and skills grow.
The basics you will need are: seed starting mix, a container and sufficient daylight. You can even grow seeds in an empty yogurt container. Punch several small holes in the bottom. If you do this from the inside it provides better drainage than punching from the outside. Add your seed starting mix and leave about a half-inch of space at the top.
Read the seed packet for the proper planting depth, which is usually just under the dirt’s surface. Place 3 or 4 seeds in the container as not all seeds are apt to germinate. Put your container on a plate or tray to catch the excess water. Water gently or use a mister.
The container can be covered loosely with cling-wrap which creates a greenhouse effect and helps to keep the soil from drying out. It’s best to avoid direct sun at the beginning but a nice bright window is perfect. Gradually give the container some direct exposure to the sun. When the plants are ready to go outside, they need to be “hardened off.” This means about 10 days of gradual exposure to sun and wind. They should be placed in a protected outdoor area to start. I usually limit my plants to an hour or two of outdoor time for the first couple of days. Once the danger of a frost has passed your plants will be ready for the garden!
I have a different method for starting tomato seeds. I use a small-cell greenhouse that holds peat pellets. Each pellet comes with netting and contains the proper potting mix. Just pour some warm water over the netting and it expands. A small hole in the center allows you to place your seeds inside. Once they start growing and the plants are too tall for the netting I place each one in a small pot filled with seed starting mix. Tomatoes grow quite quickly so you will probably need to transfer them to a larger pot before hardening them off.
I use an east and a south window for growing. My handy husband, Peter, devised a way for shelves to be placed inside the windows. He attached a vertical board to the sides of the wooden window frame and drilled holes in the board to accommodate brackets. This allows the shelves, which are boards cut to the width of the window, to be adjusted to different heights as the plants grow. Our 1938 house has large windows which allow me to grow quite a few plants.
Your seedlings may not be ready for planting until shortly after Memorial Day because of a cooler than usual April but they will soon be growing strong once the warm days arrive.
So hold onto that empty yogurt cup and try growing your favorite outdoor plants. It will keep you busy and when the plants are ready to start their new life in the outdoor soil, maybe we can start living our own lives like we used to. I am more ready for that. How about you?