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Planting The Seeds Of Spring

The following is a regular column that addresses basic issues facing the ever-inquisitive back- and front-yard toiler, proffered by someone who knows best; one of the master gardeners from the Berkshire Botanical Garden in Stockbridge, Brian Cruey.

We’re so close to spring, can you feel it? No? Me neither. But it’s coming, rest assured. Even if it’s only just a day on the calendar for us folks here in the RI region, March 20 is the official first day of spring and it will be here before you know it. It’s time to warm up those green thumbs and get your head back into the growing game.

Around this time of year, the best thing that you can do is plan your gardens, take some classes or, if you really want to get your hands dirty, start some seeds indoors.

I’ll be totally honest with you — I’m not much of a seed starter. I’ve tried in the past, but it hasn’t always gone too well for me. My problem? I try to do too much. Starting seeds, especially indoors during the winter months, takes patience and a decent grasp of the science of germination and starting seeds. Temperatures need to be right, the timing needs to be calculated, and you need not only space, but space with sun — valuable and scarce real estate at my house. Unless you have a setup with grow lights and stand you are more than likely going to run into certain limitations.

For example, here’s what my typical failure looks like: I get really excited about starting seeds and go overboard. I buy six or seven seed starter trays and lots of seeds, and then I plant them all at once. In a couple of weeks I have beautiful sprouts that are ready to start their journey… but I have nowhere to put them. I start sticking them in windows that aren’t really adequate, rigging up grow lights that I forget to turn on or off and soon I have a lot of unhappy seedlings that really don’t stand much of a chance. I’m terrible with houseplants as it is, so this is a real test for me to begin with. I am a firm believer that part of being a successful gardener is realizing your limitations and your strengths (and that goes for both indoor and outdoor gardening). 

So here is my advice: Start small with just one tray of seeds. This can be anything from a particular annual that you like, garden vegetables or herbs — it’s up to you. Pay careful attention to germination times. If something germinates quickly, you don’t want to seed it in early February. Remember, you want to time your seedlings so that they can be put outside after the last threat of frost. The earliest I ever allow for that here is mid May, and even that is risky. You don’t want your seedlings spending too much time in their seed trays. Plants need room to grow and if you can’t put your plants outside, you’ll need to transplant them into a larger container in the interim.

Plugs ready for transplant.

Your best bet to get started is to get a seed starting kit from your local nursery or hardware store. These are simple units with a tray and a domed plastic cover, though some also include a potting mix as well. Different seeds have different sowing requirements, so make sure to read the seed packages closely and follow instructions.  When you have tiny seeds (like lettuces for example), it can be hard to get just one in an individual unit. That’s okay. When the seeds sprout, carefully remove one of the seedlings to give the others room to grow. Also, be careful not to overwater your seedlings. You want the soil to be damp to the touch but not soaking wet.

Lastly, put your seed tray somewhere you’re forced to see it everyday. This will help you to keep an eye on things even if you’re busy and, like most things, the earlier you catch a problem the easier it is to fix.

Note: We will be going into more depth on this topic in an upcoming workshop at the Berkshire Botanical Garden. Maureen Sullivan and Mitch Deldmesser, owners of Left Field Farm in Middlefield, MA, will focus on indoor sowing and growing practices. Click here for more information.

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Posted by Lisa Green on 02/23/15 at 07:53 PM • Permalink