Tuesday, March 9, 2010

A black thumb's guide to green thumb gardening

Starting seeds for a vegetable garden in the house in the spring shouldn’t come as a stress or a chore. It’s an exciting time of year where the gardener can dig into the growing season while it’s still white (or muddy) outside.

First, start by making a list of the species and varieties of plants to go into the garden. You can start as many plants as you want, but take space and light into consideration. A southern exposure window works best, giving plants the most light during the light-retarded March and April. Keep in mind, plants get bigger and will need more space when moved from the starting medium, such as a peat pot to a plastic or clay pot, prior to planting in the garden. Starting, say thirty tomato plants, will take up a lot of space. And that’s not even counting the eggplant, peppers, herbs… It’s easy to get overexcited. Keep space in mind.

Second, order seeds, either from a seed catalog or buy them directly from the store. The store is more convenient, but they might not offer the variety that a seed catalog will carry.

Third, gather supplies. You’ll need enough peat pots and sterile soil to start your plants. Sterile soil refers to pathogen-free soil, which basically means clean peat or starting soil, not what’s available in the yard. A sturdy tray to hold the starts and water also comes in handy. Once the starts move from starting medium to a pot, prior to finding their final home in the garden, you might need a large tray beneath all the pots to protect your flooring and furniture. Ideally, everyone could have a sealed outdoor greenhouse, but not everyone has such a luxury. Plants need a lot of water, especially if you use the Jiffy Peat Soil Starter Plugs or something similar. A half inch of standing water is normal for seed starting and you don’t want muddy water running all over the house.

Four, look at the calendar. Most plants need 4-8 weeks start prior to going in the garden. Both seed catalogs and the Farmer’s Almanac contain information specific to geographical areas. For Michigan, folklore says plant above ground plants, peppers, tomatoes, on the new moon, or as the moon is waxing, growing larger, and below ground plants, potatoes and carrots, on the full moon, or as the moon is waning, growing smaller.

Five, last but not least, have fun. It’s not about how well the garden does. If it flops, at least you got to dig in the dirt.

Further information about starting plants and gardening in general is available online: