Dana’s big gardening adventure week two: starting seeds

April 4, 2008

Seed starters

Just before Easter my father and I had an interesting conversation about an annual contest he and his friend Marshall have to see who can grow the most delicious tomatoes. When I asked my Dad (who was raised on a farm) to share his tomato tips with me, I discovered that although I’m a relative city slicker, I’m a much ‘greener’ gardener than my dad.

While I’m starting three kinds of heritage tomato seeds on the window sill and intend to pamper my plants with non-toxic organic matter and kill any nasty leaf munching bugs with soap and water, my dad will buy his plant at Walmart or Home Depot and douse it regularly with commercial fertilizer and clouds of tomato dust bug killer. I’ve eaten the sandwiches made with his tomatoes in previous years so I know his method will create a great tomato. What I don’t know is if mine will be better. So, I’m going to invite myself to his tomato contest this year to see if my experiment results in more than just added peace of mind (or is it piece of mind? I’ve always been confused by that saying).

For those of you who plan to start tomatoes or any other garden plants from seed, here are my seed starting tips:

• I like the seed starter kits pictured above. They’re easy to use, lightweight and tidy. I bought my seed starter trays at the hardware store but you can order them from places such as Lee Valley as well.

• It’s never been easier to find heritage seeds. I saw some at the grocery store the other day and found even more in the garden section at the hardware store. However, I did order seeds for some specific items from an online seed catalogue. I found my supplier through Seeds of Diversity but a quick online search can point you in the right direction as well.

• This year the tricky part about starting seeds is anticipating when to take the plunge. My strategy has been to delay starting seeds for two weeks longer than usual to compensate for the crazy cold weather. (I can’t imagine I’ll be planting anything outdoors before late May this year).

• I’m also starting the plants that have a long maturation such as corn and pumpkins in pots. I’m hoping that by planting these items outdoors as plants instead of seeds that I’ll have some hope of a harvest before the fall frost comes.

• I label each row of seeds clearly. It’s important so that you can tell exactly what each plant is later on when it comes time to choose an appropriate place for it in the garden.

• In past years I found that the cells in these starters can be too wet to germinate seeds without growing mold. So, I recommend soaking them and then letting the cells stand for 12 hours before adding seeds. Later, water them often but sparingly (a spray bottle is ideal) so that you don’t wash away the seeds before they can drop roots.