Time to sow! (part two)

Time to sow! (part two)

Congratulations! You’ve ordered your seeds and are ready to prepare for their arrival. (Missed part one? Read it here.)

First, you’ll need to find a place to set up your seedling operation for success. For us here in the Atlanta area, it is difficult to rely on natural sunlight alone. Most seeds and seedlings require 14 to 16 hours of sunlight from a south facing window each day – hard to come by this time of year. Luckily this need is easily met with grow lights. There are LED and fluorescent options available. Root Farm has a great All Purpose LED Grow Light, and I’ve had wonderful results with my fluorescent set-up from DuroLux. These hang from hooks on the ceiling so you will need to find a place where you have a flat surface that you can set your seed trays and space above to hang the lights. Look at your space with an open mind and be creative. I lay a scrap piece of wood from our renovations on top of the sink in my office/workshop. 

Next you will need containers to plant your seeds. I recommend seed trays with multiple cells that come with liners to make your life easier. If you are gentle with them, you can use these trays over and over again. You can also make this an opportunity to upcycle items that would end up in the recycle bin or those dreaded #5 plastics that can’t be recycled. I have re-used yogurt, cream cheese and mushroom containers. Just make sure to punch some holes in the bottom so your babies have proper drainage, and you’ll need to get creative in the way of trays to hold them (think aluminum pie plates, etc – once you start upcycling and reusing you’ll never look at your trash the same way again!).

OK, now for the medium you will need for your baby plants-to-be. There are various seed starting mixes available commercially such as Jiffy Organic and Natural Seed Starting Mix, and I have had success with Fox Farm Ocean Forest, which is recommended by Wild Abundance. Both of these, unfortunately, contain sphagnum peat moss as most mixes do. The procuring of peat moss from peat bogs releases carbon into the atmosphere (not a good thing). To avoid using peat, you can make your own seed starting mix. It’s simply one part coco coir (made from the fibers of coconut shells) in lieu of peat moss, one part perlite, and one part vermiculite. All can be found at your local garden center.

Next, you will fill your seed trays or containers with the medium of your choice. I like to pre-water my mixture so it is evenly moist, and I can tamp it down in my trays. Now for the seeds. Each seed has a particular depth to be planted. Some need just a ¼ inch and some require just a dusting of soil mix, depending on how much light they need to germinate. Planting depth for all seeds can be found on the back of your seed packet. When first planted, lower your lights so that they are 2 to 3 inches from you seedlings-to-be. As they start to grow, you will be raising the height of your lights so you maintain this distance throughout their growing process. You will want to provide them with 14 to 16 hours of light per day.

Because I become attached to everything I grow, I find this next step difficult, but it is absolutely necessary. Once your seedlings have germinated, you will want to find the healthiest baby in the bunch within each cell and remove the rest. After I have done this, I normally put them into my compost so they can become part of a piece of the growing cycle. Call me sentimental, but I don’t want those little slices of life to go to waste. 

In the coming days and weeks, keep your soil evenly damp but not wet. I often water from below by adding it to the trays underneath the cells so the soil and roots take up the water as they need it. Make sure they are getting light everyday and wait for the magic to happen!

You’ll find many resources on the web to help you along your seed growing journey. I find The Spruce to be a helpful resource. One such article is Common Mistakes Made While Growing Seeds Indoors, which will be a helpful reference in getting you started. I think the best advice is to simply have fun and enjoy partnering with nature to create life. There’s nothing better.



It’s time to sow! (part one)

It’s time to sow! (part one)

You may remember a couple of posts back when we suggested growing some of your own produce as a way to reduce plastic consumption, so we’d like to help you get started. You seasoned gardeners out there already know this, but aspiring growers may be surprised to hear that now is the time to start our veggie (and flower) gardens inside.

I know that the thought of starting seeds may sound daunting. Believe me, I completely understand. It had always been a dream of mine to start my gardens from seed just like I watched my grandfather do as a child.  I was very intimidated, but I needn’t have worried. There are a lot of resources out there to help, and you will find that gardeners absolutely love to share their knowledge. And, if you are anything like me, you will fall madly in love with those first sprouts that you and Mother Nature tenderly coaxed from seed. It truly is magical.

My first recommendation is… start small. I made the mistake of being overly excited and starting far more seeds than I could keep up with (and space to plant!). Luckily, if you take this route too, you can always find other aspiring gardeners to take those seedlings. Decide on a few vegetables that you and your family enjoy and start there. The first step is knowing which seeds you start inside and which ones you sow in the ground. 

To get you started, these are plants that are best started indoors:

  • Fruiting plants like tomatoes, eggplant, peppers and squash
  • Greens like lettuce, kale, arugula (Bonus – these can be direct sown in the ground as well)
  • Any members of the brassica family like broccoli, cabbage, or cauliflower
  • Most flowers

Now that you know what you would like to grow, check out what time of year you need to start those little guys inside. Johnny’s Selected Seeds has a very handy Seed-Starting Date Calculator that is simple to use. Simply enter the date of the final frost date, and you can see exactly when you should get started. Hint: Average final frost date for the Atlanta area is March 23.

It’s time to order your seeds. There are many great seed companies out there that offer organic and heirloom varieties. You may have heard of some of the larger organizations like Seed Savers Exchange, which are wonderful, but consider exploring the catalogs of smaller companies like Southern Exposure Seed Exchange. These folks focus on providing seed varieties that do well in the Mid-Atlantic and Southeast. This is important when choosing your vegetable varieties. You want to make sure that they can survive and even thrive in our hot, humid summers and tough clay soil.

While you’re waiting for your veggies-to-be to arrive in the mail, you’ll have time to decide the best place for your growing endeavor and to gather your seed starting supplies. Stay tuned for our next “Time to Sow” post for tips on where best to situate your mini greenhouse and what equipment you will need to get going. Teaser: it’s not as much as you think! Read part two here. 

Happy growing!