In our house, expectations have been growing – literally. I’ve shifted from starting my seeds on every available windowsill in our home (last year’s somewhat haphazard plan) to focusing on starting my seedlings with intent.
With a metal utility shelf, and fluorescent shop lights rigged up on every level, I’ve managed to start a whole whack of my vegetable seeds, not to mention a few annuals thrown in there for good measure.
Of course, I did this while Mr. Suburble was out on an errand. Nothing gets my Determined Juices flowing like an offhand comment such as, “I don’t know that you can fit a shelf full of lights in the laundry room.”
Cut to Tara dragging a fully-assembled shelf through the garage door while muttering to herself, “This is happening. I will MAKE this happen.”
Sidenote: what does that say about my personality? I’d rather struggle and heave a shelf on my own than ask someone to help me do it? Hmmm….. we’ll delve into that bottomless pit of self-analysis later.
This year, I’m very excited to be a part of the Scotts Gro Crew – a group of Canadian gardeners who will be using various Scotts Canada products in their lawn and garden projects. When I began my seedling project at the beginning of March, I was excited to be transferring my wee plants into pots of Nature’s Care – Miracle Gro’s new organic line of soils and fertilizers. But until then, I had to get these sprouts to come out of their shells.
Every year I learn more and more about seed starting, and this is how I approached the job this year.
1. Start the seeds out right
With all of the fussing that we do around seeds and growing, you’d have to wonder how Mother Nature managed to handle things on her own up until we humans started messing about with cultivating crops and saving seeds.
And yet, I don’t mind the fuss.
Seeds do best in a seed-starting medium, as opposed to a potting soil. Potting soil is often too rich and retains too much water when compared to a seed starting mix. The Miracle-Gro Seed Starting mix is a combination of peat moss and perlite with just a dash of plant food – a lightweight medium that encourages little seedlings to sprout.
While Mr. Suburble was doubtful about the room I had for my grow lights, he was right about the fact that there wasn’t enough room to pot my seedlings indoors. I use my greenhouse as the spot to sow – and eventually transplant – my little crops into seed starting trays.
It may seem like a time-saver to just plant seeds into larger containers, but the small cells of seed starting trays allow for the growing medium to dry much faster than in a larger pot – thus preventing the seed from becoming suffocated or rotted by too much water.
Plus, look at the space-saving potential these little trays offer! More room = more plants!
2. Give them light, food, and air(!?)
Now, I can say that this year, I dropped the ball on one of these basic plant necessities. And for that, I will have to plead ignorance.
I was very conscious of watering my plants when their soil was dry. And I made sure to thin the seedlings once each cell got a bit crowded. The seed starter was already equipped with food, so I didn’t have to worry about that.
But I forgot about air. Not simply the surrounding air, but the MOVING air. Seedlings do best with a gentle breeze on them as they grow. Not only does it help to prevent damping-off – a fungal disease that attacks young seedlings – but it also allows for seedlings to experience some of the wind gusts that the Big Scary Outside World holds for them. They develop hardier stalks and are more accustomed to waving in the breeze.
And when I was visiting my mother over Easter Weekend, I saw that she had small oscillating fans blowing onto her seedlings. Innocently, I asked her why she had set up this strange setup, and she told me.
My heart dropped. I didn’t know about the necessary fan for my laundry room grow-show.
Ugh. Off to dig one out of the garage.
3. When ready, transplant into (slightly) larger containers
The small plant cells are a fabulous place for seedlings to start out. However, after a certain amount of time, they need the space and the nutrients that a slightly larger pot of soil can offer.
Despite the fact that my tomatoes, peppers and squash are not ready to be living full-time in the greenhouse, I brought my trays out to the potting table so that I had room to spread out and make a proper mess.
I used Nature’s Care Potting Soil to fill my next-size-up tray of containers (2 1/2″ pots). One thing that I get a kick out of is the tone of voice used on the bag’s packaging.
I feel as though the copywriter for the packaging could possibly be one of my friends. From the description of the “mopey” water-starved plants to the casual planting instructions, I love the conversational tone. I get the feeling that they were written for gardeners who are just starting out on their planting journey.
Because let’s get real – seasoned gardeners aren’t reading the instruction portion of their potting soil, are they? It’s those who are just learning who are studying every paragraph. And this sometimes-Nervous-Nelly finds it helpful that a friendly voice is talking back to her.
I did not enhance this potting mix with compost, mainly because it is already enriched with alfalfa meal, bone meal, worm castings and kelp meal. When I move these plants into their slightly larger pots, I’ll include some healthy compost mixture in their soil. But until then, this mix should do the trick!
I was so impressed with how my seedlings came out of their cells. Their little roots encased around the soil made me feel as though I’ve done something right.
And yes, I know in my head that all seeds WANT to become plants and that this is just Nature living out its destiny, but there is still a small thrill in seeing the seed’s successes.
On the potting table, I’m able to make the mess that gardening warrants. A Type A gardener, I am not.
After a few minutes of careful repotting, I had a whole flat of tomato babies, ready to go back under their grow lights.
And the peppers and squash waited in line right behind them!
My garden beds have been turned, and a few seeds have been tucked under the earth. April’s showers have kept the sun at bay in our neighbourhood, but I’m sure that I will blink, and suddenly I am hardening off my seedlings and finding places for them in raised beds.
But until then, they’ll live in the laundry room. With a fan blowing on them, like a good plant-mother would do.
Thank you to Scotts Miracle-Gro Canada for providing me with the opportunity to play with your Organic soils and various other products. As always, all photos, seedlings, messy greenhouses and fits of determination are my own.