Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Tips for Successful Seeds Starts

For those of us who live in the north, starting some types of garden seeds indoors several weeks before the final frost is essential. Otherwise, they don’t have time to mature. Even gardeners who live in warmer southern climates often have better success starting certain fruit and vegetable seeds in a sunroom or greenhouse. 

One big advantage of indoor sprouting is protection birds and insects. Also, you don’t have to worry about weeds stealing nutrients and sunlight from your indoor sprouts. Once you transplant your starts in the garden, you are likely to see an earlier and more productive yield. Also, because each seed is a tiny power pack of nutrients, you don’t need to add fertilizer to your potting mix.

Garden plants that adapt well to indoor sprouting include:

  •   Tomatoes
  •   Corn
  •   Beans
  •   Bell Peppers
  •   Hot Peppers
  •   Cucumbers
  •   Pumpkins
  •   Winter Squash
  •   Cantaloupe
  •   Watermelon
  •   Broccoli
  •   Cabbage
  •   Eggplants
  •   Strawberries

What You’ll Need:
  1. Soil
    Potting soil designed for seed sprouting is the best medium for indoor starts. It should be fresh and sterile. I’ve also had success with peat pellets – those flat circles that expand with water. When it’s time to transplant, you can put these right into the ground, and they will eventually dissolve. Meanwhile, you don’t have to disturb your plant’s tender root system, so you minimize the shock of transplanting.

  2. Seed Trays
    You can buy plastic seed trays at the local mart, but all you really need are a number of small containers. Those little plastic pots you saved from last year’s garden work fine, and so do empty yogurt containers. The main thing is making sure the pots you use are clean and sterile. Peat pods or pots work great for sprouting and transplanting.

  3. Warmth
    Garden seeds need warmth to germinate. Put your trays or pots in a warm but not hot place, like on the clothes dryer. You can also purchase heated mats designed for germinating seeds.

  4. Light
    If you have a greenhouse, a sunroom or a bank of south-facing windows, you’re set for sunlight. Otherwise, you may need to set up some fluorescent lighting to ensure your young plants get enough light to thrive. If your seedlings look thin and rangy, you should provide more light.

  5. Water
    Naturally. But how much? During the germination stage, the soil should be moist but not wet. Use the clear lid that came with your sprouting tray or a loose square of plastic wrap to hold in humidity. Once the sprouts are up, uncover them and water them from below so that the plants can draw only what they need. Surface watering may encourage mold or bacterial growth.
Next week: Transplanting Tips for Indoor Plant Starts

Do you have some advice to share about your own seed sprouting experiences? Please help broaden everyone’s gardening know-how by leaving a comment below!

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Blog Series: Survival Gardening for Self-Reliance: Tips and Tricks

Part Four: How to Design A Successful Emergency Garden

When your goal is feeding yourself and your family in a crisis, you have to plan ahead. Earlier in this gardening series, we talked about buying heirloom seeds packed for long-term storage. We discussed choosing a mix of fruits and vegetables for balanced nutrition. Now, armed with your gardening know-how, you are ready to draw up a strategic garden plan.


Selecting the right space

Keep in mind the basic needs of plants when choosing a good space for your garden:

  1. Full sunlight

    Site your garden to the south of buildings and away from trees that cast shade. Most heirloom fruits and vegetables do best with 6-8 hours of full sun per day. Place the tallest plants, like sweet corn, at the northern edge of your plot, so they don’t cast shade on shorter plants.

  2. Good drainage

    Consider soil and slant when selecting your garden spot. Healthy plants need good drainage. If your soil is mostly clay, for example, you should prepare your site by bringing in better soil. Don’t plan to plant in a hollow where rainwater collects and sits, and don’t put your garden at the base of a bare hill where a heavy rain could wash away your hard work.

  3. Water

    Your plants need a consistent source of water throughout the growing season. Take this into account when choosing your garden site. In a crisis, you may have to source rainwater or creek water, so you should have a plan for making that possible, and ideally have the components, such as a cachement system, in place.
Layout considerations

Once you have chosen your garden spot, figure out how much space you have to work with. If you are planning a big garden, remember that the larger it is, the more work and water it requires. The biggest plus of a large garden, of course, is the big harvest. Plan a garden as large as you and your family can reasonably manage.

To make the most of the space you have, you could:
  • Grow upward instead of out – plan to trellis peas, beans, cucumbers and melons. Trellising improves yields, makes harvesting easier and saves horizontal space.

  • Combine plants to maximize space. For example, combine corn, squash and beans. The beans climb up the corn stalks while the squash spreads below.

  • Plant new rows of certain crops every few weeks to expand your total yield of food. Crops like radishes complete their growing cycle quickly, so plant more rows throughout the summer to have a continuous supply.

Drawing it up

Use graph paper or garden planning software to draw up your emergency garden plan. Start with the outer dimensions, and then decide how to divide up your space – in a grid, in a series of rows, in hills or in groupings of plants.

Don’t forget to give each plant enough room to thrive. Check the spacing requirements for each variety as you plot your layout. Also, include pathways so that you can easily reach your plants throughout the growing season.

Are you interested in seeing some sample emergency garden layouts? If so, let us know, and we will post some in the coming weeks!

Illustration for article: