Saturday, May 21, 2011

Planting a Vegetable Garden: Seed Starting Explained

Get yourself a greenhouse kit - ours came in a large-ish box and required no screws or tools or anything.

If you are at all like me when it comes to building things, you may want to call in some assistance. J does most of the putting together of things in our house. And then I turn the things into other things... usually dinner.

Make sure you find yourself a relatively bright location, though direct sunlight is not good for new seeds and baby seedlings.

Our dining room window was a perfect location to get our
garden started. The basil plant we picked up at the Farmer's Market a few weeks before was thriving quite well on that window bench.

With the plastic "glass house" cover stretched over the frame it was time to do some seeding.

Choose seeds that match the amount of sunlight to get in your garden. If the yard is shady all through the morning, you may not want to plant beefsteak tomatoes throughout. Some plants, like lettuces, like partial shade. Their delicate leaves get burnt by too much sun.

Also important to keep in mind, would you like to be harvesting throughout the growing season or are you waiting for a large crop right at the end of summer.

If you are like me, life's vicissitudes take you away from projects at times. For example, I got into grad school out east, which is great. Except it means I have to leave my summer garden here in Edmonton to go look for an apartment in Montreal before the beginning of fall term.

Pole beans and sugar snap peas sprout quickly and as long as you water them, will grow like crazy. They are easy to cook and are fun to pick as they grow taller and climb up things.

I like things that keep growing as you pick them.
Swiss chard and spinach are great. Butterleaf and red
leaf lettuces are also wonderful to have freshly picked for
sandwiches and salads.

Working in dirt is obviously rather dirty. Minimize the mess by purchasing handy little seed pods. They are compressed little pucks of dehydrated earth. When you pour hot water over them they expand and the outer netting can be broken away to make little holes for your seeds.

Don't be shy about the seeds. Best to put a few into each pod since not every one will take. You can thin them out as they grow.

Keep the plastic covers over the trays of seed pods
while they germinate. In a week or so you'll start seeing this!

Little Early Riser Beets (quite aptly named!) pushing themselves up out of their earthy beds. I think the beet shoots are the most exciting because of their so easily identifiable red stalks.

It makes me think about the early crop we hope to harvest later this summer before we leave for Montreal.

Keep your seedlings sheltered as they grow inside your greenhouse. It's very clear how delicate they still are and will need to be watched closely for the first little while.

When they get a little bigger and there are some obviously stronger seedlings, and this is one of the saddest parts about gardening, you have to thin them out and give the strong ones room to grow.

If they remain crowded in the little pods, their roots will all grow together and have to split the nutrients three ways. These poor little bok chois will meed a sad fate soon enough...

As it happened, this little seed nursery was started shortly before my 25th birthday.
As a gift, a good friend from work brought me plants that she had started from seeds as well.

Three separate containers of beefsteak tomatoes, each with several little seedlings, and a very special treasure: a container with three zucchini seedlings - all very healthy and strong. Zucchini should always be planted in three's, on a mound of dirt is best. Because you never know if you've got male or female plants, putting three together gives you the best chance at having your flowers pollinated to bring forth actual fruit.

One thing that we do not plan to plant here is lavender. I've seen some amazing lavender fields in my travels, most memorably in France, but I know how many years it takes to grow these sparse little plants into those marvelous domes of purple and green. I think someday when we have a house and a yard of our own we will put some lavender in to watch it grow year by year. But not in this house. Not when we're leaving in just a few months...

When you can be almost certain that any risk of frost has passed, prepare your garden bed.

Rake out any weeds that may have grown in. Remove large rocks and small stones and pieces of bark - anything that might get in the way of delicately growing roots.

Our soil here is a bit dry - with clay, sand, and coal deposits. We picked up some new garden top soil to mix in as well as sheep manure. J says it's better than cow because it doesn't smell as bad. I love that he knows these things...

We'll put everything in by the end of this weekend and see what happens. To be continued...

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