Editor's Note: Small Space Gardening by Diane Dryden is a series of garden articles that will run the entire summer with information for both new and experienced gardeners. Every two weeks the articles will update as the gardening year progresses; from picking out a site up to harvest in the fall.
Okay, let's plant seeds! But not all of them that you'll be growing. When I say "all of them," I mean either all the seeds in the package or the various types of seeds you've purchased. Many seeds in your stash need to wait for another six to eight weeks before they can be sown directly into the ground.
Right now, we're talking about planting those seeds whose back-of-the-package info says to start indoors 6-8 weeks before the planting out date.
Here's another time you need to think ahead. How many in the package of seeds would be practical for your space? And how much and how often of this product are you planning to eat fresh? Another question you can ask yourself "What are my plans for my surplus crop? Am I into canning or freezing the rest, or will I share it with others?"
There's nothing that says you have to plant all the seeds in the package. Take cabbage. Even if you're crazy about the stuff, how many days can you eat it in a row? Remember, they will ripen at the same time when they're planted at the same time.
Back to cabbage. Five big heads will make around a dozen jars of sauerkraut. Or there's always kimchi, an Asian version of sauerkraut that has added ingredients and can be very hot. Not into those foods?
Ripe cabbage heads will store for months if you have the room with the right conditions, but there's nothing like a fresh head for making coleslaw. Considering all that, you might not want to plant the whole package. Or maybe do another planting 2 weeks later so you can stagger the crop.
Have a plan before you succumb to buying seeds from that wall of garden temptations in the big box stores. A plan that includes the number of varieties you're going to grow in your garden and how many will need to be started ahead of planting time at the end of May.
Say you start with a recycled clean recycled rotisserie chicken container. It's deep with plenty of room for soil. They usually come with clear lids, and you can sprinkle-plant quite a few seeds in them. Now think forward a few weeks to a month. Each seed will result in a plant that will eventually have to be "potted on" into a larger container.
I use recycled 8 oz. Styrofoam coffee cups for my transplanting. I poke a hole in the bottom with a pencil for drainage. Holding the plant by the leaves, not the stem, I pull the plant out of the soil and gently place it in its new home using the same pencil to make a hole in the soil. After watering the new pots, I put them in the bottom of one of those large seed-starting set bottom tray.
Suddenly I've increased the size of my needed growing space from the size of the chicken container, that's maybe 5" by 8" to the area 20 to-go coffee cups take. Multiply that theory to all the seeds you're starting, and you can see why it's so important to think ahead concerning the room you have available.
People with the room, usually a greenhouse, can start their entire garden inside. I find it amusing that gardeners in England start just about everything in a small greenhouse. They even begin corn inside. But, I suppose if you've got the room . . .
Ready to plant indoors? Okay, let's go.
You can buy potting soil, or you don't have to. You can use what you've already got, like some from your property. Potting soil does give them an extra boost, and it doesn't come with weeds, but the plants will be living in your soil all summer, so it's your choice.
Fill whatever you're going to use for seed planting and make sure the soil is warm.
Pick out the largest seeds in the package and plant seeds at twice their depth.
When planting tiny seeds, it's best to thoroughly water the soil before you plant. That way, the seeds aren't disturbed by water sloshing on them, dislodging them, or worse yet, floating them to the top of the soil. Just push the seeds into the wet earth. A piece of cling wrap over the top never hurts to keep the soil moist until they sprout.
If you're using peat pillows, cover them with an inch and a half of water and after they have swollen to twice their size, push the seed into the wet peat, and pinch the growing medium around the top. Put the cover on, put on a heat mat, and make sure it stays moist. This year I'm trying my hand at growing canna lilies from seed, so I am soaking the seeds for 24 hours in warm water to get them started.
Seeds usually take between a week or two to break the surface, but consult the package for all the information, including their sun and water needs as newborns.
Newly planted seeds need consistent daylight and warmth. They do not like their soil constantly wet, just moist.
If you're using grow lights, they should be placed around 6" above the soil and only on during daylight hours. Once the sprouts are first up, don't think of transplanting them until their second set of leaves appear. For some reason, these are called their true leaves.
Your goal in this first step is to analyze your seed survival by checking on the height of the plants. If they're tall and leggy with only their first leaves on top, they need more sun, or the grow lights need to be closer, so they are not wearing themselves out reaching for the light.
Remember to mark your containers as to what you're growing in them, and I like to add the date I planted them.
Next time we'll wander into growing herbs and starting potatoes.
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