Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Spring Fever: Preparing to Plant Seeds

My fingers are itching. No, I don't have a skin condition, I have spring-itis. It's main symptoms are a strong desire to pick daffodils, plant seeds, and listen for robins singing outside a window.

Oh, you have it, too?

There's a treatment for spring-itis, ya' know. Start some seeds!

Okay, I have a confession to make here. (Yet, another confession!) I have a compulsion to buy seeds. My friend, Amber, says it's a problem, but I think it's only a problem in her eyes because she has to hear about all the seeds I buy.

I truly don't know how to resist all those little packets with pretty flowers or veggies,or herbs on the front. So, I do what any other gardener would do, and I buy seeds.

Before any seeds are bought or started, you need to figure out a few things.
  1. You need to know in which growning zone you live. Knowing this zone will help when you starting thinking about what to plant and if it will actually grow in your zone. You don't want to buy an orange tree (which would do well in Zone 9) if you live in Maine (Zone 3-5). The USDA has a nifty little map that will tell you in which zone you reside. Here it is on the National Gardening Association website.
  2. You need to know where you're going to plant your seeds once they actually become plants. How much space will you have to plant? Will you be planting in the ground, in a container, or will you be doing vertical planting? Does your spot get morning sun, afternoon sun, all day sun, or all day shade?
  3. You need to figure out want to plant. There are many different options, from vegetables to herbs to fruits and flowers. Deciding what to plant may be the most challenging! My advice is to get a few catalogues from reputable seed companies (like Jung Seed) and start looking. Most experienced gardeners will tell new gardeners (that may be you) to start small--start with a few plants. I'd say, if you have a burning desire to plant okra (like I did) even if you've never ever in your life planted okra and don't even know what an okra plant looks like (like I did), then you should plant it (like I did). Do, however, start with just a few of your favorites and don't plant every thing you see in a seed catalogue. (As a side note, the okra grew beautifully and was very productive, partly because I planted the type of okra that was known to grow in my zone.)
So, you have your zone, you have your spot, and you've selected the plants you want to plant. You've even bought your seeds. What next?

Next, let's gather the materials we'll need.

Starting seeds is remarkably easy (and when I say "easy" I mean that nearly anyone can do it and be somewhat successful, even someone who has never started seeds before).

You'll need the following:
  • Your seeds. Some plants, like tomatoes, bell peppers, cabbage and eggplants, do best when seeds are planted in a little pot or container, instead of being planted directly in the ground. This is especially true if your growing season is short, or if the plants take awhile to get to a point to produce fruit or vegetables.
  • Little pots or containers or peat pots. Some people use cleaned yogurt containers, or buy the little starting kits from places like Wal-Mart, Target or Lowes. I like the pellets and have had good success with those. I've seen lots of information on the internet about making your own starting pots from toilet rolls, egg crates or newspaper, and for a new gardener, they're incredibly frustrating and they didn't work well at all for me.
  • Starter soil. This is not potting soil, nor is it dirt! Starting soil is lighter weight than potting soil or dirt and will allow those young, delicate roots to grow like they need to. Depending on how many seeds you plant, it's likely you won't need a whole lot of it, so don't go buying it in 10 lb. bags.
  • Labels for the seeds. You'll need to keep track of what you planted in which pots. This is easy if you're only planting one type of seed. You can use anything fancy, or just a sheet of paper with the name of the seeds written on it, tucked under the set of pots.
  • Lights for the plants. I use plain fluorscent shop lights I bought at Lowes for under $15 each. The fluorescent light bulbs will work fine--you don't need to buy special light bulbs, honest. (I didn't believe it at first, either.)
  • Something to cover the seeds. Remember those starter kits I was talking about? One of the things they have are the clear plastic covers that cover the seeds and soil to keep in the humidity while the seeds are trying to sprout. You can buy the kits or use plastic wrap, the plastic "clam shell" containers (like which comes with a salad at the grocery store salad bar) or even an aquarium turned upside down with the pots in it. Last summer, I found VCR storage containers at a garage sale for 25 cents each! They have covers which will be good for starting seeds and retaining the humidity and warmth as the seeds begin to sprout.

So, now you have your supplies. Get ready, because it's almost time to plant those seeds!

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