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STORIES FROM PATINA MEADOW
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STORIES FROM PATINA MEADOW

SEED STARTING WITH LEILA

One of the reasons I love gardening is because it allows me to immerse myself in the seasonal rhythms of nature.



Spring is a time of rebirth, a time to emerge from dormancy and bring forth a new hope for the future. While we may still technically be in winter, the emergence of daffodils and the budding trees suggests otherwise, serving as a signal that it is time for me to join in on the reawakening.



One of my favorite ways to welcome this season is by starting seeds, so today, I thought I would share some tips on seed starting in hopes that it helps you find harmony with nature (and so you can grow yummy food of course :) )



FIGURE OUT FROST


Before you (and I) get too excited and start planting willy-nilly, we have to consider how long our seeds can live in their pots or blocks (more on that later) before they need to head outside to continue their growth. The last thing we want is a bunch of heat-loving plants like watermelons that need to be planted out, while we stare at frost in the forecast. 



So, to avoid this, look up your last projected frost date. You can do that here. Now, this is just an estimate based on previous years' weather. As we all know, Mother Nature likes to keep us on our toes, so you might end up getting hit with a frost 2 weeks after you expected! But, in gardening and life, all we can do is plan for the future using the information we have presently in front of us.


READ YOUR SEED PACKETS


The back of a seed packet is your best friend. Here you will find all the information you need, and usually more, for starting your seeds out on their best foot or root…sorry, bad plant joke.



Take stock of the time to transplant (usually this is somewhere between 4-8 weeks before you want to plant outside), the temperature your seeds like, and the planting depth. 

  

PICK A LOCATION


I am blessed to have access to greenhouses, so I begin all my plants there, but you absolutely do not need a greenhouse to get plants started. Depending on your climate and the plants, you can start your transplants in many ways.



If you are starting cool-season vegetables, like broccoli, beets, cilantro, cabbage, and lettuce, depending on your climate, you can start them outside now, just cover them with a sheet if you are expecting a frost or you can bring them inside. If you want to go for a low-maintenance way of planting, a lot of people have success starting seeds in winter in milk jugs or gallon containers outside (more on that here if you are interested!)



For warm-season veggies, like peppers, that can be started now but prefer warmer temperatures, start them inside. Now, if you want to get fancy and speed things up, you can place them on a heating mat and put them under grow lights, but putting them in an area of your home with direct sunlight will also get the job done,


SELECTING A SEED STARTING MIX


Throughout my gardening journey, I have found that plants are a lot like people. In that vein, seedlings are a lot like children, the environment in which their roots are planted matters and impacts the rest of their lives. For this reason, I highly recommend using an organic potting soil or seed-starting mixture. Non-organic options can contain unknown ingredients such as chemical fertilizers and products for insect and pest resistance, which harms the microorganisms that are imperative to the health of your plant. 



I like Fort Light by Vermont Compost. It is a compost-based potting mix with excellent drainage, which is optimal for seed starting. However, any organic potting soil will do. I would recommend sifting your medium if it contains large pieces of bark or other organic matter so as not to inhibit the roots.




PICKING A POT (OR NOT!)


Since I try to avoid plastic wherever possible in my gardening, I opt for soil blocks or biodegradable CowPots for my seedlings. 



Soil blocks are a relatively recent discovery of mine, and have quickly become my favorite way of starting seeds. Rather than having to purchase expensive pots year after year, you just purchase a soil blocker (here is the one I have), and some trays (here is the tutorial for ours) and you’re all set for the foreseeable future.

I made a little video on my Instagram making soil blocks if you would like to see how I make them!




For plants that need a bigger start, or if you would prefer to start all your seeds in a pot, I think CowPots are a great option. Instead of being manufactured out of plastic, they are made of cow manure, which means you can plant them directly in your garden. 



Both options are great, not only because they avoid plastic, but because they reduce the chance of transplant shock, a condition that can occur when plants are removed from the container they are initially grown in and moved into the soil. They also create stronger root systems through something called air pruning. Air pruning is when some roots either grow through the soil block or CowPot, which forces those roots to stop growing and allows the roots within the block or pot to strengthen. 




SOWING YOUR SEEDS


Now that all the preparation is done, you can sow your seeds! I like to play some music and allow myself to get lost in the flow. It is a rather meditative task that quiets the monkey mind and brings me so much joy.



After you have tucked your seeds into the soil, or placed them on top of the soil, depending on the specifications of your seed packet, give them a long misting or gentle watering so that you thoroughly wet the entire block or pot but don’t disturb your newly sown seed.  Make sure you label your trays with the name of the plant and the date you started it so that you can keep track of everything!




CARING FOR YOUR SEEDLINGS


It may take up to two weeks for your seed to germinate, depending on the kind of seed you have sown. Make sure to mist your starts whenever they are drying out as consistent moisture is necessary for germination and healthy growth. On sunny days, this may need to be done 2-3 times daily so just keep that in mind! 



After what seems like forever, your seedlings will start to emerge. Water them whenever the soil begins to dry, but make sure you don’t overwater. It’s hard to say what overwatering is, but don’t worry, you’ll find out the hard way like I have many times if you are! A telltale sign is a yellow discoloration of leaves, and then if you don't heed their call, they’ll just give out on you and keel over, it’s very fun!!



You don’t need to feed them until they establish their true leaves, which will emerge after the cotyledons, which are the first leaves that will shoot up from the seed. After that, you can fertilize them with an organic liquid plant food diluted to half strength once a week until they can be planted out. 


If you have to keep your plant indoors for longer than expected, you can transplant it into a larger pot to allow it to continue to grow since plants will only grow as large as their roots can support. 


Thank you for joining me as I nerded out on seed starting. If you have any additional questions, please leave them in the comments and I would be happy to answer them. If you can’t tell, I love talking about this stuff! Happy growing :)


Love, 

Leila 



1 Comment


Thanks so much for sharing your knowledge with us! Talking about spring reminded me of something I just read...Rumi said, "There is no proof of the soul. But isn't the return of spring and how it springs up in our hearts a pretty good hint?"

~ (excerpt from Devotions - Mary Oliver)


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