Sarah’s Rap: Spring is almost upon us and it’s that time of year when I start thinking about prepping my vegetable garden. We’re still having some chilly temps and even had snow last Monday, so it’s too early to put much out in the garden yet, partly because I despise gardening in the cold and partly because another freeze could negate any hard-earned work I do outside. I prefer to start seeds indoors at this time of year. Ideally, I should have started this a couple weeks ago, but I tend to follow a laissez-faire style of gardening where I am not super strict due to a busy schedule and my unwillingness to let gardening “must do’s” add to my stress. As soon as gardening responsibilities start adding stress, that’s when I take a deep breath and give myself a break. I like to plant things when I can and just to see how they do. Occasionally, I read gardening tips and implement them when I can, but I have learned over the years that I do better with an ” wing-it” approach. This allows me to fit in gardening a little bit at a time, have fun with it and still have a nice bounty throughout the year.
If you want to try your hand at vegetable gardening, this is a good approach to start with. 🙂 You don’t need to get out a ruler to space things out, you can eyeball it. What I call “laissez-faire gardening” is an approach that lets you learn as you go, find out what works best for your climate and soil type, what is higher maintenance than you prefer and what’s not, and what your family likes best. If you have time to do a little research, that’s great, but if not don’t let that keep you from getting started and doing it every year! This casual approach to gardening is a great way to get your kids involved as well. Gardening should be fun, not stressful. I have found that even though I am no longer a novice veggie gardener, I still follow a bit of a willy-nilly method as it suits my busy lifestyle, is fun and surprising to see what does well, and I’ve also moved across country so am once again learning what’s best for my region. Having said that, I’d also like to share a few tips and resources that can also help you to get started with more confidence.
First up…indoor seed starting! Today I’ve designated as my indoor seed starting day. This is where I like to browse for and plant seeds in a seed-starting soil, getting whatever appeals to me and/or I use often. Some seeds will say on the back if they do better started indoors or outdoors. I try keep in mind the space of my garden and the season. Look at the back of packets if you are not sure how big plants get. If you don’t have a garden bed, you might want to check out an easy to assemble raised bed, get some planters or just designate a spot in your yard. This is what I have put in at the house I am renting. Worried about not having a sunny spot in the backyard? Don’t forget you have a front yard! I put my right in the front yard. If your neighbors have trouble with it, that’s their problem. It’s your yard, your health and your hobby. It wouldn’t hurt to share some of what you grow to smooth things over if anyone complains, but it’s not likely. My garden in the front has been quite the conversation starter with my neighbors and they like to see what grows throughout the year.
As to what to plant, it’s not rocket science to know what is in season – most of us know this already by when produce is at its best and cheapest at the store. Just visualize what is going to be in season in about 10 weeks, as an estimate. Those are the things you should be planting now. You can also look at the back of seed packets and here is a quick “what to plant now” guide as well by a company that also sells non-GMO seeds. Using non-GMO seeds and plants is very important to me. I’ve read enough about genetically-modification to know that is not what I want to be putting in my garden. I get really excited when I find heirloom seed varieties, as they’re often variations that I cannot find in my produce aisle. First up, the supplies. Remember, this is for just seed starting. You can start here and have a month or so to get something going outside, such as a raised beds, planters or a designated area. Look for another article on that later in the month.
- A seed starting tray with soil included (i.e Jiffy Plant Starter Kit, also found at your local hardware store). I prefer the ones with individual peat pellets in mesh, but you can get an empty tray with clear lid and fill with seed-starting soil (peat) if you prefer.
- Vegetable Seeds (i.e. heirloom organic variety by Pure Pollination, or any organic/non-GMO seeds found at your local hardware store or plant nursery)
- A fluorescent light that can be hung (i.e. like this one)
- Something to hang the light, if not a stand variety. (i.e. a hanger like this or what I started with… long pieces of wire to twist around the light and a clothes line like this to attach it to)
- A warm spot to grow – (a dryer works great or another warm place in your home)
- A small watering can or pitcher
- A spray bottle (like this adorable one)
- A notebook to keep track of what you plant
- Optional: round price stickers like you use for a yard sale or blank address labels
Option 1: If you are starting with peat or seed-starting mix and a shallow plastic tray – fill the tray 2/3 full with the peat/mix and slowly add warm water until moist. Add a little more peat to the top as it has likely settled a bit. Spray the top with warm water and let sit 15 minutes. If the peat is not fully moist, add a bit more water and wait until fully absorbed. I like to lay pieces of string down to mark short”rows” on the top of the peat going parallel to the shorter side but this is totally optional. Fluff up the top of the peat a little with a plastic fork or your fingers.
Option 2: If you are starting with a kit, like I like to do (see above pic), add warm water (approx 6-10 cups, depending on size of tray). Let sit 15 minutes (until fully moist) and pour off any excess water. If the peat pellets are not fully moist and the water is gone, add more water and wait a bit longer for it to absorb. Once moist, rip open the tops of the peat pellets, keeping the sides intact. Fluff up the top of the peat a little with a plastic fork or your fingers.
Next: For both options, add 2-3 seeds per peat pellet or per 2″ square of dirt. Put the seeds in rows and in your notebook write down what you put in each row (and/or write it on a sticker and affix it to the outside of the plastic base at the bottom of each row). Fill a whole short row (i.e. 5 peat pellets) with the same type of seed. You can even fill multiple rows of seeds you really like. Once you have the seeds on the top of the soil, fluff the dirt up around each seed. Seed packets will tell you how deep to plant, but in true laissez-faire style I prefer to guess based on the size of the seeds. Tiny-small seeds are just going to have thin layer on top (1/8″ – 1/4″). Larger seeds, like beans and squash are going to need about 1/2″ of dirt on top.
Put the clear top that came with the kit on top. If you don’t have one, you can cover with clear plastic wrap for now, but you’ll need to rig something up to get a little more height on your make-shift cover as it grows (duct tape and a strip of cardboard might do the trick. Remember – wing it! )
Now put the tray somewhere out of the way and warm. I used to use the top of my dryer, but now I have a spare bathroom which has no showerhead (and tends to attract spiders for some creepy unknown reason) and therefore the bathtub is never used. I put my tray in this with a heating mat under it because it is not a warm room. You can buy heating mats online or use a warmer room (or somewhere near a heater vent).
Now hang up a fluorescent grow light about 2-4″ over your seeds. These are very affordable and reusable year after
year. They provide much better light for growing than just a window or regular bulbs, which will not be enough. I suspend mine over the plants by using rope or a portable clothes line. They also make hangers, but I tend to improvise. It’s not used that often and who cares what it looks like! Obviously if you choose to use something like a tub, be sure that all cords are well out of the way in case someone accidentally turns on the water. Choose a higher location if you have young kids or cats that might get into the dirt or play around the cords, such as the dryer, a table or shelf. You can also buy stands for this sort of thing.
Turn on your grow light daily when you wake up and turn it off when you go to bed. Wait approximately 4 weeks misting with water occasionally to keep the peat moist, but not too wet. Seedlings will start to grow and you’ll be hooked! It’s pretty cool to grow something from a seed and have it turn into a plant that bears produce! I’ll post again on moving things out to a garden, but what you’ll do is “harden off” the seedlings before putting them in the garden. This is where you gradually get them used to being outside before moving them to the garden.
Good luck and most importantly, HAVE FUN!! Feel free to shoot me any questions you have and I’d love to see pics.
This year, I planted the following seeds. What did you choose?
- Mustard Greens
- Swiss Chard
- Butternut Squash
- Green Onions
- Yellow Wax Beans