Starting seedlings indoors: Part one

So why would I grow my own seedlings?

  • It’s cheaper. For ~$10, you can get a package of seeds and a bag of soil. The average package of tomato seeds contains ~50 seeds. If 80% of them germinate, that means each plant will cost you 25 cents. And if you save your own seeds each year, your plants will be much cheaper!
  • You can try more varieties of plants than what are usually available in greenhouses, such as purple peppers or black tomatoes.
  • You can grow plants for your schedule. You don’t have to scramble to find a greenhouse that has good-looking plants when you are ready to move your plants outside.
  • It’s exciting to watch your plants take root!

Which plants do I start inside, and when?

The seed package should tell you if you need to start the seeds indoors. If it doesn’t, you can look online to see what growers in your area recommend.

In eastern Ontario, peppers are started 8-10 weeks before the last frost
If you count backwards from the average last frost date for your region, you can get an idea of when to plant your seeds: http://www.almanac.com/content/fros…

What do I need?

  • Seeds
  • Sterile soil, preferably formulated for seedlings and sprouts
  • A warm, sunny location. You can use a heating mat to accelerate germination, if you like.
  • Containers – seedling trays or any shallow containers with appropriate drainage.

What do I do?

  • Read up on the specific plant you want to grow. Most are started in soil, by placing them under a light cover of soil and keeping them moist (but not soaking wet) in a warm location that has access to sunlight. Using a seed tray and cover, as well as a heating mat, provides seeds with the warmth and moisture that many of them need to germinate.

Seed tray and heating mat
  • Some plants that have tough shells (like pumpkins) and/or are difficult to germinate (like peppers) can be started by placing the seeds between a damp folded piece of paper towel, which is then placed in a closed Ziploc bag over a warm heat source, such as a heat vent. Once the seed has sprouted, you can carefully move it to soil (cutting the paper towel as necessary to protect the root).
  • Make sure to keep the soil damp according to the type of plant you are going to grow. Some like more water than others.
  • Rotate the trays as needed to ensure that they receive light.

Anyone else have any other tips?

We’ll check in later once our seeds have sprouted.

Just dirt for now…

That seedy neighbourhood

AKA, what can I GIMBY?

Before we rush out to get some seeds, we need to consider our growing conditions, such as the amount of sun and type of soil.

Sun

If you have full sun, you are lucky. 🙂
If you have a lot of shade–well, here are some plants for you: http://www.motherearthnews.com/orga….

Soil

Most plants do well in loam soil. Loam is a combination of sand, silt, and some clay. It’s porous enough to allow water to be absorbed and roots to grow, and contains more nutrients and humus than sandy soils. Silt is the second best choice. It’s also suitable for most plants.
If your soil has a high proportion of clay, it’s heavy and not very porous. Vegetables like broccoli, brussel sprouts, and cauliflower may do well, but, over time, you may want to add compost and other materials to it to improve it: http://homeguides.sfgate.com/plant-….
If you have sandy soil, then root vegetables are your friends: carrots, turnips, radishes, onions, and garlic. Sandy soil tends to dry out, blow away, and leach nutrients. You’ll need to add a lot of compost, mulch, and other organic matter to it if you want to improve it.

Structures

Do you have any fences that plants such as beans and cucumbers can climb? How about an deck on which you can place some herb planters? Herbs like oregano and mint can run wild if put in a garden; it’s best to keep these contained.

Seeds

Previously, we mentioned plant hardiness zones, which you can use to determine if a vegetable or fruit will thrive in your climate. But, you don’t really need to refer to these zones if you buy from your local seed supplier’s catalog. If you’re shopping on the internet, by all means, keep your plant hardiness zone in mind!
Your local seed supplier grows plants on site, and offers only those varieties that thrive where you live. They may also have tips for specific plants or varieties. Seeds sold in chain stores may be bought for entire regions or countries, rather than being selected for specific climates.
Here’s where we get our seeds:
  • Local seed suppliers that specialize in organic heritage varieties.
  • Seed exchanges, which you can attend to exchange or buy seeds from local gardeners. Here in Canada, now is the time to go! https://www.seeds.ca/events
  • Last year’s plants. Peas, beans, squash, corn, peppers–many plants produce seeds that are easy to collect and keep for the next year.
Happy seed collecting!

Plant of the week: Onions

Onions are one of the easiest plants to grow.  You can skip the lengthy process of growing them from seed, and buy onion sets from your local hardware or gardening supply store.  Onions can be planted in amongst your flowers, and they don’t look out of place.  If you plant them in stages (for example, plant a dozen every two weeks), you can ensure you have a steady supply of green onions all summer.

Ideal growing conditions

  • Hardiness zones 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, and 9
  • Plant as soon as the ground can be worked, in areas that receive full sun
  • Set in the ground, root side down, no more than 1 inch deep, 4 inches apart, in rows at least a foot apart

Types

Onions are sensitive to the amount of daylight they receive.  There are three types:

  • Long day onions need 14-16 hours of sunlight to grow bulbs
  • Intermediate day onions need 12-14 hours of sunlight to grow bulbs
  • Short day onions need 10-12 hours of sunlight to grow bulbs

Your local supplier will keep onion sets in stock which correspond to the amount of sunlight your area receives.  You can usually choose between onions that grow large bulbs (suitable for storage), and those whose bulbs stay small, for use as green onions in salads and the like.

Friends

  • Beets
  • Broccoli
  • Cabbage
  • Carrots
  • Lettuce
  • Peppers
  • Potatoes
  • Roses
  • Spinach
  • Strawberries
  • Tomatoes

Foes

  • Beans
  • Peas
  • Sage

Fun fact

Onions are said to destroy osteoclasts, which are bone cells that resorb bone tissue and weaken bones.  As such, they are said to benefit women undergoing menopause (during which osteoporosis is a concern).

It’s February; why are we talking about gardening?

Full disclosure: I live in eastern Ontario.  Above is a photo of part of my garden as it looks today.  Congratulations to those of you who have graduated to spring.  We are in for another couple months of winter.

If you are new to gardening, and you can’t find your backyard under the snow, you can always do some plan(n/t)ing of another sort:

  • Determine what your plant hardiness zone is.
  • Figure out what kind of soil you have.
  • Evaluate the areas you want to plant in, and note whether they have full or partial sun, or are mostly in shade.
  • Determine if any of the existing structures on your property can be used by climbing plants such as beans and cucumbers, or if you want to build or procure some trellises, planters, or similar structures.

Use the above criteria to figure out what kinds of plants you can and want to grow.

  • Get seeds!
  • Start seedlings.  If you need to extend your growing season, you can start seeds indoors a set number of weeks ahead of the expected last frost date so that they’ll be robust and ready to be planted when the danger of frost has passed.
  • Plan the layout of your garden.  Some types of plants don’t make good neighbours.  Others compliment each other and help ward off pests.

This is just an overview.  We’ll describe each of these subjects in more detail later.  Did I forget anything?  If so, let me know in the comments below.

What’s GIMBY?

GIMBY (Grown In My Backyard)

GIMBY (Grown In My Backyard) is an initiative that encourages individuals and groups to use the space that they have available to them–whether it be balconies, backyards, or shared community spaces–to grow nutritious food.  Our principles are straightforward:

  • We encourage healthy and sustainable gardening practices.
  • We foster self-sufficiency, life-long learning, critical thinking, exercise, and outdoor activities.
  • We recognize that a strong and supportive community helps to create strong, secure individuals.

On our website, Facebook page, and Twitter account, we publish articles and tips that new and established gardeners may find helpful, educational, and inspiring.

“Why would I want to grow my own food? I can buy anything I want at the grocery store.”

The obvious answer is that the vegetables and fruits you grow will be healthier, cheaper, and fresher. The thing you might not realize is how this experience might make you feel.

There’s the sense of accomplishment and pride you get from setting seeds in soil and then watching them turn into magnificent plants that produce beautiful tomatoes, peppers, and basil. The stress from your everyday life may fade as you reconnect with the earth beneath your fingertips. You and your children can learn about food production together.

You can make new connections in your community, sharing tips and swapping produce, and perhaps donating to food banks that would love the extra vegetables you grow. Life is sometimes needlessly fast-paced and full of distractions; we need to get back to our roots. Literally.

The GIMBY Greenhouse

The GIMBY Greenhouse is a forum that facilitates connections between those who can provide gardening assistance, and those who need assistance, whether they be individuals or groups.  This is a new branch of the GIMBY initiative, but here are a few scenarios in which this forum would be beneficial:

  • A couple are knowledgeable about gardening, but they have mobility issues. They need help preparing some raised garden beds.
  • A homeowner travels frequently, so he does not have time to tend his yard. He is willing to let someone beautify his space with a garden in exchange for some gardening know-how and occasional produce.
  • A food bank is looking for fresh produce; they also need people who are willing to demonstrate how to cook it.
  • New gardeners are looking for advice and reassurance.
  • All participants want a place to be proud of what they have accomplished.

As GIMBY is a non-profit initiative, membership is free.  All that we ask is for a willingness to share what you’ve learned and grown, both in your own communities and on social media, using #GIMBY.