Saturday, April 19, 2014

And So It Grows

As you may or may not know, I live in the northwest corner of Pennsylvania.  Due to our proximity to the Great Lakes, we have rapid weather changes.  In fact, last week we experienced temperatures as high as 80*F (26C) and as low as 16*F (-8C)... in a 30-hour timeframe.  Due to such fluctuating temperatures, you can imagine how difficult it is to get a garden in place.

Our first average frost-free "safe" day doesn't occur until the very end of May, and our first average killing frost date is mid-September.  It makes for a very short growing season.

So, what's an avid gardener to do?  Start seeds inside!

There are quite a lot of benefits to growing your own plants from seed.  First of all, the sheer abundance of variety trumps anything you can get at a big box store or even at a landscaping center.  You can find varieties that are collected by small mom-and-pop seed companies who are passionate about revitalizing nearly extinct seeds.  You can grow the same melons that Thomas Jefferson grew at Monticello, or tomatoes whose seeds were brought to the U.S. by a singular immigrant nearly 100 years ago.  Much of the produce sold at the grocery stores today have been grown simply for their ability to withstand shipping stress.  When you grow your own vegetables and fruit from seed, you can grow solely for flavor.  Everyone knows a vine-ripened tomato tastes worlds better than anything you can get from the produce aisle in the dead of winter.
just one page of lettuces at High Mowing Seeds!
Seed packets have a wealth of growing information on the back

I've waxed poetic about my favorite seed companies before.  I like to stick to small companies that have a commitment to selling seeds that aren't genetically engineered or genetically modified, who sign the Safe Seed Pledge, and who refrain from doing business with Big Ag giants like Monsanto, Archer Daniels Midland, Seminis (now a subsidiary of Monsanto), or ConAgra.  That said, I love the folks at High Mowing Seeds, Filaree Garlic Farm, and Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds.  I've been ordering from these three companies for a few years, and I've had consistently excellent germination results... not to mention that their customer service is truly excellent.

Just some seeds I'm growing this year... purple carrots, anyone?
If you have never started seeds before, I would advise you start small.  Get a couple of varieties that are suited for your growing zone and grow something that is easy that you really like.  If you like green beans, I would highly suggest starting out with those.  They are nearly foolproof, yield beans all summer, and can be grown outdoors or in a container on a sunny balcony.  You can up the ante with cherry tomatoes and zucchini.  Easy, prolific, and delicious!  Heat-loving plants like peppers and melons are a bit more finicky, and require higher temperatures to germinate (or sprout).  If you do grow them, you might benefit from investing in a heat mat specifically designed for growing seeds.  Lastly, seedlings need about 16 hours of sunlight daily, and I solve this issue with a couple of shop lights that I picked up from Home Depot for about $15 each.  Plant light bulbs run about the same price, so for about $30 you can start enough seeds to fill your garden.  My current light bulbs have been going strong for 3 years now, so it really is an investment that'll pay off in the long run.

Here are some of my "babies" that have just sprouted:

A cabbage plant (purple rim) that Evie brought home from school mixed in with New England Pie pumpkins and Obus melon

Toma Verde tomatillos, H-19 Little Leaf Cucumber, Crimson Sprinter tomatoes

All Red and German Butterball potatoes

King of the North sweet bell pepper, Magnum Orange habanero, Ring O Fire cayenne, Little Tam Jalapeno peppers

Nutterbutter winter squash and Baby Blue Hubbard winter squash

Heritage and Latham raspberry canes (didn't start these from seed)

Amish Paste tomatoes

As you can see, you can use just about anything to start seeds in.  I have peat pots, yogurt containers, and half-gallon milk containers.  I do buy an organic seed starting soil mix to start seeds in, and as they grow, I fertilize them lightly with a tiny bit of Neptune's Harvest organic fertilizer that I just mix with water and add to a spray bottle.  For pest control (like the fungus gnats that killed last year's strawberry plants), I use sticky traps.  Sticky traps are SUPER sticky, so you want to make sure not to touch the sticky part, and keep it away from kids and pets.

In other news, it is finally finals week.  Six more days before I can start working on the house again!

Disclaimer:  I am in no way affiliated with any of the seed companies mentioned here... I just love them.  While I do have an Amazon storefront, none of the links provided are affiliated with the 1868Pleasant Amazon Store.  
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