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Want to get serious about self-sustainable gardening? Starting from seed is essential. Here is how to get started.
Access to commercial seedlings is typically only during peak selling times. If the demand is not there, then stores will not have them. Self-sustainability is the ability to do for yourself, not to depend on big business to dictate your purchases. Seeds keep for a very long time if stored properly (more on that later), so the best thing to do to always have access to plants is to buy more seeds than you may need. You don’t have the same adaptability with a store-bought seedling. You must plant it before it dies. It is also more cost efficient to purchase seeds than transplants. I have yet to see the pricing on tomato seedlings at the local home improvement store for 2017 (I will update this post once I have that information) but a packet of seeds is $2.49 (depends on variety and brand). It’s a way more frugal way to start gardening.
Starting your own seeds inside can be a simple process, or more intensive, depending upon your own personal needs. Fold up some newspaper seed pots, grab your seeds, some potting soil and a sunny window. Within 8-10 weeks, your seeds will be ready to harden off and plant in your garden.
Do not skip hardening off your seedlings.
Want to learn more about the process? Post coming soon.
What Needs to be Started Indoors?
Speaking only based on my own experience on what is most popular for the garden, eggplant, green pepper, tomatoes, and cabbage are best started indoors, hardened off and then transplanted outdoors. Start your plants for transplanting about 2 to 2 1/2 months before you plan to set them out. For 2017 in my region, the last frost date (according to Old Farmers Almanac, check your’s here) is April 29th. I don’t completely trust the weather, so I tend to stand by the “old wives tale” of not planting before Mother’s Day.
Seeds will germinate easily indoors. Temperatures are warm enough for human habitation, and great for seed germination also. You may use a commercial potting soil, or make your own potting soil the previous fall. The best seed-starting mix is 2 parts dirt to 1 part well-rotted compost.
Best Way to Water Seedlings
You may be tempted to make sure that the soil is drenched, thinking that plants really need water to grow. Do not give into this unfounded assumption. The absolute best way to keep seeds and seedlings happy is to mist them with water every other day. I have a spray bottle in by my starts. I check every day to make sure that the soil is damp. If it feels a bit dry on top, I mist it a couple times with the spray bottle. Several light waterings will definitely keep your seeds happier than a torrential downpour with flooding.
Starting Seedlings in an AeroGarden
Sometimes life gets in the way, and seeds do not get started when is traditional. This is when the joy of having my Aerogarden saves me and my sanity.
Not familiar with what an AeroGarden is? Essentially it is a hydroponic garden that uses built-in grow lights and grow “sponges” to circulate water with light to simulate the exact conditions that a seed needs to grow. You can check out more about the AeroGarden and purchase your own here.
Included in most of the larger AeroGarden’s is a seed-starting tray. Use the grow sponges and place 2-3 seeds in each sponge. Then pop them into the tray, make sure to fill your AeroGarden with water and the recommended amount of liquid nutrients, and the screen of the AeroGarden will guide you through the rest. Then, just keep water and nutrients added as the display prompts, and you will have seedlings within a few weeks. Way quicker than traditional means, and just as hardy. Make sure you still have containers and soil to transplant the seedlings into. Hardening off takes and an additional week or so, as you must first acclimate the seedling to the soil, and then to the outdoors.
Start Some Companion Plants for Natural Bug Control
While you are starting your vegetable seeds, you may want to start a few flowers that are proven to repel bugs and/or attract beneficial bugs to your garden. A few that I always use are marigolds, alliums, black-eyed Susans, nasturtiums, and yarrow. Having these plants nestled in with your vegetables can help control bugs without the need for commercial poisons. If you are trying to lean more toward organic growing, you definitely want to learn what plants to utilize to repel bugs.
You purchased your seeds, have all your transplants growing, but have seeds left. Storing them is relatively simple and can keep your seeds viable for up to 3 years when done properly. Store your seeds in an airtight container, such as plastic bags or mason jars. They need to stay out of the air, and free from moisture. You may want to include a couple of silica packets in your zipper bag just in case. If I know I am done with the seeds for the year, and will not be sowing another crop for harvest (i.e. I plant cabbage twice, as well as kale and cut lettuce) I vacuum-seal my seeds, mark the year, and store them in the refrigerator until next year when it’s time to plan the garden again. Then I can see what I have left and not have to purchase again what I already have on hand.
Gardening is a very rewarding activity, and the more you learn about how to employ self-sustainable practices to it, the more you will love doing it. Having the knowledge and ability to grow healthy produce right in your backyard will give you not only a backyard produce section, but a sense of accomplishment and pride. Try starting just a few of your own seeds and learn the best practices for your home and climate. You will love that you can start your entire garden without having to run to the nursery dozens of times.