The torrential rains over the past two weeks have turned my garden into a swamp, and I’m sure that’s the case with yours as well. Any attempt to get anything done is probably going to require not only dedication, but rubber boots as well. But there’s plenty you can do without having to be out there.
Although it’s easer to buy plants at your local garden center, I find it much more satisfying to start many of my own. The easiest are tomatoes and peppers. And if you’re into heirloom varieties, it’s the only way to go. It’s not all that hard either.
The simplest way to start is some soil in a paper cup with holes punched in the bottom, set on a saucer. Placed on a southern windowsill, you will be amazed at how quickly a tiny green shoot will pop up. But if you want to populate your garden, a bit more sophistication is in order.
Make it easy on yourself and trot down to your local hardware store or garden center, and get one of their “starter” kits. These are plastic trays usually with provision for starting 72 plants. Seventy two you ask? Well, while this may seem excessive, it’s easy to choose the biggest and the best plants for transplanting later. These trays come with a clear plastic top which, when placed over the planted seeds, turns the whole thing into a miniature greenhouse.
Next on the list is potting soil. Potting soil can be many things, and is sometimes not even soil, but may be made up of a combination of ingredients. While it’s possible to make your own, it’s much easier to pick up a bag while you’re choosing a starting kit, and maybe a packet or two of seeds.
Most commercial potting soil is moist enough to be used right out of the bag, but if it seems a bit dry, then add a little water. Damp is the key word here. Too much moisture and the seeds will tend to rot.
After filling the cells with potting soil, the next step is, of course, to plant the seeds. I prefer tweezers for this. I dump the contents of the seed packet into a small saucer and use tweezers to pluck a seed out and stick it into the prepared cell.
When the tray is full, it can be placed anywhere it will be exposed to sunlight, with the clear plastic dome in place. You will see moisture condense on the dome, but it’s a good idea to check every day to make sure the soil doesn’t dry out. I use a spray bottle to keep the soil damp.
Do not spend money on expensive grow lights; regular florescent lights do just fine. The secret is to keep them as close to the plants as possible. In just a few days, you will be rewarded with tiny sprouts popping out of the soil crying out, “Plant us! Plant us!”
Gene Henson is a University of Connecticut certified Advanced Master Gardner.