This is an exciting time of year for me as someone with a passion for all things food. To be selecting and growing seeds that will produce the food that feeds my family for the upcoming year is so fulfilling. I’ve discovered that I like to start my own seedlings because then I can choose from an endless variety of veggies that I otherwise wouldn’t find in the garden centres. This year my new picks for tomatoes include the Ponderosa Pink and the tried and true Bonny Best. One of my ongoing favourites is the Big Rainbow. You will be amazed by the size and colour of these tomatoes. Also, I can’t get enough of the tomatillo fruit that become the base of the salsa verde I put away each year.
When should I start my seeds?
This is a rough guideline as to when I aim to start my seeds. You should always check your seed packs to know when to plant. They will tell you when to aim to start your plants based on the number of weeks before the last frost for your region. In this Ottawa Valley part of the province I aim for a last frost date of May 11. That’s roughly when I start hardening off my seedlings, taking them in at night and outside during the daytime, in preparation to plant in the ground on the May long weekend. If you want to figure out your regions last frost date check this link. I keep a spreadsheet every year with my catalogue of seeds so I know at a quick glance when I need to plant what – Transplant Start 2015.
Rosemary, Peppers, leeks – 8-10 weeks BLF – Mar 16-30
Tomatoes, Basil – 6-8 weeks BLF – Mar 30 – Apr 13
Oregano – 6 weeks BLF – Apr 13
Marigold, Calendula, Green Onions, Beets – 4-6 weeks BLF – April 13-27
Cucumber, Kale – 4 weeks BLF – April 27
Melon, Pumpkin, Zucchini – 3 weeks BLF – April 27 – May 4
Beans, Peas, Carrots, Greens – Direct Sow into garden in mid May
How do I start my seeds?
I plant my seeds into a mixture of peat moss, perlite and vermiculite and compost. Below is a guide you can use to mix your own or you can purchase premixed seed. In 2016 I will be adding worm castings (compost) to my mix and I’m hoping to have hardier transplants as a result.
4 parts compost
2 parts peat moss
1 part vermiculite
1/2 part perlite
I start most of my seeds in individual small pots. You can see from the photo the newspaper pots that I make to save money and recycle some flyers. I bought a simple wooden press for this at Lee Valley. I cut strips of newspaper on a paper cutter and then press away on cold February nights in front of the tv. When planting I place 2-3 seeds in each pot as not all your seeds will grow. Later when the seedlings first true leaves appear you can pinch of the weaker looking ones and be left with the strongest one in each pot.
Some seeds can be transplanted part way through their initial growth. Tomatoes and basil are good examples. These seeds can be started more compactly in row plugs. I like to do it this way because not all your seeds will germinate and then you don’t waste pots on duds. It also takes up less space initially under your lights or your coveted south facing window. Once your seedlings grow their first true leaves then you transplant the strongest looking ones to their own pots. I will blog about this step later.
Adding some warmth during germination
Germination is the period of growth before the sprout appears. During this time seeds need warmth and moisture. I place my trays in front of our wood stove and cover them with plastic lids. You could use plastic wrap to do the same thing. Before the seeds sprout you don’t need to worry about sunlight. But check your seeds everyday and move to sunlight once those first sprouts pop.
Let there be light
Last year I found a grow shelf on Kijiji. A nice older couple were selling off the system that had helped them to grow veggies for years and years. It was an old clunker, weighing a ton so it was quite the process disassembling and hauling down to our basement. It doesn’t look very pretty either but I cherish it.
That being said you can get away with growing seeds indoors without grow lights. You need to find your best south facing windows and lay out some shelving in place for a few weeks in March and April. The first year I started growing those windows were in my boys bedrooms. It was a bit of a learning curve for my two year old that he couldn’t touch the plants but I think they both learned at a young age some valuable lessons about where our food comes from. I’ve included a picture of the shelving system I used in our current home before I got my grow lights. It made for some interesting dinner parties sitting next to that eye candy.
I’ve been growing now for four years and I’ve had my fair share of failures. I’ll blog next about the Mother’s Day gone horribly wrong so you can have a good laugh. It’s such hard work growing your own food but I love the rewards that come from witnessing each stage of the transformation of life. In the end you get the most flavourful, fresh and wholesome ingredients to bring home to your kitchen. For the passionate foodie in me that’s what it’s all about.