Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Growing Veggies from Seeds

There is something special about eating a vegetable that started out in your fingers as a tiny seed. I’ve been gardening for over 20 years, but I am always amazed to witness the growth cycle. Transplanting store-bought plants is certainly easier than growing from seed, but seeing those first green sprouts peek out from the dirt is a lot more fun!

Our last frost date in Maryland is officially May 15th, so any plants vulnerable to freezing temperatures can’t be planted outside until after this date. But because Maryland has a short growing season (about 3 months,) we can’t just plop a seed in the ground outside—it needs to be a full-grown, hardened-off plant by May 15th.

March is the month I get to go to the store, buy packets of Burpee seeds: tomato, jalapeno pepper, sweet pepper, cucumbers, zucchini squash, yellow squash, string beans, peas and corn.

So as I prepare to get my hands dirty, I thought I’d share the best way I’ve found to start these seedlings using Styrofoam cups, potting soil and a plastic tray that holds about ½ inch of water.

Punch 4-5 drainage holes in the bottom of each Styrofoam cup. Fill about ½ way with potting soil.
Fill plastic tray with ½ inch of warm water, line your soil-filled cups up in the bin. After about an hour, the soil will have “sucked up” a lot of the water.
Put 2-3 seeds in each cup (read package directions to be sure you plant seeds at proper depth.)
Use a permanent marker on the outside of cup to label the plant.
Pour in more water if needed.
Cover with loosely with plastic wrap and place in a sunny window.
After about a week, you’ll notice seedlings popping up—take off the plastic wrap. Turn the seedlings every day or every other day so the plant doesn’t lean one way (as it reaches for the sunshine.) After about 2 weeks, pull the weaker seedlings out and discard—this keeps the strong seedlings able to get all the nourishment they need.
If you keep water in the bottom of the tray, there should be no need to water from the top (that way you won’t stress the plant.) The roots get plenty of water and send it up to the plant.
After about 6-7 weeks (depending on weather) harden-off the plants. To do this, take them outside for about an hour the first day; three hours the next day; five hours the next day, etc. until they are outside all day long. Then just bring them in at night. Then the next day, leave them out all day and all night. Now they are used to the weather elements and are ready to be transplanted into the garden.

Enjoy your fresh veggies and if you have any good ideas about keeping away deer, moles, or rabbits, let me know via a blog post or email. I’m getting a little tired of “sharing” my produce with them! Happy gardening! :)