February and March may seem like the absolute doldrums for gardeners in the North East, but for me this is really where the fun begins. Starting in mid January my daily run to the post is enhanced by the plethora of seed catalogs and gardener supply fliers that inundate the more mundane sampling of bills and offers of credit. These magazines, filled with flawless, sparkling, brightly colored fruits and flowers not only bring the remembrance of springtime just when it seems like winter will never end, but spark the planning and scheming process that every gardener goes through each year. Moreover, for me they offer not just ideas and choices of what to grow, but actual hope for the delights of spring, and desire for a bountiful garden, in much the same way that ads for fancy skin cream lure us in with the unattainable promise of youth and beauty. I know it sounds foolish, but there it is.
This winter, when John Scheepers and Gurney’s and Burpee came to tempt me with their seductive photos, I threw them immediately into the recycle bin, and here’s why. Last fall on my birthday I received a wonderful present from a girlfriend of mine. It was a gardeners journal, a subscription to Heirloom Gardener, and a seed catalog from Baker Creek. She knows me well. I devoured the magazine. I learned more about GMOs and gardening history in the US, and I vowed that never again would I plant a seed whose origin was questionable. I saved the seed catalog for February.
The decision to plant a non GMO garden was a big one for me. While I profess that organic is best, I’m not above sprinkling my soil with a little Seven when I can’t get rid of those pesky ants around my eggplant. Even thought I detest chain department stores and all they do to wreck local economy, I’ve been known to buy a tomato plant at Home Depot on impulse. While I tout the values of a nutrient rich, homegrown local and balanced diet, I’m the first one to order pizza when I’m too tired to cook. So Ok, I’ll admit it, I’m a hypocrite. But now it’s time to step up to the plate. Genetically modified food is bad. Bad for us nutritionally, bad for local economy and a just plain bad for the environment. Get more information on this at www.nongmoproject.org/learn-more
When I plan my garden in the spring I start with a list of what I’d like to grow. Then I make a map of my garden and, referring to last years map, add each thing where I feel it would grow best. When I actually do the work my plan often changes, if, for instance, I bought more tomatoes than will fit in the allotted space. Sometimes I cluster, other years I might mix it up, say putting the carrots in with the beets or planting every other tomato and pepper. My garden is quite small, so I often cram. Every year I plant some things from seed, like beets, and beans, and carrots, and some things from plants that I purchase, like tomatoes and squash and melon. The only things I start from seed indoors myself are pepper plants and this mostly because I have more of a selection than I can find at the greenhouse. Deciding to choose heirloom and non GMO plants means that I have to either find a source for heirloom plants, or grow them myself. While there is a local CSA that I believe sells plants in the spring, I didn’t want to limit my choices, and since I have had some luck with peppers, I decided to go ahead and start my entire garden from seed. That means all the tomatoes, melons, squash, eggplant, cucumber, spices, cabbage and peppers. Yikes!
Last month I finally made my choices from the Bakers Creek Heirloom Seed Company catalog. I highly recommend this company to anyone who is a vegetable fanatic. Their selection is unbelievable and their knowledge extensive. Their website has tons of valuable information and it’s just fun to browse. Check it out at www.rareseeds.com After days and weeks of poring over the descriptions and photographs of exotic and divine vegetables (am I the only one who finds vegetables alluring?) I ordered 38 types of seeds. 10 types of tomato alone, with names like Green Zebra and Black Prince. Where I’ll put them is still a mystery. I made a schedule by counting back in weeks from the average last frost date (May 20th). I borrowed some growing lamps and purchased seed pots and starter mix. I rearranged my bathroom and tub area to fit the seed trays. I planted the onions and the eggplant.
While I tell myself that it’s the best thing to do, I remain nervous about starting all the seeds myself. I’m not a very technical person but I’m smart enough to know that if I was, I’d have a better chance of growing healthy plants. There is a science to it that I have yet to figure out. My policy of flying by the seat of my pants and hoping things work out for the best might not serve me so well in this instance. If I were so inclined, I would spend some time figuring out optimal light cycles, temperatures, nitrogen mixes and hardening practices for different types of plants. Then again, it’s just nature, after all, and there really is no stopping it. The worst case scenario is that I have to source the plants after all. It’s not like I’ll never eat another homegrown tomato if my seeds fail to thrive. And there is hope! Even though there is still 2 feet of snow on the ground, my 300 onions are already an inch tall.
I’d love to hear from anyone with any advice or expertise on starting plants indoors. My set-up is not very complicated, but advice on light times, bulbs, best starter mix, or just about anything would be much appreciated. Happy growing!