Saturday, February 14, 2009

Starting Seeds

I’m in the process of reading Russ Parson’s How to Pick a Peach. In doing so, I have become more and more convinced of the need to shop at farmers’ markets and to grow my own produce when possible. I have known for awhile now that supermarket produce is bred and harvested according to how well it will ship and to achieve the longest shelf life possible. Flavor may come into play, but it’s certainly not priority one, two or three. Even though I knew this, having it spelled out by an industry expert such as Parsons really hit it home for me.

This year I’m determined to have more options than ever in my backyard. I try to supply my own summer produce with small weekly supplements from my farmers’ markets. To achieve a backyard vegetable garden, I usually rely on seedlings from my local nursery. I make a few trips in March and April and try to find all the varietals that I want to grow that year. This task is made much easier if you can take advantage of the wide selection that is available if you start from scratch with your own seeds.

I have in fact started seeds at home in the past. After taking an organic gardening workshop, I came home, armed with supplies to confidently start my own seeds indoors. I followed the process I had been taught (outlined below), step by step, and sure enough, green sprouts emerged after about a week. I carefully nursed the plants with daily sunlight and gentle watering from below, until, just after my sprouts were turning into little plants, my cats decided to use them for batting practice. Defeated, I returned to nursery seedlings the following year.

This year I am once again taking on the challenge. I have my seeds from Seeds of Change and a bookcase near a windowsill, the top of which should be safely out of reach of cat paws. We don’t really have a last frost date here in Los Angeles, so I started my seeds six weeks before I usually plant nursery seedlings (mid – late March and into April). Look on the back of your seed packet and it will tell you how many weeks ahead of the last frost you should start indoors. You can find your last frost date on sites like the one found here.

I am no expert at this, but I do have sprouts coming up on a number of my trays so I must be doing something right. If you are an expert and have an exceptionally green thumb, please share your tips!


Process for Starting Seeds

Organic Potting Soil
Seed Starting Trays (I use ones with 6 cells)
Sandwich Size Ziploc Bags
Selection of Seeds

Fill the tray loosely with potting soil. Water the soil so it is damp, but not wet. Place 2-3 seeds in each cell. Look at the back of the seed packet to determine the planting depth and cover the seed with the specified amount of soil. Finish off with just a touch more water, place the tray in a Ziploc bag and close it up. Place the tray by a windowsill or on top of the fridge where the tray will be kept warm (Note – my fridge gives off almost no heat so I have to keep mine near a windowsill). Now it’s time to wait. Some sprouts may emerge in 4-5 days, others will take longer.
As soon as you see sprouts emerge from a given tray, remove it from the Ziploc bag. Place the tray on a rimmed plate or baking sheet so you can water from below. To do this, pour water onto the plate/baking sheet and let the roots soak up the water from the bottom of the seed tray. The soil should always be kept damp, but not wet and the trays should stay near a windowsill to get some light.

With any luck, in 4-6 weeks you’ll have seedlings that are ready to be transplanted. I’m still determining the best timing for this and how many days I need to let the seedlings adjust to the outdoor temperature before planting them, but I will be back with more information as soon as I have a plan worked out. In the meantime, happy planting.


Erica said...

How cool! Thank you so much for posting this. I'd love to try this, maybe next year? Happy Valentine's day!

ChefImpersonator said...

I'm a new food blogger and I just wanted to tell you that your photography here is just beautiful. Inspired me!

Sara said...

What a great idea, in the past I've been too lazy to do this, and because of that I get mixed results with seeds. I need to try this.

Netts Nook said...

Looks great I don't have much of a green thumb I wish you luck. Way to go....

rachel said...

I'm impressed by your commitment. I'm sure you will see the benefits in the recipes you make. Good for you!

Anonymous said...

I'll have to bookmark this one for when I actually have a yard (the one drawback of living in Manhattan).

Diana said...

Very cool! I so wish I could do the same, but until I have a garden of my own, I'm just going to have to keep on stealing lemons, limes and fresh herbs from my parents' in the OC! They used to grow apples, tomatoes and strawberries when I was a kid too. The apples made the best applesauce!

Anonymous said...

So, what did you plant?

I didn't know that the fridge would be a good source of bottom heat. I'll have to check mine out!

I live in Las Vegas, and our last frost date is around Valentine's. That is when we set out tomato plants.

Today I had lettuce, parsnips, rosemary and carrots from my garden. I love being able to have a kitchen garden right out the door!