This is where your seed gets its start. Like a good mother, you want your babies to get a good start on the growing season and it all depends on your soil, water and fertilization. This is where your compost soil shines! Not only full of nutrients, but it holds moisture well and that’s what every seed needs. In Central Florida, the sun is brutal and some of these tender sprouts can’t hack it, a sentiment I fully understand. So I begin mine on the patio, or in a small garden I have located on the west side of my house. They still get sun, but they don’t dry out as quickly, because not only do I see them, which is a helpful reminder when it comes to watering, but they don’t end up burned. To a crisp. The typical fate of my young broccoli and cabbage when I start them in the garden.
And they transplant well, so long as you scoop the ENTIRE cup of dirt from the container, being ever so careful not to disturb the delicate roots. Then — no problem. When they have a few inches on them they’re good to go. Corn, carrots, peanuts, beans, etc. do fairly well in the garden right from seed, as do beets and scallions. Onions, though, have proven a challenge for me. Not only tiny, but they are sensitive little things and I haven’t been able to get the combination of soil, sun and water quite to their liking. For my backup plan, I’ve put my name on the list at my local seed store for some sweet onion bulbs when they come in, but I’m determined not to need them. Want and need; two different things. I want to be able to garden from scratch. Knowing that I don’t need to do so to avoid starvation is reassuring — and annoying at the same time. If I can’t get them to sprout, how can I have a sustainable garden?!?! Survival seeds will mean nothing at that point!
Another old trick that comes in very handy is making a “well” around the new seeds. It keeps any water from sky or sprinkler focused on the task at hand, plus, it reminds me and the kids where we can expect our new babies to sprout! Never under-estimate the excitement of your first sprouts. Like the moment a woman gives birth and is drenched in euphoria, this is still one of my most gratifying moments. But it’s also where the real responsibility begins. It’s your job to see this sprout make it to harvest. Giving each different plant what it needs, making sure you know who’s who… I label my seed packets with the planting depth, nutrient requirements, ie. N=nitrogen, P=phosporus, K=potassium, as well as their basic water needs. Like a passel of children, it helps to keep them all straight in my brain when I’m out in the garden tending to their necessities!
Spacing of plants is important on several different levels. Those susceptible to leaf fungus need more space to encourage air circulation which can cut down of the problem, yet it also allows plenty of sunlight to hit the ground which sets weeds on the fast track to growth. And that’s not a good thing. Not only do those unwanted greenies siphon the nutrients away from your plant, they make your job in the garden all the more tedious when you’re forced to remove them. But companion planting can help. This is a concept where you put “friendly” plants together. For instance, lettuce. Lettuce seems to be very friendly with most all plants, and if you place it at the base of your corn, it shades the ground, preventing weed formation. This is an especially helpful concept if your garden space is limited by space. You can also use mulch around the base of your newly placed “sprout wells,” or add peat moss to the soil. Both will help retain moisture.
One word of friendly advice here: stagger your planting. This basically means to plant successive crops, say 7-10 days apart, pictured here with sprouts in the foreground, mature husks pulling up the rear. If you don’t, and you’re a successful gardener, when it comes time to harvest, you’ll realize you’ve just pulled more food from Mother Earth than you and your family, and your friends and their families, and anyone in the school pick up lane can possibly eat and still call it “fresh from the garden goodness!”
This past spring we had potatoes coming out our ears, cherry tomatoes out the wazoo, along with pole beans, scallions and carrots. The scallions grew so fat I’m not sure if they were technically considered scallions any more. And much as I love those carrots, I couldn’t eat them all. Or store them all. Okay, truth is, I didn’t pick them all. But always one to look on the positive side, I did learn how carrots go to seed! A valuable lesson for the sustainable garden. Until you learn another valuable lesson: “hybrid.” Apparently, most of the carrots we eat and grow are hybrids. Which means they don’t produce seeds in the same way God’s carrots do. However, since I don’t know for SURE they’re hybrids, and I choose to look on the positive side (okay, call me stubborn), I’ve kept the seeds and plan to plant them. No one ever said this couldn’t be an adventure!