Gardening, I have found, can be either a highly scientific process or a highly artistic process. This depends largely on who you are and how you think. I started out a couple of years ago with no real plans, just a few seeds and a real desire to make this work. It kind of did, but mostly didn’t. Last year, we were a little more deliberate about it. We calculated seed starting times, tried to put them under lights, and transplanted them out when we thought they should go out. Some varieties flourished, like the ‘rose Quartz’ tomatoes and the Russian kale, but others didn’t really take off until August, leaving me with very little time for a crop in my 5b growing season.
This year, we decided on an intentional, deliberate and – dare I say it? – scientific approach to seed starting. Plants are very much like people. Finicky and particular, they really care exactly how you treat them. And if you don’t treat them the way they want you to, they simply will not respond.
Here are some lessons I’m learning as I start my seeds.
- Tomatoes like to germinate in the dark. Just make sure the place you put them isn’t freezing, and they’ll come up just fine. I like to plant my seeds in yogurt cups with drainage holes poked in and covered with plastic wrap. My tomatoes are mostly germinating between 3-5 days after planting, at which point I take off the plastic and move them under the grow light.
- Peppers like light and warmth. These guys are not going to do great if I try to sprout them in my basement under the grow light system. I’ve been preparing my yogurt cups, putting the whole thing inside a ziploc bag, and putting that on top of the radiator. My cubanelles and mini yellows sprouted beautifully. I’m still waiting on the ‘Santa Fe’ peppers, which haven’t been on the radiator. I think my experiment is working. I also sow the seeds directly on the soil surface to allow the most light penetration.
- Don’t drown your seedlings. Use a spray bottle, tepid water, and some love. How would you like a bucket of ice cold water dumped on you whenever you got thirsty? Your plants hate it too.
- Love your seedlings. I know this sounds goofy, but I firmly believe that your seedlings can feel your love and affection. Care for them as if it matters, and they will respond.
The realization that I’ve come to is that the scientific approach and the Zen approach are probably the same: treat your plants the way they want to be treated. They will flourish.