By Mireille Bourgeois
Not Yet old enough for a man, nor young enough for a boy; as squash is before ’tis peascod, or a codling when ’tis almost an apple.” – Malvolio, Twelfth Night
I always thought I hated gardening. My mother would lock me outside to get fresh air once in a while. I hated being outdoors (crazy I know, I can’t get enough of it now.) and I was squeamish of bugs (still am). Worms made me wiggle and spiders made me scream and jump on the nearest high ground.
Though I’m still not that fond of plunging my hands in dirt with the scary possibility of bringing up a big fat beetle, I’ve come to the natural conclusion that I have to respect the cycle of life which includes bugs, of all kinds. I have to say that encountering bugs have for the most part been the reason why I haven’t taken up gardening. But, there are gloves I can wear for that. In these times of cooking and baking, my home is always privy to some type of food adventure and I’m developing the deep need to create my own seeds-to-food-to-plate-experiences.
I like the idea of helping something grow despite the perverse inevitability of cutting it up, cooking it and digesting it. However, I’ve found so far that the most rewarding moment comes from giving a seedlings the most care, a little water and food and then it rewards you by growing. I know, it all sounds so desperately cheesy, but I have found myself sitting near my seedlings, sometimes bent over them, staring at them for minutes. Just staring at them grow. I am amazed. I greet them good morrow and good eve.
It all began in early december when I decided I wanted to plant garlic. One sunny day I grabbed the fat bulb of garlic from the counter and planted each clove along our fence in the back yard with a fancy new bulb planter. At the same time, I planted my first tulips, hyacinths and mixed bulb packs of random flowers in our front yard too. I was hooked. I couldn’t WAIT until springtime to see them emerge. They are starting to appear now in Spring and when I notice a growth spurt, I can’t help but dance. Something to look forward to. March came quickly and I could wait no longer. I found myself researching some good vegetables to grow in home gardens just to entertain the thought of maybe hosting a few tomato plants and maybe some herbs. The fascination took ahold of me and I walked to Home Hardware to comb the very early seed racks. I bought 50$ of seeds, and a dome planter with about 72 peat moss disks. The man behind me in the lineup asked what I was planting. “My first little garden” He looks at the mountain of seeds and said “don’t plant all those seeds.” with an alarming straight face.
I immediately went home to plant all 72 peat moss disks (only two seeds per disk!), submerged them in water and watched them puff up like when I was in the first grade. I planted cucumbers, squash (accorn and butternut), pole beans, basil, carrots, sweet peppers, regular peppers, beets, green onions, leeks, marigolds, mesclin mix, romaine lettuce, spinach, and a planter of herbs like thyme, oregano, coriander and others I honestly can’t remember. Can you say: overboard? I’m obviously expecting to yield many veggies… Since I bought a deep freeze in anticipation. Yep. Overboard.
I will be posting about the progress of my little seedlings but first I offer a few tips for the first time grower, from one hobbyist to another:
- The little peat moss things are really the best for growing seedlings. I tried growing from regular soil and though some of them did in fact grow into strong seedlings, I found it difficult to control the moisture of the soil, and some started growing mold on top. If you know what you’re doing, you might not have this problem!
- It’s really easy to over water your seedlings, My first beets grew straight up but then died quickly as I over watered them. I’ve tried using a spray bottle to minimize seedling damage from water drips.
- I’ve learned that planting certain flowers and herbs throughout your vegetable garden will protect your garden from pests. The bugs will either be attracted by the flowers instead, or be turned away by their scent. I planted marigold seedlings and some flowering coriander for this purpose.
- Some seedlings will grow at very different rates than others. I had to repot some of the seedlings into mini planters as they were becoming root-bound. An easy check: just check if roots are growing through the peat moss bag in the bottom. If the roots are wrapped around or if there’s a long root hanging, then they may need to be repotted.
- A friend told me recently that some seeds grow so well and so quickly that there really isn’t a need to start them early: squash and beans for example. I’m planning on repotting the bean poles in large buckets (in my living room!!! Out of hand. Out of hand.) Squash are the ones that I fear I’ll lose since they are quickly growing out of their planters and the ground outside is nowhere near ready for planting. Apparently Beans do well in colder temperatures however, so I may plant these outside earlier than the rest. I read that when squash and others in the Cucurbita family are easy to grow, but yield less if they are transplanted outside after the second set of leaves have grown. I clipped mine to prolong the growing process. We will see what happens!
- Some seeds die. My brother the landscaper tells me this all the time. It is sad, mourn them for a moment and then move on, you have dozens and dozens of other seeds in that package. I get sad when my seedlings die.
- To preserve your seeds, the research I’ve done tells me that if I put my seed packages in ziplocks, and then seal those in a tupperware-type container, they should keep for at least a year or two. I have also put mine in the fridge since I also read that warm temperatures can really screw up your seeds’ germinating process. Really though, seeds are cheap and are best used right away, share them with friends I say!
- I probably shouldn’t have started planting so early. I was swept up in the magic of growing my own food and forgot about logistics. The floor below my living room picture window is getting crowded…
Well, that’s it for now. I’m writing as I learn. Growing food is fun. Awe yeah.