by Cyndy Crist
Now that February has arrived and the hours of daylight are lengthening, many gardeners I know are becoming restless to dig in the dirt and nurture green and growing things. I am definitely no exception, and a growing array of potted primroses, forced spring bulbs, and flowers emerging from begonias being overwintered inside can’t quite scratch my gardening itch. So I’ve decided to try my hand at several winter seed sowing and growing projects.
I’m going to start with three variations of fairly typical indoor seeding projects and will soon start a fourth, an outdoor approach to winter seed starting that I learned about at a Master Gardener meeting recently. I’ll describe today how I’m getting started on the indoor projects and will report in later on the outdoor project and the outcomes of all four efforts.
Indoor Seed Sowing Projects:
Project 1: I have undertaken three small, indoor projects, all very easy and straightforward but each just a little different from the others. I’ll be interested to see how the results compare. One is a darling little organic oregano growing kit given to me by my sister-in-law for Christmas. It includes soil, seeds, and a bamboo pot. It’s pretty ingenious, even including three little feet to stick on the bottom of the pot to ensure good drainage and a lid that doubles as a plant tray. The packaging was so great that it has been cute sitting on a shelf, but since the whole point is to grow some oregano, I resolved to do just that. The pot has now been filled with soil, the seeds scattered on the surface and then topped with a little more soil, everything gently watered in, and a little plastic wrap settled across the top to create a mini-greenhouse. Now it’s safely ensconced on a shelf out of direct sun per package directions. Once the seeds sprout, I’ll remove the plastic, move the pot to a sunnier spot, continue watering, and wait to harvest my tasty herbs.
Project 2: The second project comes courtesy of a recent find in the sale room at my neighborhood Anthropologie store. The package includes organic parsley seeds embedded in a piece of paper accompanied by a plant stake made from an old teaspoon. Part of the attraction for me, frankly, was the spoon stake that can be reused in my herb garden; I’ve also long been curious about this “seeds in paper” approach to growing, so this was my chance to check it out. Following directions on the card, I prepared a pot with soil, tore off pieces of the paper (looking for concentrations of seeds), laid them on the soil, covered them with a little more soil, and carefully watered them all in. The stake is now in the pot, which is in a sunny space in my sunroom. I only used a portion of the paper provided, so if I don’t give this first planting what it needs to grow, I can try again, either inside or outside.
Project 3: The third project was inspired by an article in the January 2013 issue of Martha Stewart Living. This one required me to assemble my own potting soil, container, and seeds. Following the idea in the article, I retrieved a plastic container and lid from my recycling bin (a decent-sized box that had contained romaine leaves) and made small drainage holes in the bottom with an X-acto knife. Next, I filled the container with potting mix and sprinkled a mix of lettuce seeds on top of the soil. Per directions on the seed packet, I added about another ¼ inch of soil on top of the seeds and gentled watered them in. The lid is now serving as a plant tray and the container is in one of the sunniest spots in my sunroom. If all goes well, I’ll be able to harvest my own microgreens in the weeks ahead, either by gently pulling out small clumps of greens or by cutting them carefully.
Tips to remember about Seed Sowing & Growing:
- I know that two of the most important things about indoor seed starting are ensuring that the seedlings get enough sunlight and providing enough, but not too much, moisture. I think all three containers are small enough that I can keep them in places that get sufficient light in or very near a window in my south-facing sunroom, but I know I will need to pay close attention to them to be sure they’re getting enough light on a consistent basis to grow well. Today was a beautifully sunny day, so things are off to a good start, but I know I can’t count on the same level of brightness every day.
- Perhaps even more importantly, I’m going to need to be careful about watering. Drying out is deadly to tender little seedlings, but it’s also easy to overwater them and kill seedlings with kindness. A deluge of water can dislodge tiny root systems before they’re strong enough to hold emerging plants in place. Sitting water can cause dampening off and other forms of mold that are fatal to any plants, but especially to little baby ones.
- Humidity is also helpful to seedlings as they’re sprouting, so keeping a plant tray filled with water should be helpful.
I know what my little green babies will need, but I’ve learned the hard way that knowledge and good intentions don’t always carry the day. If I manage to maintain enough focus to guide them along into stages of maturity that will enable me to harvest and enjoy them, I’ll be a happy gardener. Let’s keep our fingers crossed.