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Seeds Start Success

Start plants from seed this year for fresh, organic, economical produce right outside your back door.

It's February — time for the annual collection of seed catalogs to pile into my mailbox and onto my desk, coffee table, dining room, kitchen...everywhere!

You can save money by growing your own plants. In addition, you can choose from hundreds of varieties compared to just a few at the garden center. It's comforting to know that your food came from your own yard. Starting seeds and harvesting plants with family and friends can be rewarding. The anticipation is half the fun!

Warning: witnessing the miracle of plant growth is contagious! When I started out growing seeds years ago, I purchased a multitude of seed packets then planted about 10 flats that I placed by my sliding glass door in an small apartment. Do not try this at home! My poor plants nearly toppled over trying to lean towards the limited available light.

After some research, I discovered Nancy Bubel's, "The New Seed Starters Handbook." Bubel gives you hands-on, practical advice on growing a variety of seeds. In addition, Organic Gardening magazine has some useful tips.

It's easy to get carried away by starting too many different types of seeds at once. If you are a novice, start slowly, gain success, and take it from there. Try some easy to grow seeds in a small flat or clean, reused plastic container that is about two to three inches deep. You can put drainage holes into the bottom and set them into trays. Try an inexpensive fluorescent grow light or purchase a tabletop grow light system.

Bucks County has a variety of gardening resources. The BucksMont Organic Gardeners (BMOG) meet at Churchville Nature Center the second Monday of every month. If you want to know how to grow just about anything sustainably, come to a meeting and you'll learn from these friendly gardeners who come to share information. This group encouraged me to start growing seeds again after a long absence. Novices and experienced gardeners are welcomed to attend; you'll be inspired to get growing!

Here is some advice on seed starting, based on my experience and those of my fellow gardeners:

  • If you are starting out, try easy-to-grow seeds such as tomatoes, peppers, chives, basil, marigolds, and zinnias. Many seed companies feature an "Easy to Grow Garden Collection," such as Renee's Garden. Or try Johnny's Selected Seeds' "Easy Choice" varieties.
  • If your previous seed-growing attempts were unsuccessful, try the APS (Accelerated Propagation System) growing kit from Gardener's Supply. I have used this successfully and other BMOG members attest to their success at growing a variety of healthy plants this way. Use a sterile seed starting mix, not dirt from your garden.
  • Start your seeds at the right time. I use Mother's Day as a "safe" date for setting out plants in our area. If the seed packet says to start seeds 6 weeks before outdoor planting time, take that date and calculate backwards. If you don't have time to plant until Memorial Day, then use that as your planting date. Most full-sized tomato transplants can be grown in 6 to 8 weeks with proper care.
  • If you don't want to start seeds inside, it's generally safe to plant seeds directly into the soil around mid-May. Zinnia, marigold, cosmos, nasturtium, and Mexican sunflower (Tithonia) seeds grow rapidly.

There's nothing better than picking (and eating!) your home grown produce. Plant a seed, witness a miracle!

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