Thursday, March 31, 2011

Gentlemen Start Your...Seed Sets

 Of the greatest signs of spring growing up in NW Pennsylvania was being in my grandparents' houses and seeing trays of seed sets laying near sun-filled windows, foggy with moisture and dotted with fragile green stems. This was hope at it most elemental core. 

I was very blessed to grow up in an agricultural community, with a feed store as a play ground and a family that demonstrated what a partnership with the land was all about. No massive corporate farms, no faceless beef or chicken farms. Just honest people making the most of what they had in a way that provided for their families and friends. It's not an easy way of life; there are no guarantees on rain and sun and frost and wild animals. Nor is gaining the cooperation of small and lazy children an easy feat (although my father has a whistle that pretty simply means "Get your ass out here" that I can still hear anywhere). 

 My parents, my aunts and uncles and cousins and grandparents. They worked this hard. They prepared like the ants in a world of grasshoppers for the coming winter. 

 The hardest part of being married to a gypsy like Mr. Devlin for this Irish girl is not having a piece of dirt that is all my own. No land to possess and be possessed by. No where to dig in and let my roots spread, tethered in a storm like an oak.  I have no mechanism for hiding my envy for homeowners and landowners who have yards to landscape and mow and trees with tire swings and tree houses for fast-growing children.                         

 So I have my little pots and buckets of dirt, bought and paid for in an anonymous and soulless way. But they are mine, all mine. And I try to make the most of them. Last year, I had a few flowers in a flower box and some pretty little patio tomatoes, thanks to my father and mother.   And I was so proud to make my little salads and sandwiches with these  beauties. Even Mr. Devlin cared for my tender green vines when I was away during the hottest part of the summer, carefully (albeit nervously) watering them in my absence.  And any food you grow yourself tastes better than any food bought in a store. 

seeds for Thing 1

Thing 1 also was given a packet of seeds for Zinnias that she is excited to see sprout and bloom.  Starting plants from seed is a amazing learning tool for children...especially in a home that can't currently contain a puppy.

a tray of jiffy-7's
The easiest way to start seeds-the way my father taught me- is to obtain some dehydrated peat moss disks (known as Jiffy-7's); these can be found any where that sells seeds, plants or lawn and garden supplies. They often come in plastic trays with lids, but not always and if you are so inclined, you can just buy the disks and start your seedlings in a pyrex casserole dish, covered in plastic wrap (as I did last year).  It's true you can wait a bit and just buy seedlings but this is a very satisfying means of gardening.
rehydrating the peat with warm

In choosing your seedlings, read packaging carefully. If you aren't in a position  to grow climbing beans, you need to know what variety you have in advance. Also take into consideration what climate range you live in, how much sun your garden area gets in a day and what you will *actually* eat.  I have limited space so I am starting tomatoes, basil, green peppers and two kinds of flowers for my flower box later.

poke poke poke
rehydrated disks,
now a couple of inches high
Pour warm water over your jiffy-7's and watch them expand. This is lots of fun for your young gardeners by the way. Pour enough that there is no light brown areas on your peat and there is a bit of water in the bottom of the tray.

this is a high-tech

Now for the high tech tools-you need a small bowl and a pencil. Good luck finding that stuff! Depending on how big a gardening area you have to work with determines if you will need the entire packet of seeds. I only used half a packet on a few of mine and simply folded the opened envelope up and stored it back with other seeds I have saved. Anyways, pour your seeds in a the little bowl and get out your pencil for a pop quiz (just kidding).

capturing a few seeds
transferring the seeds
to the peat
Use the pencil to poke down about an inch into the peat and create a little hole. Now, using the eraser end, dampen the eraser before dipping it into the seeds. You want about 2-3 seeds per jiffy. Poke the seeds into the peat and then cover with more peat, using the pencil. Totally easier than what is sounds like when describing it.

nudging the dirt over
to cover the seeds

Keep track of what you have put where. I write the list right on the lid of the tray with permanent marker. And keep the packets your seeds came in for any information you may have forgotten when it's time to transplant them.

I've labeled my rows
according to variety

Cover the trays with their lids and place in a warm, semi-sunny area that no one will disturb. Keep the lids tight until you start to see sprouts--that takes a couple of days so don't be impatient! Also, keep the peat moist but not soaked. If they seem to be getting light brown, they need some room temperature water. Once sprouted, you can keep the lids on, cracked open to allow some air until the sprouts are about an inch or two and then you can remove them totally and place in a sunny place.

Treat your babies nice. One warm days, place the trays outside to help them thrive but bring them back inside at dusk. When the threat of frost is completely gone and your seedlings are strong and ready, transplant to either a container or the prepared garden bed.

I will keep you updated on mine-they are only two days into their process, but I am very excited about a certain batch of tomatoes that came from my great grandparents via a Great Aunt and a generous uncle. 

I feel like I'm growing my heritage.


Nik said...

Oh, very interested in your tomatoes! Are you planning on saving the seeds? I am assuming they are heirloom and therefore savable.

If so, and they are a good tomato, I am in zone 5a and would be interested in buying some! :) IF you are considering sharing. ;)

Mrs. V said...

Nik, 3 of the 4 kinds of tomatoes I am growing this year are from seeds I saved (or friends/family saved) from previous years. I'm hoping my little patio can do them justice so I can save them again at the end of this summer--I guess we will just have to see! (fingers crossed!)