Monday, April 13, 2009

Preserving the Seasons: April, Week 2

Though the change in the seasons often induces in us a craving for fresh green vegetables, Nature does not always oblige.

Yes, if you have a place where you can safely forage, you'll find a variety of greens available: chickweed, dandelion leaves, nettle, violets, and so on. They're loaded with nutrients and make a good addition to your seasonal palate.

But even so, most of us start craving other fresh vegetables around this time of year, and they will take longer to arrive at the farmers' market. It's times like these when you may find yourself thinking, if I grew my own, maybe I'd have tomatoes (or eggplant, or peppers, or whatever) sooner.

So even though this year-long series is about preserving the harvest, we're here this week to talk about growing the produce that will be later harvested and preserved. You can't have homemade tomato sauce without the tomato plants, and at some point, you might consider growing your own and even starting those plants from seed.

At least that's where I am in my gardening journey. I've tried starting plants from seed before and always had problems with the seedlings getting too leggy. But I was determined to try again this year, come what may.

I started by soaking the seeds with a thin covering of water on dessert plates. I had read somewhere that soaking seeds helped them germinate better, but in helping the Lady Bountiful a few weeks ago, I found that she didn't bother, perhaps because of the volume she had to plant. (I'll also add that trying to pick up wet seeds and to plant them accurately is a nightmare!)

I planted the seeds in small, deep pots filled with a soilless mix for seed-starting. After covering them, I added a little water, and then I took them home and set them in a south-facing window since I don't have a grow-light set-up.

The seedlings got off to a good start, with the broccoli making an excellent jump in the first week and a handful of tomato plants close behind. How exciting!

But eventually, they just stalled. Gradually more sprouts emerged, but none have yet to get very tall or sturdy or to develop their second sets of leaves.

Here's where I should really follow conventional wisdom and rig up grow lights and shelves for multiple flats of seedlings. Everything is going against me in this set-up: a too-distant light source, a too-cool environment, not enough water, and a general atmosphere of benign neglect.

I'm still holding on to hope that I'll get a few seedlings growing a little more -- and that I'll eventually have something to transplant into the garden. But overall, this year's attempt hasn't fared much better than past ones thus far. If you want to see a successful seed-staring operation, go back and review the process the Lady Bountiful uses -- she has plenty of success!

In the meantime, I'm continuing to plan the rest of the garden, and I expect I'll get back to plant another round of early seeds fairly soon. I have big plans for this year's garden, and I'll need all the time I can get.

Why not start a garden this year and grow some of your own harvest to preserve?

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At 4/14/2009 6:17 AM, Blogger Andreia said...

This was all too very informative for me. Thanks a lot for sharing your knowledge with the world :)

At 4/14/2009 6:24 AM, Blogger The Baklava Queen said...

Hope it helps, Andreia -- and good luck! :-)

At 4/14/2009 9:20 AM, Blogger Tara said...

Jeff is trying seedlings again too. We've had the same problems as you describe in the past. He has them in a little tub and puts them out in the sun, carries the tub to a warm spot in the house... I'm just waiting for him to put a heating pad under them...
Good luck, I hope your babies make it.

At 4/14/2009 9:22 AM, Blogger The Baklava Queen said...

A heating pad? There's a thought! I wonder what other warm spots I can find for them... hmmmm... Thanks for the ideas, Tara! :-)

At 4/14/2009 3:37 PM, OpenID eatclosetohome said...

Bah. Seeds of hot-season plants are so fiddly. I will outsource my tomato and pepper seedling-growing as long as humanly possible. Everything else goes straight into the ground to fend for itself.

Seedlings don't NEED to be started early; doing so just buys you a few more weeks of harvest, or moves the harvest earlier. Theoretically, anyway...I was harvesting my volunteer tomatoes only one week after the starts I bought last year! And I never worried that I'd planted them outdoors too early. I think the variety made more difference than where the plant sprouted.

At 4/14/2009 3:47 PM, Blogger The Baklava Queen said...

That's good to know, Emily. Maybe even my baby seedlings might fend for themselves well enough if I give them a chance.


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