by David Hinks
I have been checking the geraniums that I potted up last week for signs of growth – these had been pulled from the garden in mid-October, tied together in bunches, hung in a warm basement and totally ignored until I brought them from the basement last week, pruned and trimmed them ruthlessly and potted them in five-inch pots full of soil-less growing medium. In the last couple of days signs of new growth are popping out all over the stems – truly a miracle to observe and testimony to the power of the life-force that exists within plants. The following photo shows baby leaves popping out all over – the plants will be kept in a spare bedroom under fluorescent lights (within an inch or two from the lights), watered once a week and with an fan keeping the air moving constantly.
It is time to start indoor seeding in earnest. As with many things in life, timing is all important – currently we are about 13 weeks away from the May 24 outdoor planting date for frost-sensitive plants. Peppers and eggplant can grow for ten weeks indoors and be healthy vigorous plants ready to plant in the garden in late May. On the other hand tomatoes need a maximum of eight weeks; otherwise they will be huge ungainly plants long before it is time to plant them in the garden. Celery, parsley, onions, leeks and globe artichokes also benefit from a ten to 12 week head start indoors. When I mention the number of weeks growing indoors this is calculated by counting backwards from the time that the seedlings can be planted in the garden. If my goal is to have onions and leeks in the garden by the first of May and parsley and celery planted a week or two later (they have some frost hardiness so can be planted in the garden considerably before the May 24 frost-free date) then the calculation results in an indoor seeding date of precisely February 15 (just kidding – nature is a lot more flexible than this – this could easily be a couple of weeks later).
The key to growing seedlings successfully indoors is lots of light. If plants don’t have enough light they will be spindly and weak and will not be able to handle the transition to outdoor conditions. Even a very sunny window is unlikely to provide sufficient light given the number of cloudy days in winter – I have found that it is much more reliable to start seedlings under artificial light. It is also likely to get very cool at night close to the window.
The set-up does not need to be fancy. I use utility wooden shelving and suspend fluorescent fixtures by chains between the shelves so that I can adjust them to keep them within a couple of inches of the seedlings. Used fluorescent fixtures are available for next to nothing at garage sales. I use only the cheapest four-foot fluorescent tubes as my results have been just as good as using special “grow” tubes. I turn on the lights first thing in the morning and turn them off when I go to bed. I water only when the growing medium is dry to the touch but before the seedlings wilt and drain off any excess water that has not been absorbed in a couple of hours.
Seeds contain all the nutrients required for germination. I use a diluted organic fish-based fertilizer weekly after seedlings have been growing for a couple of weeks.
Seedlings are very vulnerable to certain kinds of viral diseases, commonly called ‘damping –off’. Seedlings that appear healthy topple over from the base and die. I have found that this is virtually eliminated by using a commercial soil-less mixture and new plastic inserts (I use 10 inch by 20 inch plastic trays with a 32 or 48 pot insert). I also insure good air circulation by keeping a fan running constantly. The air movement also produces stronger, stockier plants.
So I’ve filled the pots with my seeding mixture, planted one or two seeds in each pot (following directions on the packet as to seeding depth), and then covered with a clear plastic ‘green-house’ lid (which I remove as soon as the seed has germinated). Celery, celeriac and parsley are planted in 48 cell inserts, artichoke and cardoon (an ornamental relative – a gorgeous, very large structural plant) in 32 cell inserts, and onions and leeks in recycled Styrofoam boxes (they can tolerate much closer growing conditions and transplant easily). And of course the job is not done until the paperwork is finished – I make charts of all my trays and use some labels in the pots as well – onions and leeks look very similar when they start growing as do parsley, celery and celeriac.
Late last fall, I was able to salvage several pots of grass from the dumpster at a garden centre that was getting rid of plants that did not sell and that would not over-winter – these were pots of Pennisetum – a variety of grass that is generally grown as an annual here since it is only hardy to zone 8. So my plan was to keep them over the winter indoors in a sunny window as an experiment to see if they could be propagated for the next growing season.
Some of the pots have been growing rampantly as shown in the following photo – so it’s off with their heads! Grasses are tough customers – kitchen scissors did not do the job! I’m also splitting the root clump of a couple of pots into three or four chunks. The pots will be put under fluorescent lights for more intense light for the next month or so and we will see what happens. A big part of the joy of gardening for me is to experiment with different plants and techniques to see what happens. There are no absolutes – many approaches are possible if a few basic principles are followed!
I had the pleasure of visiting the MacDonald’s Corners seed swap on Saturday and met several very serious gardeners – it was totally amazing the level of knowledge and experience in the room. You do not have to be a seed-saver to attend – gardeners are more than happy to share their seeds and tubers and their knowledge.
A similar and much larger event is being held March 1st in Ottawa at Britannia Park (Ron Kolbus Lakeside Centre) – called Seedy Saturday it is a jam-packed auditorium full of vendors of heritage seeds, a seed exchange table, some yummy locally baked goods, presentations on gardening and booths by organizations such as the Ottawa Community Gardening Network and the Canadian Organic Growers.
There is also a similar event in Perth on March 2nd at the Royal Canadian Legion – Ed Lawrence is one of the presenters. In order to obtain more details about these events just Google ‘Seedy Saturday’.
Let me just remind you again of the Neighbourhood Tomato fund raising project. We have launched a sale of rain barrels in conjunction with the sale of trees by the Chamber of Commerce. We are now accepting pre-sale orders for a Fundraising Truckload Rain Barrel Sale scheduled for SATURDAY, APRIL 26 at the Town of Mississippi Mills Municipal Garage, 3131 Old Perth Road, Almonte, ON from 9am to noon. Rain barrels are being sold for $55 each or two for $110.
All orders must be placed online in advance at www.RainBarrel.ca/tomato or by calling Deanna at 613-256-7535 or e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org
And for vegetable gardeners looking for more information on growing vegetables, there is a new resource created jointly by the Master Gardeners of LanarkCounty and the Master Gardeners of Ottawa-Carleton. Called the EdibleGarden it can be found by visiting the web-site of either Master Gardener group