Grow a Love of Gardening
The snow is melting, the birds are chirp, chirp, chirping, and the earth is waking up. One way to herald in the milder weather is by spending these last few cool weeks dreaming up a beautiful family garden.
March happens to be the perfect time to start seeds indoors here in Pawling. If you have never tried this before you will soon learn that even the littlest members of the family can make themselves very useful in the seed starting process. You will also find that kids who grow veggies eat veggies!
The Farmer’s Almanac lists March 5 through 20 as the perfect time to begin peppers, tomatoes, broccoli and Brussels spouts inside. If started in March, these crops will be ready to transplant outside in early May, when the threat of frost has diminished. Generally, it is best to start seeds indoors eight weeks before the last threat of frost.
To begin you will need a few supplies:
- Seeds (I highly recommend organic, one packet of each type you want to grow)
- One bag of organic seed starting mix (sometimes called germination mix)
- One bag of organic transplant mix
- A large plastic bucket and spade for mixing the seed starter mix
- Starter pots – these can be purchased at a garden center or you can use something from around the house, like empty yogurt containers, milk cartons, anything that is approx. 3 inches deep and can hold soil.
- Popsicle sticks (enlist your kids’ help – they will no doubt enjoy eating all the popsicles first!)
- Tray to catch draining water
- Small watering can or a cup for water
- One clean spray bottle for water (this should not have any soap residue inside)
- Plastic wrap
- Organic liquid fertilizer or fish emulsion
- Grow lamps or fluorescent shop lamps with means to raise them up and down
Once you have assembled all your supplies, let the fun begin. While the adult is poking holes in the bottoms of your growing containers (if they do not already have holes), let your children help you mix warm water into the seed started mix. You’ll want it moist, but not too soggy. Kids will love helping you add the seed starter mix to your growing containers. Fill each container within an inch of the top. Poke one hole in the center of the soil, about ¼ inch deep. Little fingers are great for this job. If you are going to be putting multiple seeds in a container be sure that there is at least one inch between each seed. Place one seed in each hole. Cover the seeds with more seed starter mix and let a helper with a little palm firm down the soil. Show your child how to moisten the freshly planted seeds by spraying on room temperature water with the spray bottle. This will be his or her daily duty. It is very important not to let the seeds dry out. Decorate the Popsicle sticks, label them with name of seed and the date you planted them, stick them into each container.
Once planted, place all the containers on a plastic or metal tray to catch any draining water. Then place a layer of clear plastic wrap over the top of the containers to hold in moisture and protect from pets. Place the container in a warm area to germinate. The top of a refrigerator will work. Let your kids spray the soil daily with warm, clean water and check for any signs of life. In five to ten days your seeds will surface. Once you see sprouts emerge you must move the seeds to a well lit area.
If you do not have a warm, sunny windowsill large enough to accommodate your seed trays you can set up a growing lamp. You will want to hang the lamp about two inches above the seedling, and rig it so you can raise it up as the seedlings grow. The seedlings will need either natural or artificial light for 12–16 hours a day. If you are growing your plants in a sunny window, do not forget to rotate them every few days to keep them growing up straight and strong. Once your plants grow their first two oval leaves you can start watering them with a trickle from your watering can. Remember, moist, not soggy.
When seedlings are 2-3 inches tall you will need to transplant them into larger pots to give them room to grow. Larger yogurt containers work well (again, do not forget to poke drainage holes). When transplanting you can use a coarser growing medium, look for a transplant mix. Remind your children to be gentle when they transplant. Treat the seedlings like the delicate babies they are.
Once the seedlings have been transplanted to the larger pots you will need to start feeding them once a week. Use an organic liquid fertilizer or fish emulsion, but be sure to dilute to half the recommended strength. The tender seedlings cannot withstand full strength.
Make sure your seedlings get as much light as possible and never dry out. They should be ready to plant outside in the beginning of May, or after the temperature is above 50 degrees day and night. You should let your plants acclimate to the outdoors by letting them sit in their pots outside for a couple days before you plant in the ground. On their first day out, let them sit in the shade, then take them in at night. On the second day out, place them in full sun. Don’t forget to keep watering.
Starting seeds indoors is a fantastic way to get your kids excited for spring. Create a gardening calendar together and keep track of your efforts. When your little ones grow impatient, waiting for their plants to sprout and grow, take that time to teach them about nature and gardening. Explore topics like photosynthesis, climate, frost, and garden pests at the library and on the Internet. Let your children’s interest lead the way!
Please send your happy planting pictures in to the Pawling Public Radio website. We’d love to share your family gardening fun!
Two useful links:
This article is sponsored by a generous donation from M&S of Pawling. http://www.mandsofpawling.com/