In the Garden:
Lower South
January, 2007
Regional Report

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Starting seeds is a great way to get kids interested in gardening.

Seed Therapy

I can't help it, I get philosophical this time of the year. Gardening fever arrives early and brings out the optimism of a new gardening season to come. If you are a veteran gardener, a hopeless romantic, an optimist, or even a new "would be" gardener just feeling the inner call to grow things, you know what I am talking about.

No doubt about it, this coming growing season will be the best ever. There are so many new species and varieties of plants to bloom and bear in our gardens, which we simply must try out this year. Outside it's cold and icy as the first really wintry weather is finally arriving. Inside there is much to be done.

There is something about seeds that symbolizes everything great about gardening. Gardeners are optimists at heart. These tiny dry, dead balls or flakes in a seed packet appear as the detritus of last year's bountiful harvests. In fact, they hold in them the promise of a new season. Place one beneath the soil, provide some warmth and moisture, and in time life emerges. With a little care it will soon bring a harvest of foliage, fruits, or flowers to what is now barren, cold soil.

The icy cold days of late winter are when gardening begins. Starting seeds indoors is our initial investment in this spring's garden. If children or grandchildren are around, it's a great way to sprout an interest in growing things. It's also a wonderful opportunity for some great conversation about life in general. Analogies abound.

I've been out in our small backyard greenhouse this week planting seeds with the kids and also starting some cuttings of various perennial flowers. Later on we'll be back to move the seedlings and rooted cuttings to larger containers as they grow into transplants. The kids will have some gifts for friends and family that they grew themselves, and plenty of plants to set out in our garden. Whether I plant seeds alone or with children, this is therapy time. When I slow down to the simple task of starting seeds and tending new seedlings, life's little challenges start to untangle and a lot of things come into a clearer perspective. Seeds are therapeutic indeed.

Getting Started
If you've never tried growing your own seeds, I encourage you to give it a go this year. Simple seed-starting kits are readily available at garden centers and online. They include a flat with transplant trays and seed-starting mix and a clear plastic cover to hold in moisture. Some even include a warming mat or tray to provide a little bottom heat.

If you go with a more economical setup without the warming mat or tray, you can set your planted flats on top of the refrigerator for added warmth until the seeds germinate. For an even more economical option, you can start seeds in used trays that have been dipped in a 10 percent bleach solution for a minute or two, or even in small paper cups with holes punched in the bottom.

In place of a fancy tray with mini-greenhouse cover, you can place seeded containers on a board and then slip the board into a clear dry-cleaner bag to create a great make-do germination chamber. Always use fresh seed-starting mix to minimize problems with seedling diseases, which can quickly ruin your new crop of sprouting seeds.

Lighting
After planting, keep the soil moist but not soggy. After seeds germinate, move them to a bright window on the south side of the home so they can get as much light as possible. If light is lacking, the seedlings will be spindly and flop over. I have two 4-foot shop light fixtures, each with one cool white and one warm white tube that I suspend a few inches above the seedlings for indoor seed starting.

A cheap timer from a hardware store is a good addition. Set the timer to provide about 14 hours of light a day. This setup will provide enough illumination when natural light is lacking. Just remember to suspend the lights no more than 3 to 5 inches above the plants to provide optimum light intensity.

It may be the middle of winter but it's time to get a start on your spring garden. A few packets of seed and some supplies are the ideal prescription for a serious case of gardening fever. If you can gaze at a tiny dry seed and see a bouquet of blooms or bushel basket of vegetables, you are fortunate indeed!


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