In the Garden:
Upper South
March, 2007
Regional Report

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Armed with a new pair of gardening gloves and packets of seed, I'm ready for the gardening season to begin!

Seed-Starting Ideas and More

Having put off making the final decisions on my seed orders for this year, I recently had a weekend marathon poring over catalogs and Web sites, comparing varieties and prices. My head spun with the seemingly endless options among tomatoes (all of which supposedly taste wonderful), and I tried to read between the lines on glowing descriptions of green beans. Actually, reading garden catalogs is a great way to learn about gardening. Besides information about the different varieties, there's usually planting details, plus some companies have recipes and ideas for using vegetables.

My favorite catalog this year for cooking help was John Scheepers Kitchen Garden Seeds (http://www.kitchengardenseeds.com). The most interesting suggestion was to toss parsnips, butternut squash, onions, seedless grapes, and minced fresh sage leaves with olive oil, then roast in a 425-degree oven for 45 minutes.

Besides growing information and recipes, I also enjoy reading about the various garden tools, supplies, and equipment (which subliminally promise to help me have the perfect garden). Gadgets and gizmos can be wonderful things, truly making a task easier or more efficient. The trick is in figuring out which ones really will be a worthwhile purchase, not just another item cluttering the garage or garden shed.

At this time of year, seed-starting supplies are high on the list. What is new to me may be old hat to you, but following are some of the items that caught my eye.

Seed-Starting Supplies
For something that basically requires only a pot and some soil, there are lots of options available. Why should you spring for something more expensive than the seed-starting kit at your drug store? Although more expensive, most of the seed-starting systems available from garden companies are much sturdier and longer-lasting. And if you've ever started seeds before, you know how quickly the soil can dry out, so the type that includes a self-watering system can prevent disaster on that front. Clear plastic covers help to maintain moisture and humidity, and those with adjustable vents help to prevent heat buildup.

To help ensure success, use a soilless mix specified for germinating seeds. Some contain fertilizer while others don't, which means you need to feed plants once they get several leaves. Two soil mixes that stood out were the Germinating Mix from Cook's Garden, (http://www.cooksgarden.com), comprised of sphagnum peat moss, perlite, black rock phosphate, greensand, alfalfa meal, and other nutrients; as well as Natural Beginnings Seed-Starting Mix from Gardens Alive (http://www.gardensalive.com). It's based on coir, a coconut fiber, and includes worm castings and mealworm guano as natural nutrient sources.

Another option for the "soil" are various plugs, sponges, disks, pellets, and cubes, usually dried and compressed, waiting for you to add water. Those offered by Seeds of Change (http://www.seedsofchange.com) are unique in being formed of composted bark fiber inoculated with beneficial microorganisms, which enhance nutrient uptake and increase disease resistance. Park Seed (http://www.parkseed.com) has had a sponge-and-planting-block system for years that, from first-hand experience, I know works well.

Another item that helps to ensure seed-starting success is a seedling heat mat, although they are a bit pricey. Certainly, you can use the top of your refrigerator to get that beneficial bottom heat, but using a heat mat is much handier and keeps the kitchen cleaner.

Without a greenhouse or that proverbial "bright sunny window," some type of artificial light will make a big difference in how well the seedlings grow. The NGA Garden Shop (http://nga-gardenshop.stores.yahoo.net/lightgardens.html) carries several different light gardens. A fluorescent shop light equipped with one warm-white and one cool-white tube will get the job done on a low budget.

When seedlings are ready to be transplanted to larger pots, one of the more interesting options are fiber pots made from odor-free, 100 percent composted cow manure. Appropriately, they're called Cowpots. As the plants grow, they are fertilized from the pots as these gradually degrade, then pot and all are planted, eliminating transplant shock. These are available from Gardener's Supply Company (http://www.gardeners.com).

Enjoy trying new tools and supplies as you begin a new growing season. There's always lots to tempt us!


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