In the Garden:
Mid-Atlantic
February, 2011
Regional Report

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Good lighting, sterile soilless mix, heat, and consistent moisture are important to successfully starting seeds indoors.

From Catalog to Seed to Salad (and Flowers)

Looking for brilliant orange Mexican sunflower (tithonia) that Lucy likes, I'm waylaid by the nasturtiums. Victorian 'Empress of India' with long-spurred crimson flowers and blue-green foliage is a handsome, front-of-the border, hummingbird magnet. Will 'Vanilla Berry' with a strawberry eye be a weak or strong visual complement?

Yes, the pleasure of browsing a seed catalog in February. The imagination flies. Snow's on the ground, yet the occasional warm day promises spring. Research says that turning down the corners of catalog pages with pictures of your choices is as satisfying as actually shopping.

True gardeners won't agree. They know enjoying the miracle of growth takes time and effort after you pay your money and slit open the seed packets. Starting flowers and vegetables from seed is quite amazing, from watching the first cotyledons or seed leaves poke through to snipping the last florets of cauliflower. Looking at even the most enticing photos is no comparison.

The Miraculous
Think about this. We sprinkle a few black specks resembling punctuation marks on crumbly garden soil. Five weeks later, we're munching crisp, fresh salad greens. Ssshhh. Don't tell anyone how easy this is. They might want to try.

On second thought, starting seeds is a skill and art worth sharing. For less than $5, we can sow a packet of 'Tangy Mesclun Blend' (aka Spring Mix) that will feed us deliciously and nutritiously for two, three weeks. (No driving, no parking, no waiting in the grocery line.)

Yes, Mother Nature plays her part, with sun and rain. We do too with a little TLC, gentle weeding, then clipping off leaves for lunch. Mesclun (from the French mescla, to mix) is a melange of young tender greens such as lettuces, arugula, and chicory. The cut-and-come-again technique keeps roots intact. Clip and savor the leaves. In a week or two, more mesclun pushes skyward to be sheared again.

Tithonia
Back to Lucy's Mexican sunflowers. Lucy loves them. She can't get enough of these multi-stemmed beauties in her garden beds. Tithonia isn't usually found in garden center six packs. Mid-spring, my routine is to start them indoors from seed.

While I'm at it, I sow 'Genovese' and 'Thai' basil, Lucy's orange zinnias, maybe some new, unusual, or colorful annuals. With limited space and time, I try to keep the project small, though it's often an "eyes are bigger than my stomach" scenario.

Seed starting indoors involves paraphernalia such as grow lights and stands, table, heating mats, plastic table cover, containers such as six-packs and biodegradable pots, soilless seed-starting media, milled sphagnum, liquid kelp, capillary matting, timers for lights and heat mats, aluminum foil or foil backdrop, plastic wrap, seed-starting kit with clear plastic dome ....

Recent lesson learned: it's easier to resurrect materials in February when come spring I clean and store them in the same boxes on the same basement shelf.

Tips
Sprinkle milled sphagnum on soil over newly sown seed to stop damping off.

When watering, add a splash of liquid kelp (well-diluted).

The new T5 fluorescent grow lights are worth the extra cost. They produce more lumens, last longer, and use less electricity than shop lights.


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