Creating that perfect garden can start by seeding flats in preparation for warmer temperatures.

Key to a green thumb is keeping it simple

newDonnawebSo you think gardening takes a ton of time and money? Think again. If you have a day, you can grow a sprout. In a week, you can grow a micro-green. In a month, you can grow a radish.

And at this time of year, in this climate, the growing all happens indoors – no special lab or greenhouse required.

The good news is gardening is not as intense as waitressing or nursing. There is no mid-day rush or late-night call button. The right mindset to be a gardener is to keep it simple. Put the seed and soil together, add a bit of water and the magic begins all on its own.

I seeded a flat of basil last week because I was craving fresh flavour in my salads. A “flat” is a plastic tray that can be used again and again as long as it is washed between uses. It is a standard non-metric size of 11 inches by 21 inches with drainage holes.

If you gardened last summer, you probably have leftover seeds lying around to use. I spread two centimetres of soil into the flat, sprinkle and then cover seeds with a bit more soil, and then water with warm tap water. No small pots required.

I then place a heat mat under the flat because roots grow faster if the soil is warm. If you prefer not to buy a heat mat, put your flat on a heated floor in the bathroom or above a refrigerator where the running motor keeps it warm. Newly seeded plants don’t need light until they sprout. All they need is heat.

With warm moist soil, I’ve seen seeds sprout in 24 hours. The soil is easily bought at a local hardware store or garden centre. Avoid buying compost or soils with built-in fertilizers. Buy a brand like pro-mix or sunshine mix. Soil is not food, or at least not in the way animals use food because plants make their own food from light.

Once seedlings sprout, they need light. I secured my single blue and red-emitting LED light 15 centimeters above the seeds for best effect, using electrical ties my husband found in his shop to keep the lights in position. I plan to shorten the ties and raise my lights as the plants grow so the green bits are always the same distance from the plants.

Once there is a second set of leaves, I’ll add minerals or complete fertilizer to build flavour and strength. Commercial growers of micro-greens don’t add anything because they sell or eat the plants after a week of growth. At home, I harvest for four to six weeks or until the plants get too thick and woody.

Lights, seeds, action: growing something in a day or a week or a month is one way to boost your mood and change your mindset during these dull days of January. These are not plants to plant outdoors later. These are salad toppers, flavour-boosters and mindset movers.

Donna Balzer is a blogger and enthusiastic garden speaker. Sign up for her e-newsletter at or follow her on Twitter @NoGuffGardener.