No Greenhouse? No Problem

I started my flower seeds last weekend and I am not using a greenhouse. I am using my growop — a bank of lights tucked into a niche off the kitchen.

The phrase “grow-op” has certain negative implications but I swear I’m not breaking any laws. I love flowers and I hate the big price of buying them retail so I am starting a few at home from seed.

The fine print on the seed packets lists the time needed for starting flowers indoors before planting outdoors. We were five weeks from the last frost-free day in most parts of Calgary April 8, so as of last weekend, plants listed as needing a start four to eight weeks before the last frost day will work.

This means it is too late to seed geraniums, lobelia, pansies, begonias, snapdragons or petunias at home. But it is the perfect time to seed marigolds, aster, lavatera, cosmos, calendula and nasturtium indoors. Outdoors it is a good time to direct seed poppies, sunflowers and sweet peas. Direct seeding means you don’t have to start it first indoors and then move it out.

My shopping list for starting seed indoors includes Pro-Mix brand “soil”; various containers, depending on what I have on hand and labels and flats to hold containers. I make the labels first so I don’t forget, spread the flower seed on the soil then crumble extra soil between my hands to cover seed lightly. I never use ice-cold Calgary tap water. I warm it a bit or leave it to sit overnight to come to room temperature before I gently sprinkle it on seeds and soil. Then I cover the flat of containers with a clear plastic dome. A warm spot on a heated floor will urge the seeds to surface in a few days. Once sprouted, seedlings need light so I take off the plastic cover and switch on the grow lights for 12 hours a day.

For poppies, just grab a package today and head outside sprinkling seeds where you want them. You don’t need the soil to be thawed or the seed to be covered. Sweet Peas and sunflowers can also be planted outside now but try to find a warmer site against a building or fence where it will be sunny this summer and gently poke the big seeds into the ground as you plant so they are covered.

Once you plant seed, repurpose a bank of fluorescent tubes or buy some utility lights cheap to set up your own grow-op. Suddenly you are a grower, part of that special and powerful club of gardeners who can grow what they want when they want it at a fraction of the cost.

Balzer speaks and writes about gardening, has a garden segment on CBC radio, tweets @NoGuffGardener and blogs at GardenGuru.net.

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