Start Your Seeds Today

There is confusion among new gardeners when it comes to growing plants from seed. Can you really use toilet paper rolls to start seedlings? Sure – if you have a stack of them on hand and don’t mind them falling apart just when you need them to hang together.

How about seeding into eggshells? Fine, if you buy jumbo free-range eggs. Some of the regular eggs are so fragile, it’s difficult to get them out of the fridge without crumbling the shell. Free-range eggs are usually tough enough but are they big enough? A small container such as a tiny eggshell needs to be misted and watered continuously.

I prefer starting seeds in the plastic flats purchased at garden centres, or re-used from earlier plant purchases. Last spring one of my clients was busting to get growing. He followed all the little tips online and in books but still he wondered “Am I doing it right?”.

When I checked in on him last April I was amazed. All his herbs and vegetables were growing perfectly in uniform pots with lights 15 centimetres above foliage as prescribed, on adjustable shelves in a cool comfortable basement. A fan kept the air moving and the plants strong.

The only problem I could see? The seedlings were all big enough to go outdoors right away but there was still a metre of snow outside. Oops – I guess he’ll be adjusting and staggering his timing this year.

It is officially too late now to seed lobelia, geraniums, begonias, leeks and onions in Calgary, but eager seed-starters still have the following options:

Tomatoes need six to eight weeks of indoor growing so start them now until late March under lights. Within three weeks of seeding, transplant them into individual nine centimeter pots. Then plant them outdoors from late May to early June in Calgary.

Broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage only need four to six weeks of indoor growth before planting, but they go outside when it is cooler, well ahead of tomatoes. I am going to be wildly optimistic and suggest a mid-April start date indoors and a mid-May planting date outside. Zucchini, squash and cucumbers need warm evenings outdoors and only a four to six week start indoors.

In Calgary, start them one seed per nine centimetre peat pot in early May. Set the whole pot, without disturbing the soil, into an outdoor raised and compost fortified bed four weeks later in early June.

Lettuce will germinate overnight if grown over a heat mat indoors. I have been starting it since early February and have been clipping and eating the baby lettuce leaves along with my pea sprouts for weeks, but I won’t start lettuce directly outdoors until the snow melts on my outdoor beds. My beds face south so this usually happens by mid to late March. I direct seed spinach and lettuce in these thawed, snowless beds because they will sprout when they are ready even if it is cold outside and continues to snow off and on.

Garlic is supposed to be planted outside in early fall but if your storebought or garden-harvested garlic bulbs are sprouting now, split them apart into separate cloves and push them into soil in pots, pointy side up. Pop them under your grow lights or in a sunny window and plant them outside as soon as you can work the soil in late April or early May.

Donna Balzer is Calgary’s garden guru. Check out her blog at GardenGuru.net

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