Starting a garden is fun but intimidating. There’s so many things to learn and so many varieties of plants to try and grow. While I’m not a super experienced gardener yet, here’s what I’ve learned so far.
When I was a little girl my Grandmother started marigolds every winter in a little modified milk garden planter with her seeds from last year’s crop. I loved those marigolds in her brick planters and still think of her every time I see a marigold.
Seed starting from your window is relatively easy, but there are limitations.
First of all, you must have a south facing window. If you try to start seeds from any other direction, they will get too stretched out or “leggy.” Even better–a south facing corner window. In our last home we had one (two?) that faced south and east. You’ll also have to turn your plants everyday so they don’t lean too much in one direction.
Second, you must keep your house warm. Many seeds require a temperature of around 21 degrees celsius to germinate. (That’s why you’ll see lots of ads for seed mat warmers in gardening magazines.)
Finally, don’t expect your seedlings to be just like the ones at the greenhouse. The gardeners at your local green house are using grow lights, fertilizing and watering correctly. That doesn’t mean you can’t succeed, just manage your expectations.
To start, read the directions on the seed packet to see when you can start those seedlings. Plants like artichokes, peppers, brussel sprouts and flowers can be started as early as February. Tomatoes will need to be started late March or early April.
Plants in our area typically go out on the May long weekend (around May 21st) as that is when the last frost has often past. To figure out when to start your seeds, count the weeks backwards from that date. The Old Farmer’s Almanac has everything you need to figure out your planting times and great articles on how to start your garden if you are a beginner. I have a special place in my heart for the Almanac, as it was a staple in my house growing up.
How to Start Your Seeds
I like to use egg cartons to start my seeds. I trim the lid off and stick it on the bottom. To prevent the water from bleeding through, put a scrap piece of plastic wrap or tinfoil in-between the layers.
Once it’s trimmed up you can add your soil and set in your seeds.
The beauty of using an egg carton is that you can write on it directly so that you don’t forget what you planted where. It’s also nice to write the date you planted for future garden planning purposes.
You do not have to buy special flats to start your seeds! Use milk cartons and jugs or deeper plastic lids and plant away. If you start your plants in egg cartons like this, you will have to transfer them over to a larger container later on.
Seasoned gardeners, if you’re wondering why I’m starting spinach, I’m experimenting to see if I can grow some indoors in a pot. Also, my seed is old, so I’m not sure if it will even germinate. So far only 4 plants have survived.
Fun fact: apparently artichokes should be started 10-12 weeks before you intend to put them out in the garden. It’s a good thing I ordered my seeds so early. (New gardeners: most seeds require you to start them 8 weeks at the earliest, and more commonly 3-6 weeks.)
Hints for New Gardeners
If you’ve never started seeds before, here are a few things to remember:
- Plants need time to germinate. This means your seeds won’t sprout for at least a week, sometimes more.
- Water when the soil feels dry to the touch. If the ground is pulling away from the edges, you’ve waited too long.
- If you’re worried about overwatering or washing out your seeds, use a spray instead.
- Do all the fertilizer directions on the seed packet sound confusing? Water with Miracle Grow once a week to give your plants an extra boost. You can follow the fertilizer directions once you gain more confidence as a gardener.
- Start with new seeds. Some seeds can be viable for up to 10 years or more, but your germination rates decrease. My three year old pepper seeds are toast. I will try the rest once I get my grow light up and see if it makes a difference. If it doesn’t, I’ll be purchasing those plants from the greenhouse.
- Stick to two or three types of plants the first year. It’s easy to get overwhelmed.
I love gardening stories! Let me know what you’re planting this year or any tricks and tips you have about seed starting without spending a fortune.
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Gardeners in the prairie provinces of Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba face unique gardening challenges. Our harsh winters and short growing season mean that typical gardening advice doesn’t always work in our region. Here are 25 prairie gardening books that were written with us in mind. Or anyone who lives in zones 2 or 3. Enjoy!
Growing Vegetables and Fruit
by Douglas Green
An excellent guide for beginning Canadian vegetable gardeners.
by Laura Peters
I love the Lone Pine series of books and this one is no exception. If you have a vegetable garden in one of the three prairie provinces, it doesn’t get more specific to you than this.
In my last post I talked about our not-so-great outdoor space at the house. The garden space left much to be admired, so I made a plan B and am gardening at my mother-in-law’s acreage. There is a ton of space, so I’m lucky enough to be able to plant the garden of my dreams.
Possibly nightmares come September.