Posted on April 7th, 2013
Considering how much intervention is required to germinate seeds at home, it’s a wonder that the earth manages every spring. One would think, looking out over the yard at high summer, that the work required to create life would entail some good soil, and a nice window, and that’s about it. But one would be quite wrong.
Seeding takes place eight weeks before the last killing frost, — as though I have the ability to predict the weather. This rule of thumb also requires me to do math, which I resent. For most of us, start in early March. Simple as that.
So, in March, it’s time to assemble your equipment. And oh! So much equipment! There’s the heating mat, the adjustable light, and the tray, not to mention the pots, the soil and the seeds. Thankfully, there are several resources online to show you how to make your own pots, which helps with the expense.
Consider it; quite honestly, garden flowers are expensive. They really are. A bed of annuals will set back a frugal person around a hundred dollars, and if you’re like me, more. Much more. So, despite the cost and inconvenience, this should actually be cost-effective. The only recurring expense are the seeds, soil and pots. Making your own pots reduces it even more (plus you get points for recycling).
You can go crazy, and fill your house with sprouting seedlings as some lovely people do, but I decided to go small, and bought a 2 foot Hydrofarm JSV2 Jump Start T5 Grow Light System. Then, I ordered a heating mat from the same folks. It is the warmth, apparently, that really gets the seedlings going. I’m told the soil should be 10 degrees warmer than room temperature, somewhere around 80 degrees. Some people put their seedlings on their refrigerator or a laptop, any appliance that generates a significant amount of heat. If you’re not too fussy about the looks of things, consider using an outdated PC desktop computer — those things are like radiators — if you have one around.
So, I’ve got my equipment and I’m feeling pretty good about it. Looking forward to a world of little sprouts; time to decide on seeds.
You’d think this would be the most exciting part. I have been known to spend days reading seed catalogues, garden diaries, and browsing online. And it is fun – they’ll tell you the height of the plant, how much sun it needs, and so on. But they don’t tell you, like they’ll say “blooms in pink, yellow or blue” which is… disconcerting. You mean you don’t know what color this one is? Is there a good chance I’ll have one yellow seed and one blue seed? Do yellow flowers drop seeds for blue flowers? What the hell is going on here?
So there’s a certain amount of anxiety. If I get 30 seeds then hopefully I’ll get 10 of those grown enough to transplant, of which a certain percentage will be a hideous pink. Sigh.
That aside, it feels sometimes like the seed business is a whole world I have no comprehension of. The history of the industry is about as long as you can imagine, though — being a floral gardener rather than vegetables — I’m most attracted to the turn of the 20th century, with its charming illustrations and aspirational tone. But a lot of the modern designs are fun and engaging as well.
This is the most attractive product in existence, really. Flowers and vegetables aren’t tough to sell. And, as a result, I wish more time was spent on information design. Seeds are complicated. The whole thing is actually quite ridiculously complicated. In addition to the height and sunlight needs of the adult plant, I need to know whether the seed should be on the surface or under soil, how long it will take before it’s ready to harden, how much hardening is required before transplant, its natural predators (and whether there are homeopathic remedies), and if you want to score huge points, what other flowers are compatible. “People who grew this flower also grew.”
You’d think that would already exist. But no, or at least not in a format I’m willing to invest in. Oh my god, gardening sites and resources are maybe the ugliest of ugly circa 1998 websites imaginable. They can barely build a site, let alone data architectures. And it makes sense; I mean, this isn’t a high margin industry, so I get it. But it does make things difficult, when you’re trying to decide, from thousands of options (many of which are a hideous pink), which seeds to buy.
Stay tuned for part 2: the sowing.