The seeds of hope

Our gardens are open for "business"
By Lynette Walther | Mar 31, 2020
Photo by: Lynette L. Walther Tiny seedlings have been divided and placed in individual cells to develop healthy root systems.

Everyday it changes. We wake up each morning to a new barrage of bad news as Corvid-19 advances through our nation, through our lives. Hopefully you, your family and friends are all doing well. The recent weeks have made many of us think twice about and change nearly everything we do. We are stressed, we are concerned, scared, and yet we are hopeful too.

Conservative commentator David Brooks pointed out that a crisis often brings out the best in people, and indeed it has. But not in all ways. While we hear that sales of automatic rifles, handguns and ammunition have soared lately, online orders of garden seeds have been pouring in.

No doubt concern over food supplies in the near future, along with worry about grocery shopping at a time when “social distancing” has become our modus operandi, has fueled this sudden interest in gardening. That could very well be one of the best things to come out of these fateful times.

Who knows? Corivd-19 could end up launching another nation-wide series of victory gardens. Whatever the reason, many of us already know the true values of growing a vegetable garden.

There’s exercise, fresh air and of course food too. But the extra added benefit of anticipation of our harvest, the goal worth working for and waiting for is incalculable. In this time of crisis, our gardens can indeed become our refuges — refuges with benefits.

If you start seeds now, they will have plenty of time to grow when it is time to plant them outdoors. For gardening novices who are new at the prospect of starting seeds, here are some basics to get those seeds started out right:

• Use fresh seeds, or those that have been stored properly. Check the date stamped on the flap of the seed packet to see dates of effectiveness. Seeds that are beyond the dates listed are not “bad,” but rather will often have reduced rates of germination.

• For small seeds, like those of lettuce, spinach and many herbs for example, start with flats of a commercial seed starting mix which helps to prevent the possibility of diseases, like wilt, which will negatively impact seedlings. Such mixes also provide a well-drained medium for optimum germination and guarantee the absence of weeds. For larger seeds, use flats or small pots or cellpacks saved from purchases of bedding plants.

• In planting mix, sow seeds according to seed package instructions. Some seeds which have a hard outer coating will germinate better if slightly nicked or lightly rubbed on sandpaper. Some seeds, such as peas and bush or climbing beans, benefit from soaking them in warm water for three hours or overnight. Note that peas do not transplant well, and should be planted directly in the ground.

• Place flats in a warm location with plenty of direct light. A sunny windowsill is good, and try for a minimum of six hours of full sun. Supplemental light may be necessary for full germination and proper early growing. Depending on variety, germination will occur within a few days to two weeks.

• Seedlings begin with two primary leaves, and above those “true” leaves the leaves that are the same as leaves on a mature plant) will eventually form. When the true leaves (have formed, it is time to divide thick clumps of seedlings. Carefully untangle roots and plant each seedling in the cell of a cellpack where it can grow and develop a good root system. This should take another three or four weeks.

• When the plants are about six inches tall and the soil and nighttime temperatures have warmed up, it is time to plant outside. Depending on plant variety, some can be planted in the ground sooner than others. Lettuce, broccoli, chard, kale, fava beans and cabbage for instance will tolerate cooler soil and nighttime temperatures than eggplants, peppers or tomatoes will. When nighttime temperatures are consistently in the 60s, it is okay to plant those tomato plants. Those 60-degree nights are also the signal for conventional bean varieties to start setting blooms.

Most important is the garden soil in which your plants will be growing. Anything you plant will only be as good as the soil it is growing in. That means, cultivate your garden well, remove stones, add compost and work that in. Remove weeds as they appear, and add them to your compost pile. A healthy soil will produce healthy plants that do not need extra toxic chemicals to thrive. Inspect plants daily for pest invasions, and handpick pests to ward of real damage. And while you are at it, rejoice in your surroundings, appreciate the experience and enjoy your harvest. Easy peasy, and your first garden is bound to be a success.

Stay safe, wash your hands and don’t touch your face.

Lynette L. Walther is the GardenComm Gold medal winner for writing and a five-time recipient of the GardenComm Silver Medal of Achievement and the National Garden Bureau’s Exemplary Journalism Award. Her gardens are in Camden.

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