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Saturday, February 9, 2008

The Magic of Seeds

I rather consider myself a kindred spirit to Jack, he of the famous beanstalk.

Were I in his shoes and sent on an errand to sell our dried-up milk cow so my mother and I could eat, could I pass up the allure of magic beans? No way! Not a chance.

I love seeds. I love handling them, rattling them in my palm. Sifting them through my fingers. Comparing their shapes and sizes. Picturing what they’ll become.

I love being able to buy them this time of year, which right now in my neck of the woods is a stark snowy winter at its fiercest. On a recent trip to the drug store to buy nasal spray and cough drops and flu medicine for those sick at home I also found a cardboard display of seeds, glorious seeds. I snatched them up. The neat, pretty packets, each with a photograph of sunny promise, did as much good for me, I think, as the medicine did for my family.

Magic beans indeed. In all my years of planting seeds I’ve never quite gotten over the miracle of it all. Just imagine – a single shriveled-up pea unfolding into a strong vine with dozens of shiny green pods. Or your dining table punctuated with a homegrown bouquet that started out the size of the period at the end of this sentence. Amazing.

It’s the potential within that makes seeds so fascinating. Growing them can be a highly satisfying hobby. For the last several seasons I’ve delighted in starting seeds indoors, increasing the amount I plant each year. There is no better antidote for the winter blahs, for me at least, than to watch my seedlings grow.

Other benefits of starting seeds are cost, greater variety and being able to lengthen the growing season. Of course the best part is the enjoyment of having a hand in the growing process.

Starting seeds indoors is really easy. Truly. Don’t be deterred because you don’t have a green house or even a light table. I don’t. Yes, those things can help, but if you have a sunny window, you’re on your way.

The Internet is a wealth of information on this subject. I found this article to be very helpful on explaining the basics. Keep in mind that the timelines given in this article apply to Missouri. To learn more about climate zones, including how to learn which zone you are in, check out this site. Also, Johnny’s Selected Seeds offers a highly informative seed catalog.

From my own trial and error I add these tips:

• Start out small. You’ll feel more successful with one container of well-tended seedlings than with multiple neglected flats.

• Zinnias, marigolds, alyssum, cosmos pumpkins, squash and even tomatoes are among the easiest seeds to start indoors. Plus they’re readily available. Beans are also easy, but are better suited to planting directly outside.

• Keep your eye open for good seed deals. My drug store excursion was 10 packets for $1. This is a great way to first tint your thumb green, then you can move on to more expensive, specialty seeds. Also consider sharing seeds with a friend. (Do you really need 20 zucchini seeds? NO!)

• Think of the ultimate planting conditions you have to offer. For example, is your yard or patio shady or sunny? Devote your seed efforts to plants with similar light needs. (Seed packets will detail this.)

• Look for warm areas in your home, since for many seeds temperature may be more critical than light. (After all, when you bury a seed, it’s in the dark! Again, the seed packet can tell you whether seed needs light to germinate.) Good warm seed-starting locales include the top of your water heater, dryer or refrigerator, and also the bathroom sink cupboard (especially if above a heat vent).

• If you lack a green house or grow light, be willing to move your seedlings around the house to maximize their sunlight exposure.

• When outdoor temperatures allow, take your seedlings outside for improved light and air circulation. (Think: if you don’t have to wear a jacket, it’s a good day to do this.) Start with about an hour a day in a sheltered (partly shady) area, increasing the amount of time and sunlight each day. This is called hardening off. Trust me on how important it is to do this gradually. I “burned” an entire flat of impatiens last year on a first sunny April afternoon. Now, who was the impatient one?

• Be creative in your use of pots and other containers. I will detail some of my ideas for this in a future article.

Most of all, have fun! Include the children in your life in this process. The world needs a few more visionary Jacks.



Jennifer said...

I forgot to add that if you do place seeds in a warm, dark place for germination, move them back to full light after they have sprouted.

Happy planting!

m. said...

what a great article! i think i might give this a go. can't wait to hear more!

Sarah said...

isn't it marvelous? can you believe you can put a seed into dirt and all the right elements exist and mingle to grow a plant. a plant that provides oxygen or possibly yeilds fruit that can sustain life. i am, and always will be, amazed by seeds. what a miracle?

nyclizzie said...

Thanks for inspiring me! After a trip to Lowe's to buy a big garbage can, I passed the seed display, stopped short in my tracks and became mesmerized by the colorful packets. I didn't leave empty handed either. I bought some zinnias, sunflowers and zucchini pkts along with pre soiled flats. I'm so excited about this! Here's to more happy planting!