Campbell River, British Columbia 
 Gardening in Campbell River

Garden Thoughts for March

One of life's pleasures at this time of year is getting a jump on the
growing season by starting your own plants from seed indoors. For some of
the trickier seeds, a big setup with heaters, lights and timers is required,
but there are still many that can be started in a sunny windowsill. The
more light you can manage, the stockier and stronger your transplants will
be. If your seedlings grow tall and flop over, it's a good indication that
you need more light.

To get started, you'll need to assemble some containers, some soil and of
course, the seeds. You can use anything at all for containers, provided you
sterilize them first with a good cleaning, and make sure they have drain
holes in the bottom. If you're growing something that's sensitive about
transplanting, you can try sowing them in peat pots, which are later planted
directly in the garden pot and all. I haven't had much luck with this
method, though, as the roots don't seem to grow through the peat as well as
advertised. Another trick you can try is to use two plastic cups. Cut the
bottom out of the first and place it inside the second. Poke drain holes in
the second. When the seedling is ready for transplanting, you remove the
outer cup, then push the soil up from the bottom and the root ball should
pop out easily.

For starting seeds, you should use a special mix of soil. It's easiest to
buy it ready made, but you can make your own by mixing equal parts of
screened topsoil (or compost), peat and coarse sand. After mixing, you need
to sterilize the soil by either steaming or baking at 200 deg.C (450 deg.F)
until a thermometer registers 90 deg.C (195 deg.F). This should kill of any
weed seeds. You see why I advocate just going out and buying some! Add
fertilizer to bought or homemade mix. David Tarrant recommends
superphosphate at a rate of 15 mm (1 tablespoon) per pail of soil to build
up strong root systems.

Loosely fill the pots right up to the rim with lightly moistened soil mix.
Level off, then press down with the bottom of another pot to firm the soil.

Refer to the seed packet for specific sowing instructions. Don't sow too
closely. If your seed is very fine, you can mix it with fine sand to help
you spread it more evenly. The packet will also tell you how deep you need
to bury the seed. Some seeds need light to germinate, and some require
darkness. If you are sowing seeds that you saved yourself, or were given,
there are many good books available in the library, and bookstores that have
this information. Shake the top covering of soil (some people prefer a
different soilless mix for this) through a fine sieve, and try not to overdo
it like I always do.

Place the pots on a tray and cover with glass or plastic. Turn this every
day to check for moisture and germination. Once the seedlings show, move
the pots to the spot with the highest light levels you can manage. Be
careful not to fry them on a sunny day! Windowsills are good because they
provide the warm day and cooler night temperatures that seedlings need. In
2 - 4 weeks, your seedlings should be big enough to transplant. I'll
discuss transplanting in April's column.

Some seeds that you should do well with are tomatoes, lettuce, leeks,
onions, asters, zinnias, cosmos, marigolds, snapdragons, impatiens and
petunias. But by all means, experiment. This is your chance to grow
something a little different than what you'll find in the local garden
centres in a few months. This is also a great way to have plants available
in vast quantities. Consider how many plants (and pots) you are going to
need as you dump handfuls of seed into your growing mix. If you can manage
it, the extra plants are wonderful to have for trading, plant sales and just
plain giving.

Karen Barber is an architectural and landscape designer in Campbell River.

Her company is Madrona Design, which sponsors this Gardening in Campbell River webpage.

 Check out her site as she has added a discussion page to her website.
Like a BB where people can post questions etc. get there by clicking on the button below...

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