Know What to Grow
The days are starting to get longer and my heart is already pounding with excitement for Spring! The Gardening Season has already began for me, for it's time to shop for seeds.
The first step is deciding on what you are growing, but remember not to go crazy here! Think of the space and time that you’ll have available in the Summer to take care of your personal jungle! Then make your plant wish list.
If this is your first time gardening, make sure you chose some easy to grow plants. Last week I've made an "easy to grow crops for the beginner gardener" list where you can get some inspiration for yourself.
Going easy doesn't mean you have to go boring. I suggest you to select some jazzy varieties of our everyday favorites. For example, if you want to grow carrots, try a variety that looks fun, like the red core ones; or give it a shot to Casper white eggplant, they look awesome and are delicious roasted with olive oil. Growing different varieties makes your garden look more interesting and promotes diversity. Besides it's super fun to have different looking fruits and veggies in the garden and in our dishes.
From those plants you've selected you'll need to know whether to buy their seeds or seedlings. Let's start the with easy ones.
Some seedlings do not like having their roots disturbed and don't transplant well, for that they should be directly sown in the garden. These are most of the root vegetables you'll grow. Spinach and Peas don't like to be transplanted either, so you should sow their seeds in their permanent spot.
Some others plants have a short growing period so to save time, money and trouble I usually direct sow them. A few example of those are Beans, Corn, Cucumbers, Garlic, Lettuce, Melons, Okra and Squash.
For all these vegetables I've mentioned you just have to bother buying the seed and then planting them in the garden. What a breeze! It would be wonderful if we could do that to all our crops. Unfortunately here in New York, which is Zone 7, it's not the case for it's too cold to do so.
Many of our favorite vegetables need some extra days or even months of warm weather to live in its full potential (which I can totally relate with). The eggplant for example, needs around 120 days to mature from seed and it's killed by frost. So if you are in Zone 7 like me, you don't have enough warm days in the year to actually start the eggplant directly outdoors.
However, grown seedlings of common varieties of Eggplant, Peppers, Tomatoes, Squash, Cucumbers and other very few selections, can be easily found in nurseries and garden centers. They are definitely more expensive than seeds, but usually nothing terrible. In Long Island a vegetable seedling costs around $3 to $5. Since starting seeds indoors can be quite demanding, a trip to your local nursery can be a life saver. On top of being a pleasure to wander among halls of plants.
Besides, some plants are really hard to start from seed. Some seeds even need special conditions to sprout, and there's those young seedlings that will die on you no matter how much you try. In these cases is worth just buying the plant. Specially if the price tag won't hurt you.
The problem is, their variety is very limited. Those pretty looking eggplants, or exotic pepper you would love to grow will not be available in a garden center for you to shop for. The solution is starting those seeds indoors. That can be a very frustrating activity, specially in your first attempt. I literally killed all of my seedlings the first year I tried, and just a few survived on the second, but with time you'll get it right and it's totally worth it.
The biggest challenge is providing the right amount of light and humidity to the young seedlings.
Ideally, you would buy or DIY growing light systems like this one on the picture bellow, to grow your seedlings and increase dramatically your chances of success. As a matter of fact, on the Internet you can find many other equipment that would help you make the seed growing process a piece of cake.
However, those are not for everyone, myself included. I live in a small rental apartment and I do not have room for one of those. It'll be probably be the first thing I'll buy when we move to a bigger place though.
So for now I improvise. I have a single window that's south faced, and gets a decent amount of sun. It's not enough to make my seedlings awesomely strong to begin with, but they survive and improve their performance once they are outside.
I bought a long time ago this growing tray that works like a small green house, and I use it every year to sprout my seeds, then once they sprouted I transfer them to the window and hope they'll make it. I'll write a step-by-step on how I start my seeds indoors when it's time to do so.
The important thing right now is for you to decide if you are buying your seed packages right now, or if you are going too buy seedlings latter in the season. If you decide on buying seeds don't delay to do it because some plants need to be started in mid February already, and make sure you buy seeds and seedlings from a reliable source.
I recommend always buying organic and heirloom seeds and seedlings for many different reasons, but that's for another day.
There's many good places to buy seeds and seedlings from, but so far my favorites are Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds and Seeds of Change. Garden centers and nurseries also offer some reliable seed packages, but they don't usually have a big selection to chose from.
Now go ahead and shop for your seeds as soon as you can. Time flies and soon I will have seedling trays pilling up all over my kitchen, where my bright window is and I will make sure to report everything here. I would love to hear your experiences, opinions and help out with any question you might have.
What are you going to grow?