Monday, August 13, 2012

My Fall Project: A Fall Garden (And How To Plant Vegetable Seeds)

I have dreams of being an expert gardener with a yard full of flowering and fruitful plants. As you know, I'm still working on it :) But out of this dream was born my next gardening project: a fall garden started from seeds. I've never planted vegetable seeds before and I'm a little nervous about it, especially since my summer garden hasn't fared so well. The only thing that makes me feel better is that I'm getting the same report from many other St. Louisans this year. So maybe it's the weather and not all me... Either way, I'm really sad that we have a very sparse harvest.

Hopefully fall will bring more bounty! I'm planting 2 types of lettuce, spinach, kale, cauliflower and radishes. (I wanted broccoli too, but the hardware store didn't have any.) By the way, in case you're more of a novice gardener than I, these are all cool-weather crops. They can't stand too much heat and will survive outside as the weather starts to cool.

I began this gardening adventure by starting some seeds indoors in this cute little tray. I hope to improve my gardening skill and also save money! Planting from seeds is much less expensive than buying plants. I'm considering this a practice round for next spring. Here they are just planted, last Monday night.

Many seeds had sprouted within 2 days! So last night (only one week later) I began the process of thinning the plants so only the best seedlings could continue to grow. Stay tuned to watch as I transplant them into the garden as the scorching heat of summer begins to dwindle to an end. And keep your fingers crossed!

Do you want to start a fall garden too? I may not be an expert at doing it yet, but I've got the instructions down pat. It's not too late if you're in the midwest or southern U.S. Here are basic instructions for planting vegetable seeds that you'll later sow into the garden.
  1. Purchase a seed-starting tray (greenhouse) or small pots that are 1-inch by 1-inch or 2-inches by 2-inches. There are many different products you can use at your local hardware store. I opted for the tray because it has a single base tray to catch drainage, several planting trays with 1x1 "cells" and a lid. You can put water in the base tray, then set the planting trays in it and the lid on top. Moisture is contained to keep the seeds at ideal temperature.
  2. Fill each pot 2/3 full with soil made especially for starting seeds. You must use clean soil.
  3. Sprinkle 4-6 seeds in each cell.
  4. Cover seeds with a thin layer of sand.
  5. Fill the base tray with water and set the planting tray in it or set each pot in a bowl of water so soil becomes moist. Do not water the pots from the top; this increases the risk of fungus growing on top of the soil.
  6. Cover the tray with it's cover or cover each pot with plastic wrap.
  7. When seedlings begin to sprout, remove plastic cover. Remove weak seedlings so that only 1 to 2 remain in each cell. Eventually only one seedling, the strongest one, should remain. 
  8. Keep seedlings indoors, under fluorescent lights for 14 to 16 hours per day. Water lightly every other day. 
  9. Before taking seedlings outside to plant, you must "harden them off," or get them used to being outside. Take them outside, out of direct sunlight and wind, for a few hours the first day. Bring them back in. Continue to take seedlings outside for longer each day for about a week.
  10. Plant them in the garden!

Lessons I've learned so far:
  • Only plant a few seeds (like 4-6) in each cell. I way overestimated, mostly because I was afraid they all wouldn't make it, and had about 20 to weed through in each little planting cell! Way too many. Way too much time. And I couldn't help but feel a little guilty purging most of them.
  • Definitely don't skip the step that entails covering the seeds with sand. This is recommended to keep the soil from becoming too moist, which breeds the growth of fungus. I didn't have sand. I skipped this step and used soil instead. In the words of Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman, "Big Mistake. Huge." My plants got fungus. Plenty of seedlings grew, so I continued anyway and am hoping that it does not eventually kill all my plants. If so, I guess I'll have to try, try again!
For more information, check these two resources: Yardener and Better Homes and Gardens.