Susan Hoysagk is a seasoned nurse who, when not busy "nursing it up," can be found gardening, experimental cooking with fresh organic herbs and veggies from her garden, reading, writing and rearranging her yarn stash.
The first gathering of salads, radishes and herbs made me feel like a mother about her baby—how could anything so beautiful be mine? ~ Alice B. Toklas
Until the weather warms and spring rains become less torrential, I start my lettuce and mustard babies indoors. They just do better this way, and are easily transplanted out on a cool and overcast day (to lessen the shock to my sensitive and coddled veggie infants). I have a homemade set-up constructed from wire shelving, shop lights and a timer. The lights are attached with small-gage chain and s-hooks to make them adjustable. They start low and close to the planting medium and I raise them as the plants gain height. The shop lights hold two florescent bulbs—one warm and one cool—to give the plants the right lighting. Warm? Cool? In this aspect the terms do not describe temperature but light spectrum. Our sunshine contains the rainbow of colors (literally) needed for photosynthesis (turning light into sugar energy) as well as growth. Indoors, my warm light bulbs emit red and orange light that stimulates plant growth while the cool bulbs emit the yellow-green and blue light used for growth regulation. Using one of each gives more balanced light to produce plants that are neither stunted nor leggy. There are full-spectrum bulbs that do have both but are much more expensive. High-efficiency bulbs are also available, using less electricity and having a longer life-span but must be used with special electronic ballasts—again pricier.
Indoor grow lights need to be adjustable to accommodate growing seedlings. Photo By MissMessie/Courtesy Flickr.
Wire shelves allow better airflow to decrease dampening off and increase diffusion of light. Adjustable ones make it easy to tailor the heights to one’s physical needs or restrictions. As far as dampening off goes, it is caused by various fungal diseases and is characterized by basically a sudden death. Sometime after you are oohing and ahhing over your precious new start the seedling stem withers away and over it flops, dead, dead, deadski.
The timer makes sure the plants get exactly the number of hours of light for best growth. Most vegetables are what botanists call long-day plants, requiring 14 to 18 hours of light a day! Then they need to sleep, for this is when respiration occurs. Remember those sugars created during photosynthesis? Well now is when the plant burns those sugars for energy that it can use for living, growing and reproducing. For my needs, early spring jump-start, my set-up works great and is economical.
Plants started indoors give you a head start in the garden. Photo by wentzy/Courtesy Flickr.
So, the starts are ready for those containers and raised beds I talked about last time. For people making their own raised containers or potting boxes (or having someone make them), the height off the ground depends upon the gardener. The top of the box being about two feet from the ground would be easily accessed by a wheelchair user. Pots and planters of any type need to have holes in the bottom to allow for good drainage. This also means setting the planter on something to keep that hole unobstructed. I am going to lose a potted lavender plant because, although I had it on a raised wooden rolling stand, the hole was smack dab in the middle of a board. Lavenders absolutely hate wet feet but any plant would have objected to the swampy conditions the lack of drainage created. I use old pot chards or mesh screen remnants to cover the drain holes to keep the soil in the containers without blocking the hole.
Careful consideration of construction materials is important especially if you are using the planters for edibles. Stay away from pressure-treated wood or any treated wood as the chemicals will leach into your soil and your food! Container depth depends on what you want to grow. The fairly shallow root system of lettuce won’t mind a shallow container while conversely your tomato plant will! Leaning tower of Pisa tomato plant anyone?