Starting vegetables from seed is a simple way for both novice and experienced gardeners to save money and delve into the exciting (and delicious!) world of heritage plants. In this excerpt from Thrifty Gardening: From the Ground Up (House of Anansi Press, 2012), author Marjorie Harris gives some easy-to-follow advice on growing vegetables from seed. This excerpt is taken from Chapter 6, The Thrifty Propagator.
Growing Vegetables from Seed
Some people find growing vegetables from seed intimidating. I certainly did when I had my very first garden, but I’d seen my parents do it so I did what they did: I fluffed up the soil really well, created rows to sow the seeds in, stuck twigs in the ground at the end of each row and tied strings between twigs (to attach the seed package to), and had boards to stand on between rows so I wouldn’t compact the soil. That much I’d absorbed by osmosis. I knew enough to water regularly, to thin when necessary, and to pull out weeds. We grew our own vegetables long before it was a trend in the city.
Buying plants is expensive. One tomato plant ready to pop into the ground can cost $4, but you can buy twenty tomato seeds for that amount of money. To be absolutely thrifty, form a co-operative. Choose the seeds that will grow well in your neighbourhood, divvy up the cost of seed with friends, and go into production. Even more interesting is the return of heritage seed-saving. A heritage plant is one that has a long history that can be traced back to its origins. It has not been altered by our modern technology. And if there are variants, they are odd or different because nature intended them to be that way. Until a very few years ago, saving heritage seeds was back there with the dinosaurs. Who needs them when we can get these fancy new hybrids with their guaranteed times for harvest and predictable uniformity? But now people have discovered the flavour and uniqueness of heritage vegetables, and are keen to preserve them for the future.
Sonia Day, author of Incredible Edibles, says the best vegetables and herbs to grow from seed are:
• green beans
• summer savory
• summer squash
Here are Sonia’s easy, step-by-step instructions on propagating vegetables by seed:
1. Use a sterile soil mix formatted for seed starting.
2. Plant seed in any shallow container, keep mix damp, and cover with plastic wrap (otherwise green fuzz appears on the surface).
3. Water around base of the seed container. Make sure the water is at room temperature; never use icy water.
4. Whether you keep it in sunlight or in a dark place depends on the seed so check the package to make sure.
5. When the first two leaves — the dicotyledons — develop, add a mild solution of a water-soluble, 15-30-15 fertilizer. Within six weeks, you’ll have strong, healthy plants ready to put outside.
Everyone loves to have tomato plants and I’m no different. But I’ve finally given up after planting the usual number of sets every year — I simply don’t have enough sun beating down on my garden. Sometimes you need to give in even when the spirit is willing.
This excerpt has been reprinted with permission from Thrifty Gardening: From the Ground Up by Marjorie Harris, published by House of Anansi Press, 2012.