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Bees are buzzing, frogs are chirping, and flowers are blooming. Spring is right around the corner and we’re all thinking about starting our gardens. Before buying every packet of seeds and every other sprouting product—stop! There is a lot of planning to lure a garden up out of the ground. I prefer cost-saving measures while making the most of my space.

How to get started

Because I live in an apartment, I am limited in space and have improvised by container gardening. There are many options for container gardening such as raised beds, pots, and any other home-rigged container. Also, soil and seed markers are needed. Working in a garden center, I see various techniques and costs of startup.

Cheaper alternatives

Since my goal is to maximize quantity while minimizing cost, I try to grow from seeds, rooted cuttings, or plant division. There are some plants—such as mint and tarragon—that should only be propagated by cuttings or division since they either do not breed true from seed or are sterile. I don’t find seeds to be particularly picky about what they’re sprouted in, so any well-draining container should work. The easiest way to do this is to use small peat pots, recycled nursery pots, or a seed starting tray; however, there are many other thrifty options ranging from paper or plastic cups, cardboard egg cartons, and opaque milk jugs.

Thrifty and Timely Options

  • Peat pots: relatively inexpensive, absorbs extra water, dries out quicker, fragile
  • Nursery pots: inexpensive or free, holds moisture longer
  • Seed starting tray: saves time as they often come with dirt pellets, usually has a clear plastic cover to create a miniature greenhouse, comes with directions, may be costly

Thriftier Alternatives

  • Paper and plastic cups: time consuming, may hold in moisture
  • Cardboard egg cartons: environmentally friendly, absorbs extra water, lid to keep seeds protected from cool night temperatures, small growing space
  • Milk jugs: time consuming, environmentally friendly, acts as a mock greenhouse, start seeds earlier

Avid gardener Paula Nowak also suggests strawberry containers, clear take out containers, 2 liter bottles, or any other clear container; however, she prefers milk jugs for their reusability and size. Making a milk jug into a miniature greenhouse is simple.

According to Nowak, start by making drainage holes on the bottom—a simple knife will do the job.

On the bottom of each side, she also makes a small slash to aid drainage. She then makes a small, horizontal cut halfway up the side of the jug. Using scissors, she cuts around the entire jug to separate the top from bottom.

Then, she punches a hole in each corner of both pieces.

Water well and let drain before planting seeds. Then Nowak connects the top and bottom pieces together with green floral wire.  Remember to remove the lid from the jug.

Now it’s time to stick the jug outside to be forgotten until spring, or if already spring, check regularly for dry soil or sprouts.

How to Plant Seeds

I find it easiest to lightly fill the container with soil and gently pat it down. This will leave just enough space for your seeds and a blanket of soil to cover them with. Place your seeds on top of the soil and tuck them in under a thin layer of soil. This will work for most seeds; however, there are some seeds—such as hibiscus—that need specific treatment before planted. These preparations can range from soaking in water, chipping a strong husk, or specific temperatures to increase the chance of germination. It is best to double check their needs to ensure seeds sprout.

These thrifty, time saving, and space efficient methods work in every situation whether you container garden or a traditional garden. Now it’s time to tuck in your seeds, kiss them good night, and say “Good Morning!” when they wake up in spring.

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