Monday, March 7, 2011

Is Spring Here Yet?

On Friday I ordered my seeds and replacement pear trees. My fingers are itching to dig in the dirt and feel the cool grainy texture. I want to smell the damp earth and feel the warm sun beating on my freckled skin. I can imagine I the birds singing and wind whistling- I am in heaven. However, I look outside and see snow- a lot of snow.

To make up for the winter storm watch we are in, I decided to start a few pepper seeds this morning. I haven't received my heirloom tomatoes or sweet peppers, but I did splurge at the grocery store and picked up a mixed pack of hot pepper seeds. I just wanted plain chili peppers, but this way we will get a surprise. Who doesn't like surprises?

I figured that we could try them and see what we get. Supposedly, there are an even number of seeds from 5 different kinds of peppers. My husband will be thrilled; he loves salsa and the hotter the better. After my habanero fiasco two years ago, I am a little leery to try a lot of fiery hot peppers. My hands are burning just thinking about the heat, but this time around I WILL definitely wear gloves when dicing. As my friend said, "if you can't stand the heat, don't go in the kitchen."

I have tried all kinds of different ways to start seeds. I have used egg shells, yogurt cups, peat pots, recycled butter dishes, milk cartons, and bottoms of pop bottles. If you can put dirt in it, I have tried it. A few years ago I stumbled upon peat pellets at the local Bomgaars. I adore these humble little "cookies" of peat.

I have been able to start seeds the last two years and actually get produce from them. That is almost a miracle. I don't have a very green thumb. These peat pellets are wonderful for me.

They come in multi-packs and look pretty boring. Just add some warm water and voila! You have perfect little peat pots without getting your hands dirty. I add my softened seeds (I soak them a few hours in warm water before planting) in the holes already provided. I squeeze the sides of the peat pellet just to cover the seeds, put them in a "greenhouse" container, and I am done. You really can't get any easier than that.

About 5 years ago, I did spring for a mini green house for seed starting, but I didn't get the results I wanted. I am convinced it let out too much moisture and the heat didn't stay inside. So, being the cheapest person in this part of Nebraska, I like to reuse clear produce containers that strawberries and blueberries come in. I prefer the ice cream cake containers from Dairy Queen or the containers that glazed donuts come in at our store. They are larger and I can fill them full with about 20 starters. I put the peat pellets inside and add a little water. Then I seal them in an old bread bag or previously used ziploc bag. As long as it's clear and keeps in the moisture it will work.

I set them on the kitchen counter and forget about them for a few days. I do check to make sure they are staying moist and occasionally let a little air into the bags. When I get sprouts, I let them go for a week or so, before I remove the bag.

This is where I struggle with starting seeds. Sometimes, I just can't keep them alive. Every day I monitor the moisture and make sure they have enough water. Last year, I didn't have too much of a problem. Maybe, my thumb is getting a little greener.

I hated spending all the time and money on seeds and soil mix when I would wind up going to the nursery and buying plants that would grow. I really have been working on starting seeds in my house, because I can buy a lot of seeds for the equivalent price of several plants from a green house. I struggle with my inadequacies, but I am improving with a few tips from my neighbors and friends.

One friend puts her seedlings in front of an oscillating fan set on low. She tries to strengthen their stems and make transplanting outside less of a shock. She just rotates the plants daily so they get the wind from all sides. I don't have fans where little fingers can reach them, but I do turn on the ceiling fans and I hope it works the same way.

About two weeks before I want to set out my plants in the garden, I move the tender shoots onto my enclosed porch and let them get accustomed to fluctuating temperatures. I usually lose a few plants during hardening, but if I don't do this step I will lose them all to shock after I plant them.

If I am lucky, I will have about half of the seedlings still growing. I have found that if I tear the bottom casing a little before planting, the seedlings grow faster. I am not sure if it helps the roots set or if it is all in my head, but I thought I would share this tidbit.

I plan on starting more seeds when they come, but today I was able to get a taste of Spring even though it is snowing. The smell of wet peat and the hope that soon I can be out in the dirt keep me going. I will be in my weed patch soon- I know it.


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