by Mira Dessy
Spring is here! Well not really, but my seeds just arrived. Even though my actual planting date is several months away now is the time to get the garden started. By starting early I can get a jump on the growing season for those things that take a long time, like squash and tomatoes. I can also start an early crop of those plants that I would like to have a lot of for canning or freezing such as peas and beans.
Although beans grow quickly by planting them indoors I get three crops, one 2-3 weeks after I transfer them to the garden, one in the middle of the season (I plant those in the ground after the first frost free date) and another crop at the end of the growing season (planted 3-4 weeks after the second crop). In addition to ensuring that I have lots of extra beans for canning and freezing this method also allows me to use less space in my garden for these items.
There are a couple of ways to really save money when you start your garden early. First is to realize that you don't need to plant the entire packet of seeds. Many seeds, if stored properly, will continue to remain viable for up to 4 years. The best way to store them is to carefully reclose the package (or use an envelope if the package is too damaged to reuse) and then place them in a Rubbermaid-type container. In the bottom of this container you should have a thin layer of powdered milk covered by a piece of wax paper. The powdered milk acts as a desiccant, drawing moisture away from the seeds and the wax paper is a barrier between any excess moisture and the envelopes. I write the year I first used the seeds on the envelope. This box needs to be kept in a dry dark place after you have planted all of your seeds.
After three years I start testing my seeds for germination by placing 10 seeds in a damp paper towel. Keep the paper towel moist but not sopping and check for 7-10 days. However many begin to sprout is your germination rate. As far as I am concerned if I get at least half to germinate then I continue to use the seeds. If less than half sprout then I buy new seed.
Another thing that can be done is to use a paper pot maker. It is expensive, $18 from Gardener's Supply, but definitely worth it. Basically this little device creates a pot out of newspaper. It's a great way to recycle and the pots can be put directly into the ground so that you don't disturb the roots when you plant. The pots are fairly sturdy and last just about long enough to get them into the ground. This saves having to buy or scrounge plastic pots that break on a fairly regular basis. Also, because these paper pots are smaller it is easier to get a lot of them in front of the window sill. I usually place them in aluminum pans and then wash the pans for reuse after the plants have been moved outside. I also only plant 1-2 seeds per pot thereby avoiding the "thinning" factor of having to rip plants out of the ground and throw them away. If you are interested in learning more about how to economize with your seed "Square Foot Gardening" by Mel Bartholomew is an excellent source book.
One other way to save money by starting your plants indoors is to buy seed for perennials. This year I bought some lavender and some sage. These will be started indoors to allow them to grow under carefully cultivated conditions. By the time I get them outdoors they will be the same size as those I would have bought from the nursery. At the nursery they usually cost $1-2 each. A packet of sage seed cost me $1.40 and there are lots of seeds in the package. I will save some in case some of the plants don't make it. I usually start more than I need to accommodate failed germination, but also because then I can make nice little "gift" baskets to give to friends.
Mira G. Dessy is a computer consultant, educator and writer. Her other interests include gardening, canning and baking. She and her husband live in Vermont with their three children and a dog.
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