After months of staring at the frozen tundra that has made up our garden spaces, the great thaw has finally arrived! Lawns everywhere are finally seeing the light of day here in the true north and I, for one, couldn’t be more ecstatic. This was only my second winter here in Winnipeg and I’ll tell you, staring at hypothermia in the face for five months sure does give one a genuine appreciation for warmer days.
And you know what warmer days mean…
Last spring, I had a bit of a time trying to figure out exactly how to go about the business of gardening in this much more northern climate. When should I start seeds? When can I put the seedlings outside? How well will the plants do with a shorter growing season? As with any good scientific question, experimentation is the key to the answers. That, and some really good advice from some great friends who have been doing this for a while!
This year, I am a little more educated and a lot more prepared. Even with snow still on the ground, my fingers began to itch for the feel of soil around the end of February. So, I thought I’d start with some herbs.
I had some pots of curly-leafed parsley and chives basking in the warmth of the heat lamp on my potting bench in our basement over the winter. I didn’t have high hopes that they would survive but they’re resilient little buggers, so I brought them up and placed them in our kitchen window sill. I have since added marjoram and spring onions that I rooted from fresh herbs that Darren bought for some recipes. I’m in the process of rooting some fresh thyme.
Two more weeks brought the Ides of March and it was time to plant some seeds. As the snow levels outside began to recede, I spread out my tools of the trade on the dining room table. Over the course of the winter, I had been saving all of our egg cartons for this purpose. I simply removed the lid and recycled it. I used some popsicle sticks left over from last summer’s delights as markers and labeled them with a permanent marker.
To store my collection of seeds, I use old medicine bottles with the labels removed and then just create labels for them on the computer which I fold and place inside. If you’ve purchased new seeds, you can just cut off the top of the seed envelope to fit the size of the bottle and place that inside. The lids make great tools for holding and counting your seeds as well.
As you can see, fancy tools and gadgets are not required for this task. I’m a big fan of up-cycling and things that we have hanging around that I can use for a multitude of purposes. I fill each section of the egg carton with quality soil. (Now remember, quality soil doesn’t mean you have to drop a ton of cash for it. At this time of year, one can often find bags of perfectly decent soil at the dollar store.)
Using a rounded tablespoon measuring spoon, I add the same amount of soil to each section.
I then tamp it down with the back of the spoon.
You can also use the bottom of a shot glass which has the same diameter as the egg cup.
I designate each side of the carton (six sections) for each variety of seed. I then again use a popsicle stick to make holes in each egg cup into which I place the seeds. The number of seeds I place in each hole depends on the size of the seed. I make three holes in each section in a triangle formation, then place one seed in each hole for larger seeds, two for medium-sized seeds and three for small seeds.
The reason I plant so many is to accommodate for seedlings that don’t survive past the germination stage (which is common) and the fact that not all seeds will germinate. Sowing many seeds will ensure that you have enough healthy plants to transfer to your outdoor space.
Once you have all the seeds in place, I use the popsicle stick to cover them with the surrounding soil and then once again use the bottom of a shot glass to tamp it all down. Seeds like to be snug, allowing for water to get directly to them without it having to go through any air pockets first. Air pockets also allow for any existing bacteria to attack the fragile new root systems of your seedlings. So tamp, tamp, tamp!
Now that all are in place, I set them all up in a row and smile! The first seeds of the season are tucked gently in their wee little beds.
Now to create a nice greenhouse effect to get those seeds to germinate. I cut a piece of plastic wrap around four inches larger on all sides than the egg carton. Then place the marker sticks on opposite sides of the carton. These will hold the plastic up above the seeds to allow for the air inside to heat up and warm the soil and the seeds.
Spray each seed section generously with water then bring up the two long sides of plastic together to form a seal. Run your thumb and forefinger along the seal to make sure the two sides stick to each other. Fold down the seal about an inch to the top of the marker sticks then fold the shorter sides under.
Place in a sunny window where the seed cartons will get at least a few hours of direct sunlight each day and in a week or so (depending on the germination time of your seeds) your trays should look similar to these!
To plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow. – Audrey Hepburn