Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Planting From Seed... Like A Boss

Potager Cottage has come a long way these past months. Klee and I tore up the weed-infested backyard and added a garden gate that we found in the free section of craigslist.

Then we used the lasagna method to start our back potager. We laid down old cardboard and a lot of newspaper, which we collected from the trash bins behind the Benicia Herald. Then we laid down piles of dried leaves and truckloads of compost, followed by topsoil from a local organic supplier.

I was determined to grow from seed. I mean that's all my grandparents used, how hard could it be? Unfortunately, the top soil we added was water-repellent, making my valiant attempt to grow from seed nearly impossible.

After months of soil amending and reseeding, we finally have some plants growing. It has been a humbling learning experience for me. One does not merely plant seeds in the ground to grow plants.

So here are a few tips I've learned about growing from seed:

  • SOIL MATTERS! Make sure the soil has been well blended with compost and will absorb and retain water. This is key. The soil we used originally (which I laid over a thick layer of compost) was so water-repellent that I could actually see the water beed up and roll off of the soil. * Seemingly obvious tip: Prepare your soil prior to planting your seeds, as it is very difficult to amend soil after seeds have been planted.
  • Soak the seeds. I read zillions of blogs about planting seeds but none mentioned this little trick. Thankfully, I am a farmer's daughter's daughter. So, my mother told me to soak the seeds overnight prior to planting. This made a big difference in my second attempt at seed planting.
  • Dig ditches between rows and troughs around mounds to capture the water run-off and to encourage the roots to reach deeper into the soil. I even made a divot in the center of the mounds, with seeds planted around it, to catch more water.
  • MULCH! Mulch helps the soil to retain moisture. Straw works really well, but I didn't have any on hand and I knew it was going to be a very hot day, so I surrounded each baby plant with wood chips.
  • WATER. This seems like a no-brainer, but I didn't realize that seeds need to be watered twice a day until established. They are considered established when the second set of leaves appear. For us Californians, who are currently in a severe drought, watering twice a day feels like an act of treason. Rest assured, the watering is light and temporary. Ultimately, less than the water required for lawn maintenance; and you're growing food! 
  • Seeds do what they want. You can plant with the best of intensions, placing each seed precisely as the packet instructed you, but seeds are wily and fickle little nuggets. They migrate with the help of birds, wind, water, to wherever they deem worthy to germinate. And then they mock you. Just go with it.
In my next seed attempt I plan to start my seeds indoors in eggshells or starter pods. I have failed miserably at starting indoors in the past; but that was with transplanting from a tray, in which I managed to destroy each and every baby root that I had painstakingly grown over the previous weeks. This time I will be able to place the whole vessel straight into the ground without disturbing the root. How hard can it be?