February 13, 2007

Cultivating Patience

"Patience" is a virtue. It is also a mainstay for a gardener when it comes to seed starting indoors.

There we sit, seed starting mixture at the ready, seeding containers, cells, plug trays, yogurt cups...whatever...all cleaned and prepped. Tiny tools, spray bottle, fish emulsion ready to dilute when little cotyledons have given way to the first set of true seedling leaves. Heating mats or warmed rooms are arranged and set up. Expensive gro lights or considerably less costly shop lights (one warm and one cool to cover the full spectrum of light) are plugged in. Seeds chosen and journals to record (you do have a journal, don't you?) are at hand. All that's needed now is: Patience. Patience to sow that first little seed.

I've been down that eager road years before and learned the hard way that sowing seed indoors too early can lead to disaster or just a big pain in the neck trying to manage 2-3 foot-tall tomato plants or spindly foot-tall pepper plants or leggy, tangled summer heat-loving herbs like oregano and basil.

Timing is everything. In life and plant life as well. In the life of a soon-to-be-germinated seed, it's crucial to know when it should be sown. As a rule, I don't plan on planting out anything that may be harmed by late frosts, until a week after my last frost-free date. Since that date seems to be getting more and more ambiguous these days thanks to rising and erratic temperatures and the globe's warming climate overall, those FROST FREE DATES must be individually tweaked. Meaning a gardener's eye must be even keener to their previous year's planting-out dates. Most plants placed in its final garden home - even on the late side - will catch up to those planted too early and will stand a better chance of surviving aberrant frost damage, insect and drought conditions as the season progresses. A smaller, stockier plant will overcome even a touchy hardening-off process and better withstand transplant shock. So, I'd rather err on the side of caution and start my seeds later than earlier.

My usual rule of thumb is to consider when I want to ultimately plant out a particular seedling, then count back a week for hardening off and four to six weeks (sometimes eight if the seed needs a longer germinating time) before actually sowing the seed. In a season when my energies and enthusiasm is high, I'll start more seeds and use my 172-plug trays. They take up less space on my heat mats and in their little domed homes. The downside is they'll all need transplanting up to larger cell packs eventually. When I'm thinking a little more rationally and give in to the logic that I can't handle as many seedlings as I used to, I'll start my seeds directly in six or nine-cell packs, under the same conditions as I do for the plug trays. The benefit here is that once these seedlings germinate and begin growing on, they can skip the transplanting process and go directly to hardening off and planting out. The downside is less seeds started. There's a bargain in everything isn't there?

My best advice for first time seed starters when sowing indoors is to count to ten...then count again before dropping that first seed into warm, waiting soil and in eager anticipation of that hint of green to push through the surface into the light. Patience is a virtue to be cultivated as much as you'll need to cultivate those little plants once they've made their debut to the outside world.

February 11, 2007

Pesticides & Porn

What do the two have in common you may ask aside from the obvious analogy?

Well, just as those....eh.."magazines", pesticides sold on Canada's Prince Edward Island are now relegated to behind-the-counter-status.

Now, anyone wanting to purchase a potentially toxic pesticide/herbicide must specifically request it and a duly-apppointed, informed store rep must give the consumer proper instructions as to its usage and (hopefully) its potential hazards.

No one's preventing the sale of these items. Just making sure that a consumer really knows what they're getting; whether its appropriate for a specific targeted pest; and how to use it. IMO, these products are dangerous enough, but left in the hands of the ill-informed who might skip over the "use as directed" part of the label, makes these products downright lethal. Kudos to P.E.I.!