· Cucumbers: 2-4 plants
· Peas: lots – spaced three inches apart go for at least a six foot row
· Tomatoes: estimates vary from 2 to 8 plants
· Peppers, sweet: 2-4 plants
· Zucchini: 1-2 plants
· Carrots: at least one 4 foot row
· Herbs: one healthy plant should suffice
That covered the bulk of what I wanted to grow. I’d probably plant half as many radishes as carrots, and I had a rough idea that about a sixth of the bed would be entirely lettuce. I’d plant a succession of green onions and since they’re compatible with most veggies I’ll intersperse them here and there.
One thing I was sure of is that I wanted to grow heirloom seeds. Most veggies today are bred for qualities other than taste, like shipping endurance and shelf-life and often taste like cardboard bought from the supermarket out of season. Wanting to enjoy the old-school taste of vine-ripened produce picked at the peak of quality, I turned to heirloom varieties sold by our very own Salt Spring Seeds.
Seduced by delicious sounding descriptions I ordered oh so many seeds, and at least five varieties of tomatoes. My little pouches arrived promptly, and planting began. According to the seed packets most of my seeds should be started 8-10 weeks before last frost, which in Calgary is May 23. So last Thursday the 26th was planting day.
I share a home with three curious cats, so leaving seedlings in a cat-reachable area was out of the question. The only cat-proof room in the house is the office which does not get great sunlight, never mind the fact that nothing in Calgary gets great sunlight this time of year. Therefore a grow lamp was in order. I bought a long fluorescent full spectrum tube for about thirty dollars from the garden centre, and a large seed tray with a tall plastic lid that has an indent on each side. Once the seedlings germinate, you can cut out the indented parts and stick the tube right through the lid giving the new plants abundant light at about the right height. Without plentiful light the seedlings will get ‘leggy’ – tall and thin as they try to stretch toward light and that weakens them so they may not survive. Most veggies require a long-light day – 14 to 18 hrs so a light is pretty much mandatory in this region.
For optimum growing conditions and to avoid diseases, you want to start your seedlings in a soilless growing mix, not in garden soil. An easy way to grow seedlings is to use the little Jiffy Peat Pellets available at any garden centre as well as Canadian Tire. From my extensive reading I found out that overwatering is a common problem with seedlings, and ideally they should be bottom watered – absorbing all the water they need by osmosis rather than from the top. This ensures a steady sufficient water supply and prevents the force of the water falling on the pot from disturbing the fragile seedling. Many companies recommend a watering mat which holds water that the pellets can draw from, which is a great idea, except for the fact that they’re expensive and not readily available. My solution is to pour a good layer of vermiculite on the bottom of the pot – about a half inch which is also very good at absorbing water and holding it for plants to use.
I set the Jiffy pots on top of vermiculite, added warm water until they all expanded fully (they should at least quadruple), planted two to three seeds in each pot, estimating the suggested depth on each packet, covered them with their dome to help hold moisture and warmth, and stuck them in the office. That was five days ago, and not one seedling has come up yet. I feel like a hovering mother hen waiting for her egg to hatch.