Prepping For Spring

A Journey in Raising Plants from Seed


Last year, I arrived on a one acre plot of grass determined to have a flower farm. After what seemed like an eternity of back breaking work, I had 9 flower beds, 3 feet wide and 30 feet long.

I dug up the grass, I tilled the. soil, I added amendments. I spent a small fortune on peat, manure, compost. and then after I finally put the little seedlings I had so carefully raised from seed in the ground, there was a threat of freezing weather! I quickly covered my Baby Plants with plastic, only to find that the plastic itself had suffocated about half of what I had planted by the next day.

This year, in addition to the flower beds I made last year, I'm adding another 2 areas for flowers, about 8 more beds in total. But unlike last year, now I know not to make some rookie mistakes. Here's what I learned:

#1: Don't plant in clay.

The stuff I'm digging up that's underneath the grass is compacted ,hard, dry and mostly clay. Even flowers that 'thrive' in bad soil can barely live in this stuff. Don't even bother trying to incorporate any of it into your seed starting soil mix, and unless it's something like Cosmos, don't even bother trying to ammend it. But that doesn't mean you have to spend a fortune on soil either. This year, I'm just digging trenches about 6" deep and about 4" across. I'm filling the trenches with a combination of peat, compost, manure, sand and potting soil. This way, the Baby Plants will have enough space for their roots to comfortably stretch out, and healthy soil to retain an appropriate amount of water. Last year I tilled the entire 3' of bed, and now I know, this isn't neccisary.

The same thing can be said for seed starting mixture. Peat, sand, compost, potting soil and perlite make up the bulk of my seed starting mix. I use soil blocks a lot, but also seed cells and small pots. I find that soil blocks are the cheapest way to go, but I don't believe there are any musts when it comes to the container you start your seeds in, the most important factor is the care you give them.

#2: Watering

There will come a time, alter on in the life cycle of your plants, that you can turn on a hose and spray the heck out of your plants and they won't come to any harm at all, their strong stems bouncing in the pitter patter of the spray. Seedlings, however, have to be watered with extreme care. A good rule of thumb is the smaller the seed, the more delicate the watering. If those little sprouts are going to be tiny, go ahead and plan on watering from below, not above.

Even the mist from a hand held spray bottle could be more than tiny seeds can handle, putting the invisible seeds at risk of washing away. Instead of a spray situation, find a way to put water on the bottom of the block, or cell, or whatever you're using. The water will climb up the soil until it reaches the top.

I like to use a sprinkling of vermiculite on top of my seeds in the beginning because the vermiculite is heavy comparred to the seeds and holds them in place when it's wet. If it's a seed that doesn't require light to germinate then I completely cover the seed with vermiculite. If it's a seed that does require light, I sprinkle the vermiculite first and then I put the seeds on top.

3. Protection from the elements

As I wait for my seedlings to reach a big enough size to transplant, I'm out digging trenches and filling them with decent soil. Since there are no plants in there yet, I haven't done much to protect the beds just yet. But I see as the days go by, that cats are using the trench