Growing a garden from seed to seed is an enjoyable and rewarding experience for beginning and experienced gardeners alike. You get to see the infancy, childhood, growth, and maturity of each plant. You really get to know the life cycle of the plants you grow and eat in a new way.
There are many ways to start from seed. Some seeds need to be started early, four to six weeks before the last frost date. Other seeds can be direct sown. That means you can plant them directly in the ground when the soil is warm and the danger of frost has passed. For our early starts we at the Seed Library use the soil block method because it involves fewer materials and creates less waste than using plastic trays. You can learn more about this technique and buy a tool for it online.
Whether you use trays or soil blocks, start by placing the seeds in small dimples and cover them lightly with soil. Make sure to mark each tray so you know what you’re growing.
In a hoop house (see sidebar) the trays are covered with row cover to keep them warm. But they can be uncovered on some sunny days. The tiny plants sprout beautifully as long as they’re kept moist. For this reason, it is important to check on them every day.
One way for a home gardener to start seeds is to use seedling trays from the year before. Keep the potting mix moist and dark until the sprouts come up. Then use indoor plant lights to get the plants established. Only certain seeds come up when you use sunshine on a windowsill, so this is not a recommended technique. Seeds that are sprouted this way often become weak seedlings. It’s best to use an indoor light that is kept close to the surface of the soil, then the tops of the plants (4 to 5 inches), because the plants will become short and stocky, which will mean strong transplants.
As the growing season progresses, consider some of your plants to be seed-saving plants, or stop eating the veggies at a certain time of the year. For example, continue eating your cucumbers throughout the season, making salads, pickles, relishes, and more. Then toward the middle of September, let the rest of the cucumbers grow until they begin to yellow. Although they don’t look appealing, they’re perfect for seed saving.
Most of the seeds we transplant at the Seed Library are grown for seed. These seeds, and seeds from other farmers, are available in our online catalog of heirloom and open-pollinated veggies, herbs, and flowers. We also teach workshops on starting from seed and seed saving. The classes are a fun way to explore on the Seed Library farm while learning valuable gardening lessons. To find out more, visit us at www.seedlibrary.org.
By Ken Greene of the Hudson Valley Seed Library
Whether you’re a market gardener wanting to extend your season or a family looking to grow more of your own food year-round, a hoophouse is the answer. For as little as a few hundred dollars, a backyard hoophouse can make it seem like you moved your garden hundreds of miles to the south. You can count on four to six weeks of extra production in spring and fall. By adding an inner layer of cover inside a hoop and picking cold-hardy varieties, you can grow right through winter—even in the coldest climates.
Your hoophouse doesn’t have to be fancy or even expensive, unless you like to make things that way. A hoophouse is just what the name suggests, a series of large hoops or bows — made of metal, plastic pipe or even wood — covered with a layer of heavy greenhouse plastic. The skin is stretched tight and fastened to baseboards with strips of wood, metal, wire, or even used irrigation tape and staples. You can build one for a few hundred dollars or a few thousand dollars.