Saturday, February 27, 2010

Seed And Be Seen

California Poppy

Last year at about this time the urge to get my hands in the soil prompted me to start some seeds indoors,something I hadn't done since I was a kid. Back then I used a fancy three tiered grow light stand that I had received as a birthday present. Today a similar stand would cost several hundred dollars and with the recession looming I opted for a cheaper approach. At Lowes I purchased a pair of inexpensive, rectangular workshop light fixtures. After fitting them with tubular florescent lights, I hung them over a table in my basement.

Nicotiana Sylvestris

Once my lights were in place I ordered seeds from the Thompson & Morgan catalogue. I like their selection because they carry unusual varieties of common plants. In the past I've purchased unique zinnias, sunflowers and nasturtiums, all of which are best sown directly into the garden once the soil warms. For indoor propagation, however, I focused on plants that would benefit from an early start. I also chose varieties that wouldn't be available at the nurseries I frequent later in the season. I settled on a new variety of California Poppy (Eschschoizia Californica), Nicotiana Sylvestris, noted for its fragrant white flowers, and Cosmos Double Click, a new double form of the old garden favorite.

Cosmos Double Click

Eschewing the various deluxe seed-starting containers sold in speciality catalogues, I filled old six-inch pots with seed starting mix. After sowing my seeds, I covered the pots with plastic wrap held in place with rubber bands. The wrap creates an effect much like a mini-greenhouse. Once the seedlings sprouted, I thinned them out until only five seedlings remained in each pot. Even so, since I started with ten pots of each variety I ended up with more plants than I needed. Plants sown indoors require a period of hardening off, the process by which plants are slowly acclimated to the outdoor environment. As the weather began to warm I placed mine outside in a sheltered spot in the morning and returned them to the basement at sundown. After all danger of frost had past, I planted them in the garden and enjoyed their flowers for much of the summer.

So what am I going to start indoors this year? To be honest I've decided that, although the process was fun, the results didn't justify the cost or effort. While it's true that I might not be able to find the exact varieties on my wish list at a garden center this spring, the selection of summer-flowering annuals has improved tremendously in recent years. And besides, I enjoy touring nurseries and buying plants. Though the cost may be a bit higher than starting them myself, it's a simple pleasure that for me is guilt free...well almost.