One of my personal vices is that I spend way too much time on Pinterest imagining what my perfect organic, homesteading life would be like. My chickens would happily produce big beautiful eggs not at all covered in dirt or chicken gunk in their Martha Stewart-esque coop that I built using wood I reclaimed from an HGTV reality show build site. I would grow heirloom tomatoes in my quaint raised bed vegetable garden conveniently free of all pests because I dutifully planted marigolds at 6 inch intervals along the edge and scattered pepper on the ground below. After a sunny afternoon of gratifying work I would pick a handful of perfect green beans off of the vine, go into my airy, sunlit kitchen, and create a beautiful and delicious vegetable dish that my entire family will eat without bribing, cajoling, or any other form of coercion.
Now, in reality I’m pretty sure that the chickens would try to kill me, I would kill the tomatoes for sure, no matter how many vines I planted I would still only reap one actual green bean, and no matter how much butter I put on it my children would still refuse to eat it and throw back in my face my own rule about not eating things you pick up off the ground. That’s just how my world works. However early every spring I do get the opportunity to feel just a little bit like the gardening, pioneering, natural food loving person I want to be when I get the chance to start seeds inside.
Starting seeds is a totally accessible and even kind of fun activity you and your family can do to help those last winter weeks go by just a little faster. Other than being a little dirty it’s not hard and there are a bunch of different ways to go about it so that you can be as easy and economical or as crazy sophisticated about it as you want. Here’s what you need:
Something to Plant In
You can buy special containers at the store but there are so many things that you can do with stuff around your house that there’s really no need. Egg cartons are great for starting seeds, all you need to do is use a needle to poke a couple drainage holes in the bottom of each cup and you have a 12 seedling container right there. Some people even use 1/2 of an egg shell itself and bury it right along with the seedling at planting time (you can do this with half of an orange or lemon cored out as well). I’ve also seen a toilet paper roll cut in half (or paper towel roll in thirds) then put in a jelly roll pan used as a seed starter. Whatever container you use just fill it with a good quality potting soil, plant your seed and spritz with water. Wicked easy!
Something to Plant
Different plants need different germinating times so here’s a handy chart I found online. You base your time off of when you think the last frost of the spring will be so that you can grow the plant enough to be sustainable without it getting to big before you can plant it. The last frost date in this chart is early May, which sounds about right for night temps in New England but you can fudge it a little either way depending on your neck of the woods.
Someplace to Put It
These things need lots of sunlight, like 6-8 hours a day, so in proximity to a window is good. Some people buy special lamps but I don’t go there myself. I have a big bay window and they get good light from there while not getting too cold. If you put them in an outdoor sun room or something though they’ll freeze so find a good spot indoors. My grandma used to lay them on a plastic tablecloth on one of the guest bedroom beds because it was the sunniest spot in the house.
Now Don’t Kill Them!
This is usually where my carefully laid gardening plans fall apart. It’s actually a mild source of amusement tinged shame to me that I can keep four cats, two children, and a dog alive but give me a bunch of plants and it’s a horticultural massacre. After trying this over and over for years though I’ve noticed that the carnage tends to occur because I either over or under water the seedlings. They can be touchy about that sort of thing, either dying of thirst or growing all sorts of interesting fungus from being to wet. I heard a great tip though from a friend of my mom’s who told me to water the seedlings once, then loosely wrap them in plastic wrap. That keeps the moisture in and creates it’s own sort of ecosystem that sustains them with no further watering until it’s time to plant outside. I’m going to give this method a try this year and see how it goes.
Planting seedlings with your family is fun and easy, even for young Tiger cub aged kids. They feel like they’re helping spring come faster while you can talk about stuff like photosynthesis and environmental stewardship with older children. And if it helps me feel a little like those fabulous homesteading moms that I’m so jealous of, then it’s good for me too. 🙂