edited from presentation by Jason Matyas of Seeds for Generations

If you’re getting the gardening itch, now is the time to start getting plans together. Depending on where you live, the ground may still be frozen or covered with snow right now, but before you know it, spring will be here. The official vernal equinox is 20 March, 2015 in the northern hemisphere. This means night and day are nearly the same length, 12 hours, all over the world. This is also the day the sun crosses the celestial equator from south to north.

Growing your own food requires some advanced planning. When you start thinking about a garden there are some constraints to keep in mind. First is garden space. How much do you have, how many types of plants will you want to fit into your garden space and then how many of a given type will you plant? Two other considerations to think about are how long is your growing season and how long will it take for the types of plants you’ve selected to reach harvest maturity? Often we want to get a jump start on the growing season by starting seedlings inside. Where do you start?  Here are some thoughts to keep in mind.

Plants need soil, water and light. Growing plants inside, you will be responsible for all three. In an indoor environment temperature will be important. Some plants need higher temperatures in order to germinate. Warming mats can help this. The amount of light is important, too, to avoid tall, spindly (weak) plants. Water needs to be consistent but not too much. Place your seedling trays next to a south facing window or set up commercial/fluorescent shop lights whose distance from the plants can be adjusted as plants get taller. Use a timer to control length of time, set it for 16 hours of light. If you don’t have enough window space for your trays, build a stand.

When you are getting seeds, you need to know how much space you will have in your garden and calculate how many seeds of each variety you need to plant. Study the planting guide printed on each seed packet. Take your total garden space, determine the required plant spacing, multiply by the number of plants and by the row spacing suggested. The reason you need to do this: so you don’t start more seedlings than the space you have available.

You will need trays like the “1020” ones sealed on the bottom to collect water run off. To this you’ll add planting cells to hold individual plants. Growing medium can be made by mixing 4 parts of compost, screen sifted to remove sticks and other large debris, 1 part pearlite, 1 part vermiculite and 2 parts sphagnum peat moss or coir (shredded coconut shell). Once seeds are planted, keep the soil moist by watering from the bottom. Check regularly for dryness; don’t over water.

As seedlings grow, keep track of them. Help plants get used to the outside by setting them outside in a sheltered location for a few hours during the day. Gradually increase sun exposure and decrease protection from cold at night. Be aware of when the last frost will occur in your area. Don’t plant in the garden until this date or later.

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