A Gardener’s Diary: Ready to start sowing

Jocelyne Sewell is eager to start buying up the new seeds and getting her hands stuck into the garden

The sun is getting warmer and in our yard, there are only a few patches of snow left but within a few days, I will be able to start some early clean-up. I have to open the greenhouse and the cold frames on  sunny days. The growth on some of the perennials is already showing through the mulch of leaves covering them.

Don’t forget the 19th annual Shuswap Seed Swap & Sale at the AL Fortune School in Enderby March 2 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. There will be more than 40 vendors, and the event includes a worm composting demonstration, a silent auction, lectures and a DVD on GMOs. Admission is only $3, with children and students free.

The new seeds are already on display in many stores and if you are like me, you are eager to start something growing for the new season.

More and more people are starting to grow from seeds. This way you have access to more interesting plants and have more control over what you really want to have in your garden. However, starting your seeds too early will only get you leggy and overgrown plants unless you have the right amount of light. Annuals and vegetables are easy to grow.

You can find everything you need to start your seeds at garden centres and many other locations. When growing seedlings, it is important to use sterile potting soil and pots. Never use soil from your garden or old potting soil. If you are reusing containers, wash with soapy water and a little bleach. This will save you a lot of trouble. Also, don’t forget to clean your tools.

Seedlings need warmth to germinate but as soon as they come up, they will appreciate a cooler temperature. Most of the seed packets have the information required. Some seeds need light to germinate but most of them like to be covered. Seeds should be covered about three times their sizes. If you sow too deep, they will struggle to come up and if not deep enough they might dry up before having a chance to sprout.

Some flats come with a plastic dome lid or you can put them in a plastic bag but never sit them in a sunny window with the top on as they might cook inside. At the first signs of germination, uncover or remove the plastic bag.

Avoid too much water. When the top of the soil looks dry, water your trays with a fine spray. Too much force will push your seeds together and you will end up with a whole bunch of seedlings together. Avoid soggy soil and poor air circulation. This could be a cause for fungal disease called damping off that can kill your seedlings overnight.

Unless you have lots of light, such as a southern exposure, it is better to grow your seedlings with extra  lights. I have lots of windows but I also have many sets of fluorescent lights, and I rotate my trays.

You should keep the top of your seedlings about eight to 10 centimetres from the light. This will prevent your plants from becoming too spindly. They should receive 14 to 16 hours of light. Plugging them into a timer will make your task easier.

When the seedlings have two sets of true leaves, start feeding once a week with a balanced water-soluble fertilizer at half-strength, working up to full strength after a few weeks.

I will be at the Lumby Legion on Saturday with a few plants and seeds. This is the first sale of the year, with the vendors from the Lumby Public Market, starting at 10 a.m.

For more information: 250-558-4556.

Jocelyne Sewell is an organic gardening expert in the North Okanagan and a member of Okanagan Gardens and Roses Club. Her column appears every other Wednesday.