How to Sprout Your Own Garden Starts

Gardening on the balconyOne of the best ways to ensure good food — and save money in the bargain — is to grow a garden. My parents always had a garden when I was growing up, and my husband and I regularly planted a garden when we had a house.

While you can buy young plants to transplant into your garden, it can be more cost-efficient (and rewarding) to sprout your own garden sprouts. If you want to get a head start on your garden, you can sprout plants indoors, where they are safe from the cold weather, and move them outside to your garden later.

Here’s how to get started:

Identify an Area with the Right Lighting

First of all, make sure you have room for your sprouts. Choose an area with the right lighting. Different plants have different needs, so make sure that you have a plan to keep sprouts with similar needs together.

A sunny window is usually a good option when it comes to your garden sprouts. Make sure you have enough room for the seeds you want to sprout. You can prioritize based on space.

Prepare the Containers

Next, you need containers to sprout the seeds. The good news is that, in many cases, you don’t need anything very big. For the beginning seeds, a small container that is one or two inches deep is usually fine. Egg cartons work really well. However, you can also buy “market packs” that include rows of small containers.

Think about how big your plants will get before you move them outside. The fewer times you need to move your plants, the better off they will be. If you know you will transplant your seedlings before they outgrow the smaller containers, that isn’t a problem. Another option is to plant your seedlings in bigger pots. This gives them more room for growth and root spreading before you move them to your garden.

Containers should contain soil that is dry and free of toxins. The good news is that you don’t need to go to great trouble to get nutrient-rich soil, since the seeds contain the nutrients needed for sprouting. However, you can grow your seedlings stronger if you mix your soil with perlite, compost, or peat moss. Just make sure you mix carefully so that you don’t end up with a mix that isn’t ideal for the seedling involved.

There are some seeds that will sprout without soil at all. For these, normally a damp paper towel is enough. Keep the paper towel damp and in the proper light. After the seed sprouts, you can transplant it in a pot for further growth and root development before moving it outside to your garden.

Plant the Seeds

When planting the seeds, make a small hole. You should only cover the seeds with enough dirt to be about three times its height. Some seeds don’t need to be properly covered with dirt at all. Check the seed packet for more specific instructions related to your seeds.

For the most part, you should just loosely cover the seeds with dirt. Don’t pack the dirt down. You can moisten the soil by using a spray bottle to mist the water. One of the keys to successful seed sprouting is to keep the soil moist, but not over-watered.

Find out whether or not the seeds need light to sprout. You can sometimes stack seed flats until the sprout if the seeds don’t need a lot of light. Continue to watch the seedlings. There will be a time to thin them out so that the seedlings that remain can grow stronger. You don’t want to keep all the sprouts, though, since you want the strongest for your garden.

Moving Your Plants to the Garden

Once your seedlings are strong enough, and the weather is favorable, you can move your plants to the garden. Make sure your garden plot is properly prepared and ready to receive the plants. Keep an eye on the weather, since you might want to wait a little longer, or be prepared to cover your plants, if the nights are still too cold.

Sprouting your own seedlings can be a cost-efficient way to get the starts needed for your garden. These plants are often stronger and hardier, and it can give you a good way to get your garden started without risk your plants to frost.

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How to grow herbs inside your home

How to grow herbs insideRecently, I moved across the country. Instead of living in a home with a large backyard (complete with herb-filled raised garden bed), I live in a spacious third-floor apartment. While I have a small balcony, there really isn’t ample room out there for an herb garden. Plus, I like the idea of growing fresh herbs year-round. Growing herbs indoors seems like the way to go — especially since the last of the herbs I dried from my old home will run out soon.

Here’s my plan for planting an indoor herb garden:

Choose the right herbs

Some herbs grow better indoors than others. Some of the easiest herbs to grow indoors, and what I will start with, include:

  • Mint
  • Oregano
  • Parsley
  • Thyme
  • Rosemary
  • Sage

You might notice that these are hardy herbs, and likely the very same herbs that tend to overrun your outdoor herb garden year after year. We always had oregano and thyme running wild in our garden bed.

Basil can work indoors, but it’s a little trickier. I’ve grown basil indoors in the past, so I know it’s possible. It’s just a little pickier than some of the other herbs when it comes to temperature.

While you can grow your indoor herb garden from seeds, I like to use starts (because I’m impatient). Figure out what is likely to work best for your situation and go from there.

Find a sunny window

One of the things I love about my apartment is that there is a lot of natural light. However, our location in the apartment building means that all of our windows face north and west. This makes things a little more difficult for me, since windows facing south often get more sun. However, the western windows should do the trick, as long as the herbs can get some direct sunlight in the afternoons. I can tell it will be difficult during the winter, but we’ll see if we can make it work.

While natural light is best for herbs, you might need to supplement with a grow light. There are a number of quality grow lights available that provide your herbs with the kind of light they need to thrive. You can buy lights ranging from $30 to more than $500. I plan to purchase a mid-range light that is highly portable for about $100. That way, if there isn’t enough sunlight, I can supplement with the grow light.

Remember to keep your herbs away from the glass of the window. Leaves that touch the glass can quickly wilt during the winter, since the temperature near the window will likely be colder during than other areas of the house. It’s especially important to keep basil away from the window. When we had basil, we moved the plant back away from the window at night during the winter so that it remained in its preferred temperature.

It’s also a good idea to move your herbs so that aren’t stuck beneath a heater. They will dry out quickly if hot air from a vent blows on them regularly. Make it a point to keep them well-watered, and away from the withering effect of dry air blowing on them.

Proper drainage

With a raised garden bed outside, it’s easy to ensure that the herbs have proper drainage. However, once you bring herbs into the house, drainage can become an issue, since the plants are kept in a pot, and natural drainage is unavailable. You need to make sure that you have drainage so the roots don’t rot. You also need to make sure that you have a way to keep the draining water from damaging whatever surface your plants sit on.

My favorite strategy is to buy pots that take drainage into account. These are pots that have two parts. The upper part has holes in the bottom so that excess water can drain. There is also a lower part that catches the drained water. As long as you don’t over-water your herbs, the moisture evaporates. These pots are set up so there is some aeration, as well as reducing the chance of rot.

Another possibility, if your pot doesn’t have holes in the bottom, is to line the bottom of the pot with two or three layers small stones of varying sizes so that it provides a little drainage within the pot.

With a little effort and planning, you can grow your herbs indoors, enjoying fresh flavor for your food, no matter the time of year.

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