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Preparing for Spring

A few weeks ago, we started preparing for Spring by ordering seeds and plants. We ordered 13 new roses from David Austin Roses. Mom has a bit of a rose obsession!

We chose 4 Claire Austin white climbing roses for the side of the house, a variety of colorful roses to help anchor the new cottage garden that we’ll be building in the front of the house, and a few to go in pots on the front porch and back deck. We ordered: Lady of Shalott, Harlow Carr, Thomas À Beckett, Litchfield Angel, Princess Anne, Cinco De Mayo, Young Lycidas and England’s Rose. We may have gone overboard! Hopefully, we can get the front garden prepared before they arrive or we might be in trouble! They are bare root roses, so they will need to go in right away.

We made a list of what we wanted to add to the garden this year. We bought some of the seeds in stores, but most we ordered online. We try to buy organic and neonicotinoid-free seeds when we can. We were entranced by all the seeds available online, and picked up more than a few that weren’t on the original list. We may regret being so enthusiastic, but at least we’ll have fun and learn in the process!

For the herb & vegetable gardens, we ordered: Rosemary, Broccoli, Tomatoes, Eggplant, Bush Snap Bean, Carrots, Beets, Summer Squash, Scallion, Yellow Watermelon (which Niko is really looking forward to), Parsnip, Multicolored Sweet Corn, Cilantro, Basil, Arugula and Thyme.

We wanted to grow more climbers, so we chose: Passionflower (which Niko and Mom are excited about because it has a gorgeous flower and when the flower is over, it grows delicious passion fruit), a lot of Sweet Peas, and Morning Glory.

We also have quite a few flowers: Marigold, Dwarf Marigold, Snapdragon, Columbine, Rudbeckia, Poppies, Hollyhock, Bachelor’s Button, Dianthus, Pansies, Candytuft, Canterbury Bells, Phlox, Zinnia, Gilia, Cosmos, Sunflower, Nasturtium, Amaranth, Ageratum, Catmint, Balloon Flower, Bee Balm, Echinacea, Celosia, Aster, Petunia, and Lobelia.

Here are Niko and Sebastian with some of the seeds:

Some seeds can be planted straight into the ground, once it is warm enough. But many of them need to be started inside, anywhere from 4-10 weeks before the average last frost date. We have been working on planting as many of those as possible when we have time.

There are a few different methods for starting seeds. Lavender and certain types of Echinacea need to be cold stratified for 2 weeks before sowing them. That means they need to have a period of being cold and wet before they can break dormancy and germinate. To cold stratify the seeds, we put them inside a damp paper towel, and then stored them in a Ziploc bag in the refrigerator.

Other seeds need to be soaked in water for 24 hours or more before being planted, like Morning Glory:

Most seeds can be sown directly into seed starting trays. We use organic seed starting soil. We started out using trays that are made from a material that is similar to cardboard egg cartons, because we liked that they were biodegradable, but those began falling apart once they were damp. So we switched to plastic for now. We would like to use as little plastic as possible in the garden, but the plastic ones are reusable and work well, so we’ll use them for now, and look for a better alternative in future.

Niko put two seeds in each plug, except when the seeds were really tiny, for those we just sprinkled a few into each plug. Then we watered them, put the tray covers on to keep them moist, and put them on heat mats. We found that it was better to water the trays from the bottom because pouring the water on the top disturbed the soil too much. Some of the ones that we top-watered didn’t germinate as well.

Not all trays are sold with bottoms or tops, so you will need to buy trays that have bottoms, or find something you can place them into. Then if you pour the water into the bottom of the tray, it will soak into the soil through the holes in the plugs. You need to keep the seeds moist, but not soggy. It’s a fine balance.

Also, in the beginning, we left some of the seeds on the heat mat for a few days straight, and we think that fried them, so we learned from that mistake!

We only have two heat mats, so we rotate the seed trays, and now we turn the mats off overnight to give them a break. Once a seed starts to germinate and we see a little sprout, we take the tray cover off.

We keep the seeds in a South-facing sunroom, where there is a lot of light to help them grow. The sunroom is also Mom’s office, so it’s getting crowded and tricky to reach her desk! We are running a fan in the room to help prevent damping-off, which is a fungal disease that can affect little seedlings, and it mimics the breeze they will eventually encounter outside and helps them to grow stronger.

Once they have grown a few inches, we need to thin them out. The sweet peas were the first that became big enough to have to thin out. This means that if more than one has germinated, then we need to select the weakest seedling in each plug, and cut it back. This allows the strongest seedling to have more space to grow roots and gives it the best chance to survive.

This was the first time we had to do this and it was very upsetting for all of us. We had gotten attached to the seedlings. Niko visited them and sang and talked to them every day, which helps them to grow. We didn’t want to hurt any of them, but we realized we had to do it to keep the plants alive and give them the best chance to be transplanted into the garden.

We have a little deadheading tool that we used. We cleaned it with an alcohol wipe beforehand to make sure we didn’t transfer any bacteria or disease from other plants onto the seedlings.

Then we selected the weakest seedling in each plug and snipped it at the base of where it touched the soil. We didn’t pull out the roots because it would disturb the roots of the other plant.

We all took turns thinning the plants out. Niko and Sebastian wanted to try to re-plant the cut seedlings, and although it’s unlikely that they would re-grow without their roots, we decided to give it a shot. We will let you know if it works!

We have a lot more seeds to plant, so that will keep us very busy over the next few weeks! We will keep the blog updated with our progress.

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