Homeyer: Spring Is Sprung!

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When I was just a little sprout I
learned this ditty: "Spring has sprung, the grass has riz, I wonder
where the flowers is?" Well my grass is still dormant, but the sap is
rising and I have hundreds of snowdrops blooming on a south-facing
slope. Spring is here.

With spring comes a desire to get my
hands dirty and to start planting. It’s still way too early to do
anything outside – the ground is still mostly frozen, after all – but
planting seeds indoors satisfies my urge to garden.

I once knew
an old farmer who started seeds indoors in cottage cheese containers
that she kept near the wood stove and then put on a sunny window sill.
She must have started just a month before outdoor planting time, because
I’ve found that it’s impossible to keep seedlings happy for very long
with just the natural sunlight of a windowsill. You need some
fluorescent lights to keep them from getting long and spindly.

built a wooden A-frame rack to hold the plastic flats for my seedlings.
From that rack I hang 4-foot lights that I keep about 6 inches above my
seedlings. As they get taller, I raise the lights. Right now I‘ve
started a few early things and I’m getting ready to plant my tomato

Tomatoes, for me, are the diamonds of the garden. Nothing
beats the taste of a Sungold cherry tomato or a Brandywine heirloom
slicer. Many of the tomato varieties I grow are not readily available as
seedlings, so I must start them myself. I love a French tomato called
the Ox Heart. And have you ever tasted an Isis Candy Shop, a Purple
Calabash or an Amana Orange? All are very nice tomatoes.

order to keep seeds lightly moist but not soggy, I use a peat-based seed
starting mix that I blend 50-50 with compost. It holds water nicely and
the compost provides some nutrition for my little seedlings. I start
seedlings in plastic 6-packs and cover each flat with a clear plastic
cover. The cover sits up an inch or two above the soil line, allowing
some plants to sprout and grow, while others are still waiting to

After everything is up, I take off the lids and just
check the seedlings every day to see if they need a drink. The color of
the soil surface changes when it gets dry. I water with a 1-quart pop
bottle, applying water gently so I don’t disturb my tender seedlings.

seedlings are 2-3 inches tall I start to add some fish or seaweed-based
fertilizer to the water. I want my seedlings to have all the necessary
minerals for healthy growth. Chemical fertilizers don’t provide the
micronutrients I want for my seedlings.

It’ll be weeks before my
soil outdoors warms up and dries out. There’s nothing I can do about
that. But by puttering with seedlings indoors, I can keep from getting
cabin fever. I recommend it.

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