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Intrepid Urban Farmer: Excitement building as a new gardening season looms. Look! Seeds are starting


By Ginger Dawson
Special to KyForward

Here we go again! It’s the beginning of another year of gardening, and I am excited! 

I am so excited, one would think that I was at the beginning of an electrifying world tour that promises adventure with exotic, wild people; glorious food served in ten-course meals (French, naturally); buckets of champagne, fine wines and bourbon (I do live in Kentucky); and everywhere I go I will be recognized and feted as that great wag that writes that gardening column for the Northern Kentucky Tribune. People will throw flowers at my feet, strike medals in my honor and I will bring back the keys to many cities — from all over the world!

Keys to the cities that would have me, if I went. Hummmm. . . not very big.

Ok, ok. It’s not quite that good. I can exaggerate.  

For us lost-case gardeners (you know who you are), this is the time of year when the anticipation of another beginning drives us to a level of excited energy that the casual observer can be scorched by.  

All of a sudden, in conversation prompted by an innocent comment about the weather — a friend or acquaintance will be assaulted with a complete rundown of early season garden planning, in glorious technical detail.  It just erupts in a volley with no warning — leaving your audience in wide-eyed silence. It IS an obsession and that energy has to be expended somehow. 

And, you have just been branded as a nut.  

That first warm day, which caused the above conversational conflagration, which for God’s sake could be as early as the end of January—affects me like a ten-year-old girl waiting for the cookies to get pulled from the oven.
   

Seeds planted and ready to go.

I get out to the garden stores well before there are hardly even any shelves stocked with the Spring selections. Fortunately, only other fanatics will be seen in the stores this early, and we are complicit in our secret obsession. The garden store people, who also share this monkey are amused by, and sympathetic to, this early showing.  And, they are also heartened by the first appearances of their seasonal bread and butter.  

It is the only time I ever go into a store and am disappointed that I couldn’t spend more money!

Not getting my itch sufficiently scratched simply shopping for garden stuff, I continue to look for relief.  

I do not have a greenhouse. So, after a few ill-considered thoughts on how to kick-start the season, which honestly, actually includes wondering whether climate-change will turn my direction, I finally accept the fact that all I can do is settle for a little relief perusing the seed catalogues, putting together orders and placing them.

Seed catalogues are my porn. And like porn, they are not quite the real thing.  One can only go through the motions and hope for temporary relief. It will have to do.

And it has. I have endured that hollow yearning and have embarked upon that most satisfying of all garden events — seed starting!

Condensation accumulating on tray covers. This is just a touch too much. It’ll be OK, as the seed hasn’t germinated, but it bears watching. (Photos by Ginger Dawson)

Yep, it’s time to get down to business.

I’ve moved the furniture around in my office to accommodate my operation. The heat mats have been set up and the grow cart is in position and ready to go.

Here’s a link from a previous article that explains how I start seed. 

There are many ways to do it, this is just what works for me.

This past week, I started the tomatoes. I cannot express enough the effectiveness of using heat mats for this. The seed packet information indicates that it would take six to fourteen days for the seed to germinate. Instead, it only took three! It’s amazing how important that that little triangle of heat, moisture and dirt is for this process, and how effective it is to ramp up these factors to their ideal levels.

Heat mats maintain a temperature of 70 to 85 degrees. This is apparently perfect, according to my observations. This is an easy thing. You just set the covered trays on the mats and watch and see what happens.

Moisture, however, requires a little more attention. The optimum amount is important. Not enough, and the seed won’t germinate. Too much, and you run the risk of causing a fungal disease known as “damping-off.” This stinks.
 

First trays of tomato seedlings moved to lights. No trace of damping-off. First leg of the journey under way.

The seed will germinate, and then, with too much moisture, the stems and roots below the soil line will actually rot. Dead on arrival.

This is no small thing, because not only will you lose the plants, you will also have contaminated the entire setup with that particular fungus. This means you will have to throw out the whole mess: dirt, plants, and pots—and then disinfect the tray and cover and start all over again.

I monitor the moisture by observing the amount of condensation that collects on the covers. There should be droplets clinging to the inside top in an amount that you will develop a feel for. No water should be standing in the trays. The surface of the soil should be damp to the touch, but not muddy.

Once you get a good stand (a high percentage of plants germinated), pull the covers off and move them to the lights. This will prevent damping-off. I’ve never had a problem with it, but now, since I’ve made this declaration, tragedy is probably just around the corner.

And dirt. I only use dirt because I can’t imagine using anything else. Other growing mediums are fine, but due to my agrarian roots, it is heresy to me to consider using anything else. I still have a rotary phone on a land line, too.  This reveals a minor cussed streak that cannot be explained any other way.

My fellow gardeners, our time has arrived! The obsession begins anew. It may not be on the scale of a world tour, but it is almost as good. You may not get any medals or the keys to foreign cities, but, in Covington, there are plenty of exotic, wild people that you can drink bourbon with!  

Just don’t do it while you’re monitoring the moisture content of your seed trays.

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Ginger Dawson has resided in Covington since 1988. Raised on a farm in South Central Ohio, she has enjoyed a very eclectic and enriching life. She loves her Italianate Victorian Townhouse and particularly the garden behind it. See her new website at intrepidurbanfarmer.com


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