Brenda lives in northern Virginia with her husband, daughter, and other various creatures who share their backyard wildlife habitat. Brenda became a Master Gardener in 2007, after attempting to put down roots in a yard filled with clay, stones, and poorly laid sod. Little by little, she and her family removed grass, amended soil, and replaced invasive weeds with native plants.

The family now grows vegetables in raised beds year-round. Brenda, who subsequently became a Master Food Volunteer, cooks mainly with seasonal ingredients from her garden, or from local farmers markets. She invites you to join her on her mission to build an eco-friendly habitat, grow organic food, and sustain the small plot of earth we each claim. Brenda shares her gardening, cooking, and beekeeping experiences at beehappygarden.com.

 

 

Starting Seeds Indoors
by Brenda Lynn - posted 04/13/15

Have you ever wandered into a garden center intending to purchase a few seedlings and ended up with a wallet-busting wagonload of must-have plants? It happens to me all the time. Even when I plan on buying only a few perennials to even out the border, or a few vegetable seedlings to pop into the kitchen garden, the sight of all that eye candy makes my imagination run wild. Suddenly, I feel the need to purchase enough to plant in drifts, achieve four-season interest, and feed the pollinators, as well as the people.

Seeds are often situated at the front of the garden center. It’s easy to blow right past the racks and reach for the mature plants. One thing we must keep in mind, though, is that garden center plants are sometimes staged to bloom earlier than they would in nature. Vegetable seedlings sold in April may not survive a late frost. In many ways, starting plants from seed at home allows for greater choice and control of a plant’s health.

 

Starting plants from seed indoors is an economical and rewarding endeavor. Perusing seed catalogs or garden center seed racks allows time for planning a multi-season garden, and also offers the opportunity to try new or unusual varieties. Seeds are far less expensive than mature plants, and one seed packet will usually provide more than enough abundance to fill a need.

 

While it’s ideal to choose seeds and plan the garden in late winter, now is a good time to start seeds for late spring or early summer planting. Tender vegetables, such as tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants, need 5-7 weeks to germinate and grow into seedlings before they’re planted outdoors. They shouldn't be planted in the ground until night temperatures are consistently above 50 degrees. The last killing frost may occur as late as April 21 in the Tidewater Area, April 30 in the Piedmont Area, and May 15 in the Mountain Area. However, it may take several more weeks for temperatures to warm enough for tender seedlings to survive in the ground. If you live in one of the colder regions, it’s not too late to start seeds indoors. Late-blooming perennials can also be started around this time of year. Why not plan a butterfly or pollinator garden, and save some money by starting it indoors?

In order start seeds indoors, a good light source is essential. A bright window with southern exposure may provide enough warmth and brightness, but too little light will result in weak, leggy seedlings. A fluorescent light stand with one warm and one cool bulb works well and is easy to set up. It can be a comprised of a simple shop light fixed over a table top, or a grow light made specifically for seed starting. I use a timer to provide 12 hours of light at first, with the lights set just a few inches above the seed trays.

 

Next, you’ll need a sterile, soilless mix containing 50% peat and 50% perlite. Soilless seed starting mixes can also be purchased. Seeds don’t need rich garden soil until they’ve emerged. All of the nutrients for germination are contained in the seed.  Moisten the soilless mixture, and spread it evenly in the planting container. Drop 2-3 seeds in each cell, gently covering them with the soilless mix. Cover the tray with cellophane wrap or a plastic cover. Water will soon condense on the top cover, providing all the moisture the seeds will need until they emerge. Remove the cover as soon as the seeds emerge.

When the first true leaves appear, transplant the young sprouts to small containers filled with enriched potting mix. Avoid overwatering the seedlings. Use a spray bottle to keep the soil evenly moist, or water the trays from the bottom. Raise the light source so that is about 2 inches above the plants, and gradually reduce the length of light until it’s about 10 hours per day.

When seedlings are 5-7 weeks old, begin to harden them off by bringing them outdoors, in a shaded location for several hours a day. After 4-6 days, they’ll be ready to plant in the ground. It’s best to plant on a cloudy day, to avoid scorching early on. Carefully water, weed, watch your garden grow!

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New VA Blogger Brenda Lynn Coming Soon
by State-by-State - posted 04/02/15

 

We are still expanding our family of bloggers. 
Check back here soon to see who will be blogging in your state!

 

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