I know it’s still cold out and a lot of the U.S. will be covered in snow for another month. But spring is almost here. A time for new beginnings. A time to turn our attention to gardening. My favorite place to garden is right in my own kitchen. I generally like start my seedlings right at the first of the year so that, by the time spring rolls around, I already have plants to put in the ground. I keep a pot of good soil (I like Fox Farm’s Happy Frog to start), some empty egg shells or peat pots and some sharpies and sticks for easy marking whenever the mood strikes me.
Here are some tips that I hope will help you get your own garden started long before the snow and the ice melts.
Tip #1 – Use what you already have.
I know it’s tempting to just go out and buy seeds or even plants that are already started, but for just pennies, you can grow your own. I collect seed for everything from bell pepper centers to avocado pits – all things I’ve already purchased or grown. Seeds can keep for a very long time once dried. I’ve even grown old crusty avocado pits into perfectly beautiful trees. Even simple things like your Halloween pumpkin can yield many times the number of seeds you would otherwise purchase.
Another great place to find seed is right in your own spice cabinet. Dill seed, coriander seed (cilantro), cumin, celery seed, mustard seed, etc. They all will grow! If you don’t have any of these items in your spice cabinet, they can be purchased at most any grocery store for a fraction of the cost of buying seeds at your local garden center.
I really like to grow kitchen scrap as well – butt ends of green onions, carrot stumps, potato eyes, and even the bottom of lettuce or celery stalk bottoms, all grow well in good soil. No need to start them as seedlings – just put them in the soil and water. I’ve even been able to harvest the same butter lettuce head 3 times!
Tip #2 – Storing seeds for later use
If you are storing seed for future use, be sure to first dry the seed. Generally all you need to do to rinse the seeds (if needed), strain, then dry them by keeping them in a bowl on the counter, and tossing from time to time until evenly dry. Store seeds in paper envelopes or bags and label them with the kind of plant and the year it was harvested. Never store seeds in plastic as it can suffocate the seed or turn the protein on the inside rancid.
You don’t have to store seed for later use, however. If you really like the tomato you had with dinner, or that extra juicy cantaloupe, harvest a few seeds and put them in the dirt. Add water and light and viola- future dinner!
Tip #3 – Germinating seeds
Those who know me know that I go through quite a few eggs. Just ask my friend Josh at the Hen Pen in Napa, CA. Instead of throwing away or composting my eggs shells, I actually use them as my seedling starters. Plants love them! And, I don’t have to shell out any extra money for peat pots. When you use eggs, rinse out the shells, set them aside to let dry, mark with a sharpie, add a little potting soil, seeds and water often with the mist setting on your spray bottle.
A friend gifted me this great humdidome, which just happens to fit my little egg shells perfectly and keeps my seedling nice and humid. Of course, if that doesn’t work for you, you can always put the egg shells back in their carton and cover your seedlings with a Ziploc bag to create your own humididome. Seeds will germinate in just a few days. Place your humididome in a sunny window or, if sun is scarce, place it on top of the refrigerator with the kitchen lights on. The refrigerator will put off plenty of heat to get your seeds going.
Tip #4 – Transplant
Once seedlings reach over the top of the egg shells, it’s time for transplant. I like to use either Fox Farms Ocean Forest or Roots Organic for transplant. Simply drop your little seed cups into the dirt, cover to the best of your ability with more soil and water. As the seedling grows, add more dirt. When I first transplant, I put my seedlings in this tiny greenhouse I scored from Harbor Freight Tools for just $30. During the night, the seedling sleep in the greenhouse and during the day, I move the trays outside to soak up a little wind, sun and rain. After just a week or so, depending on your climate, plants will be sturdy enough to stay outside so long as your overnight temperatures are okay or there is no huge downpour.
A special thanks to Josh at the Hen Pen in Napa for all of the egg-cellent “seedling cups” and to Chris at North Bay Hydroponics in Vallejo for always having the best soils available and the friendly knowledge and advice I need.
Stay tuned for more gardening tips from my kitchen…