March is an exciting month for gardeners, as the plans for summer planting kick into gear. Starting seeds indoors for chives and tomatoes gets the green thumb twitching, without a doubt! Here's a few pointers from our gardening expert, Jim Hole, on starting the summer garden now, inside.
Alberta Prime Times: Gardeners are antsy to get going. What can/should we start in March?
Hole: Tomatoes are the big one; people love starting their favourite varieties, and now is the time. Use a fresh package of seeds, or seeds that have been stored in cool and dry conditions--you can even use previously frozen seeds--but not ones that have been above the stove or around any moisture. Get your supplies ready to go--trays, a good, soil-less seedling mixture and if you want individual cells to plant seeds in. There are heat mats that keep the soil temperature at about 20 degrees, those are nice to have, but many people simply put a dome on top of the tray and find a sunny, warm spot.
Q: Then once the seeds germinate?
Hole: Once you see greenery, you want the dome off and to move seedlings into a cool spot, but with light. Invest in grow lights, for sure. Maybe a shot of one, light fertilizer, but that's it. A bit of moisture and light; that's what they need in the early stages.
Q: Can you use other products to start seedlings?
Hole: Some people use jiffy disc pellets, which are good, and others plant seeds into cardboard egg cartons--that works too. Once seedlings are growing, you can transfer them into little pots. The best deal of all is the free pots and containers people find at Edmonton's Reuse Centre. Sanitize the pots and tools you use with a bit of bleach and you're good to go.
Q: How long does all this take to happen?
Hole: Typically, you start seeds indoors about six weeks from when you want to plant them outside, so people work back from the average first frost for Edmonton area, which is May 6. Once your seedlings are growing well, you want to place them outside for a period each day, to harden them off. You can already plant carrots etc in the ground before those dates, but for frost-sensitive seedlings like tomatoes, you wait until the chance of frost is mostly past, in late May. Remember it's only the cost of a pack of seeds if you lose seedlings to frost, or if they get so leggy they don't survive the transplanting. So, just start again.
Q: Some people are very cautious with planting dates etc.
Hole: Mom always said 'live dangerously', take a chance, plant things early.