Did you know that the average grocery store’s produce travels nearly 1,500 miles between the farm where it was grown and your refrigerator? That nearly 40% of our fruit is grown or produced in other countries? And that, even though a simple thing like broccoli is likely grown within 20 miles of your home, the veggies you buy at the supermarket probably traveled over 1000 miles?
Of course, the easiest way to know where your food comes from is to grow it yourself. A vegetable garden can be as small as a couple of containers with tomatoes or herbs, or as involved as a half-acre plot of all your favorites. And the reward isn’t only the intense pleasure that a sun-ripened tomato brings. We like to grow our own vegetables so that we can choose the most flavorful varieties and ensure that they are healthy from seed to harvest by starting our own plants. It’s easy and fun and you won’t have to wait until May to get your hands dirty.
Some plants are more reliable than others when it comes to home germination. Surefire choices include basil, broccoli, and other cabbage-like relatives, lettuce, peppers, and tomatoes. And if you are itching to grow some flowers, try cosmos, marigolds, hollyhocks, and zinnias.
You’ll need some supplies as well. You can purchase new flats at the Garden Center, but if you saved some from last spring, they can be reused as long as they are cleaned. Wash them thoroughly in hot, soapy water and then rinse with a dilute solution of household bleach or white vinegar, and water. When they are sterilized, make sure that the flats have drainage holes. And you’ll need to buy a seed starting mix. Please don’t scrimp on this step. Seed starting mediums are specially formulated to improve germination and prevent diseases that attack young seedlings. We also like to apply half-strength solutions of organic, liquid fertilizer like Seaweed Concentrate by Dr. Earth.
Once you’ve narrowed down what crops you’d like to grow, the most critical factor is when to start the seeds. Too soon will produce leggy, pale seedlings and, if you wait too long you run the risk of not giving the plants enough time to produce a crop. Late January and early February are perfect for starting annual flowers like geraniums and impatiens, and many of the slower-growing herbs such as rosemary, lavender, sage, and thyme. Perennials flowers also appreciate the extra germination time, so start coneflowers, pinks, and grasses now. And last, but not least, start onions, leeks, and shallots early. It’s much too soon to sow tomatoes and peppers unless you are growing the hot pepper varieties, like Habaneros, which require a longer growing season to build the heat.
We’ll be sharing many more of our own favorite tips and techniques over the coming weeks, so stay tuned. And if you have any particular questions, let us know. Scott, Gary, and Julie at the Plant Desk are especially knowledgeable about weird vegetable varieties, what does particularly well in our area, and tips for veg-gardening success. And they’d love to share their knowledge with you.