After moving back to Florida from North Carolina over a year ago, I am still accustoming myself to the difference in the seasons and the gardening rhythm. In NC, I did not start my seedlings until late February or early March. Here, I barely got down the Christmas decorations before it was time to plant the seeds. Outdoors, there are also a great many adjustments to make. Last winter here was mellow and mostly warm. It was predictably dry, winter being the arid season in this part of the country. However, this winter, while marked by only sporadic freezing and the occasional frost, has been for the most part cool, damp and drearily overcast. Water in the pond is at its highest mark since we have lived here, and the yard, brown and withered last year, is mostly green.
Many other plants in the yard and flower beds remain green and flourishing also. Lots of others don't fare so well at this time of the year. Flowering Kale has become a fast favorite for winter gardening since I have moved back to Florida. I had one in a pot last year by the back door. This year they are tucked into spots all around the back door, breezeway and garage. I had grown them before, but never with such success. Another success story here last year was with the patch of snapdragons I planted next to the birdbath.
On the indoor front, I have been very much enjoying observing the progress of the tiny plants I started about a month ago now. My table garden in front of the south facing dining room window includes tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, and artichoke seedlings as well the herbs, chives and basil. I do not purport to be an expert on gardening, and particularly gardening in Florida, but I have started my own spring seedlings for many years now.
There are several reason for this:
- I am Cheap.
- Seeds, though much more expensive than in the past, are economical and most can be saved from one year to the next.
- There is a much wider availability of varieties and colors. You can tailor your garden to your own tastes and even to your own region.
- You can experiment with plants not likely to ever grace the shelves of your local garden store.
- It is just as easy to grow enough to share. Plant starts make good spring gifts, and it is fun to be able to exchange varieties with other gardeners.
Of course, there are problems and drawbacks with beginning your own plants as well. I have grown quite tired these past few years of buying the trays offered at the big-box stores for starting seeds. You know the ones—the tray with plastic greenhouse cover and inserts for planting. They get more expensive every year, and seem to last a correspondingly shorter time. Frequently, by the time you go to use them a second year, they are cracked or leak. The inserts are flimsy and do not stand up to the washing they need for repeated use. The covers, only necessary for a few days anyway, warp or yellow in no time. Since I save the trays from buying plants at the nursery, some to reuse and others till I get around to returning them, I usually have an ample supply on hand. However, the drainage at the bottom presents problems for the time the plants spend in the house. This year, I decided to try lining these with plastic sheeting I had on hand for other gardening purposes. I cut it to generously fit into the flats and then nested the peat pots on top. So far, so good. When I am through with them, I think that I can wash and fold the plastic linings for at least one more year.
I use the peat pots almost exclusively now. The price of these is still not as prohibitive as that of plastic pots, and I can purchase them in the bulk packs rather than as part of a planting system pretty reasonably. Having had various problems in the past with damping off, fungus and even last year's cutworm fiasco, I am acutely aware of the importance of cleanliness with these tiny plants. Using the peat pots, which can be planted in the ground or tossed in the compost bin, eliminates the need for washing those tiny plastic inserts that refuse to stand up to much abuse anyway. I have an ample supply of larger pots I have saved when it comes time to re-pot some of these into more roomy quarters. The peat pots, along with sterile seed starter mix (I use organic) give them a good start. Before the seeds emerged, I just covered the whole table with a sheet of clear plastic to hold in the warmth and humidity. Once they began to come up, I continued to only cover them at night until most of the seeds had germinated. I bottom water, and have tried a couple of things I read on other blogs after finding the links on Pinterest. Last year, after some early damping off and frenzied searching for answers, I began throwing a chamomile tea bag into my water pitcher for the plants. I know there are recipes and such out there, but I just toss the bag in and change it out every several days. This year, I also started adding a capful of peroxide to each pitcher, and to the spray bottle I keep for spot watering. So far, so good. I will continue to update on the progress of my tiny charges.
Until next time— blessings, and sweet Dreams of greener days to come.