The Edible Garden

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Guide to seed starting indoors
Shake off the tail end of this hard interminable winter by getting started on your vegetable garden. This seed starting shorthand gives you an easy access step-by guide starting seeds yourself. 

Choose superb heirloom varieties
The varieties of vegetables you find in the store are grown to withstand long distance transport, to be easily harvested by agricultural machinery and to have an extra-long shelf life. You can choose heritage and heirloom seeds from local seed suppliers and choose varieties for aesthetics, nutritional value and exquisite taste. Most importantly, choose local varieties best suited to our super short growing season

The back of your seed pack will tell you when to plant. Montreal is in zone 5b, which makes our last frost date is around May 20 depending on how you calculate it. A tomato seed packet will say start indoors 6 – 8 weeks before your last frost date, so plant the seed around April 8th.

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Supplementary lighting
It is very important to have strong seedlings for your garden. Even the sunniest window is not good enough. Strong, stocky seedlings give you a garden resistant to pests, disease and tough conditions. A simple fluorescent light from any hardware store will do the trick. Just get one warm and one cool light bulb, and hang it 6” from the plants. Put your lights on a timer, and leave them on for 14 - 16 hours a day.

It all starts in the soil
The common counsel for seed starting is using a soilless seed starting mix, and then feed the seedlings with fertilizers. This is to prevent fungus or diseases.  However, using super-rich worm castings provides nutrients for the seedlings right away, all you have to do is let the surface of the soil dry between watering once the seedlings have their first leaves.

A great seed starting mix is light and fluffy for good aeration and water retention, and full of great microorganisms to keep your plants healthy. We used 50% worm castings, 30% coconut coir and 20% potting mix to grow 60 000 great seedlings in 2013.

Pots and planting
It is best to plant directly into whatever pots you choose (with holes in the bottom for drainage – a must!) to remove the extra step of transplanting your sprouts. For your pot size, one plant in a 2” pot is great for leafy greens while peppers, tomatoes, and eggplants prefer a pot at least 3” wide. As a general rule: plant your seed 3 times deeper than its width. So for a ½” bean seed, ¾” deep. A sand-sized lettuce seed can be simply sprinkled on top.  Err on the side of too shallow rather than too deep.

Water, water, water
Keep your seeds moist but not drowning until they sprout. Then let the surface of the soil dry out between watering to keep fungus away. Never let the whole pot dry out. Water once a week with kelp fertilizer to keep soil fertile and plants healthy.

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Writer Byline: Tereska Gesing is the owner of Urban Seedling [www.urbanseedling.com], an edible landscaping and vegetable gardening service in Montreal. She grows 65 different kinds of vegetables, berries and fruit trees with her husband and two young children in her Verdun backyard. Find out more at www.urbanseedling.com