Starting Seeds Indoors, Part 1: Practical Gardening Series

Few things produce more hope in the first few hours than a diet and starting seeds.

When considering growing your own seeds, remember that almost all seeds will germinate; it’s the growing-on that challenges. Home grown seedlings will be weaker and more spindly than commercially grown ones, and more prone to fungal diseases like dampening off.

As homeowners we do not have access to the commercial chemicals used to make these plants sturdy and vigorous. So if you want only a few plants, purchase them from local growers. Starting a few seedlings that are unusual plants or new varieties is the best option for new gardeners. Read my previous column on Managing Your Seeding Addiction to help you decide which plants to grow.

Timing is your first consideration. Do not start seeds too soon or they will become overgrown and too fragile for transplanting. All seed packets indicate number of days to maturity and approximate maturity period. Count backwards from that number to know when to start your seeds. The following indoor growing chart from the University of Minnesota will help.

After sprouting, seedlings need adequate light. A good light source is cool white or full spectrum fluorescent lights placed three to six inches above the seedlings. Windowsills or tables set next to a south facing window may work but be attentive. Light from windows are unidirectional and seed trays will need rotating. Also winter sunlight is very harsh and can quickly overheat and dry out tender seedlings.

Any type of a container will be fine as long as it has drainage and can be covered during germination. Place lipped cookie sheets underneath to protect surfaces that are covered with layers of newspaper. Soak fiber or peat pots before using. Use potting mixes specifically made for starting seeds. I have found mixing and sterilizing my own growing medium too bothersome for just a few flats.

Fill flats or containers with potting mix to within ½ inch from top and water thoroughly, let drain, place on cookie sheet. For each seed make a hole in potting mix with pencil to depth indicated on seed packet, for tiny seeds sprinkle across surface. Some seeds will only be covered with a fine layer of mix. Cover with clear plastic that has small vent holes. Do not place plastic covered containers in direct sunlight.

Temperature is important to germinating seeds and is best kept consistently around 70-75 degrees; a bit warm for most households. Watering is usually not needed during germination because you have covered a wetted mix.

When 60% of the seeds begin to sprout, and they usually do this all at once within 24 hours, remove plastic and place under light source. Pay very close attention to soil moisture and humidity. Too wet and fungal diseases will develop. Too dry and the tender baby plants will shrivel and die.

(For Part 2 on growing your own seeds, click here.)

Asian Madonna

Image by Margaret Rose Realy, Obl. OSB. All rights reserved.

The Blessed Mother statue is only twelve inches tall. Finding a place to store it for Lent shouldn’t have been that hard. At a Catholic Writers Guild Conference I’d bought this smaller version of the original from the Korean woman who was the sculptor.

The soft light from the candles in my prayer space enhanced the artist’s design. The hands of Mother Mary are against her chest, tipped back in a way that gives the impression of an opening lotus flower. Her head is tilted, her Asian eyes and delicate smile are directed at baby Jesus standing in the blossom of her hands.

Setting the statue on a side table, I changed over the altar. The green linens of Ordinary Time that covered my altar for a brief four weeks after Christmas are again folded away. The bottles of holy water from Lourdes, Fatima, and my grandmother’s cabinet are nestled in a draw below the altar along with silk flowers, holy cards, crocheted cross bookmarks, and a small framed picture of Blessed Mother Teresa.

Honoring the traditions of Lent, I’ve placed deep purple cloths on the altar and over the sacred images on the walls. I hesitated before covering the lithograph of St. Mary Magdalene. This saint has journeyed with me since childhood and we greet each other every morning as I enter the room to pray. I carefully drape a cloth over the print of Divine Mercy and as I do so offer prayers for the precious souls in Purgatory. My room feels empty. The absence of Other sharing my prayers is pronounced.

Everything is readied except for the twelve inch Madonna. I hold her tight to my chest as I bend down to look in lower cabinets for storage space. I continue to hold her as I walk from one room to another and then back trying to find a safe place for her to rest. Standing in the prayer room with its purple linens, Mary pressed near my heart, I realized I was tearing up.

A memory comes of when I was a child. I had a favored stuffed toy, a sleeping white kitty with pink nose and slanted embroidered eyes. From bed to sand box to washer and back to my hands it would travel. A day came when I was to visit grandmother and my Kitty was placed in a grocery bag along with my clothes. I wanted to carry my Kitty in my arms, I didn’t want to let go. As long as I held her…near and tight…I was safe.

I felt a little silly at 60 welling up with tears as I stood there holding the statue. I had a new appreciation for the self-conscious tears of a friend who was preparing to move to a smaller house. She was taking down her family pictures from the stairway wall and was feeling the absence of loving memories even before they were boxed.

My desiring to hold close a sense of safety was once again the motion of my arms. I didn’t want to let go of the Madonna, I didn’t want to be without that statue in my sight for the forty days of Lent. I wanted to embrace, as nearly as I could this side of heaven, the nearness of my Holy Mother.


Fasting From, Turn to Virtue

Last year for Lent, starting on Ash Wednesday, I began a series of weekly columns about fasting from certain attitudes and striving to become more virtuous. A few of the columns that were written made their way into my new book Cultivating God’s Garden through Lent.

The list of those fourteen “Fasting From” reflections became popular, and many friends said they had printed them out and hung them in work spaces. It seems they bear repeating. So, here is an excerpt from my book with those attitude adjusting reflections:

One year during a late winter retreat a small handout was distributed and the idea of “giving up,” or fasting, took on a whole new purpose. Here is what it said:

Fast from bitterness; turn to forgiveness

Fast from hatred; return good for evil

Fast from negativism; be positive

Fast from complaining; be grateful

Fast from pessimism; be an optimist

Fast from harsh judgments; think kindly thoughts

Fast from worry; trust in Divine Providence

Fast from discouragement; be full of hope

Fast from anger; be more patient

Fast from pettiness; be more mature

Fast from gloom; enjoy the beauty around you

Fast from jealousy; pray for trust

Fast from gossiping; control your thoughts

Fast from sin; turn to virtue

Maybe I should consider hanging this list on the fridge for more than the forty days of Lent.

We are taught to be charitable in how we respond towards others. We also need to be charitable with ourselves as we become a more virtuous person.  Let us begin our journey this Lent with our hearts open, accepting the challenges to become who we are truly called to be as Christians. A virtuous life isn’t for the faint of heart.

May God always be praised!