Jump Start Your Garden by Direct Seeding, Practical Gardening

shutterstock_138850070 Planting SeedsMost of us want our gardens to come back to life as soon as the snow is melted. Once the soil is thawed, you may be tempted to buy plants and get them in the ground, but resist the urge. For those of us in USDA Zone 5, we can still anticipate a hard frost, or freeze, until mid-May.

Another option to consider for your garden is direct seeding cold-hardy vegetables, herbs, annuals, and perennials. Many of these plants will do much better when the air and soil temperatures are cooler. And the costs of seeds are a lot less than flats of plants if you are on a tight budget.

Make sure your garden is not too wet to be worked. If you pick up a clump of soil and squeeze it and find it remains in a tight ball, or water drips out, it is too wet to be worked, so wait awhile. The soil is best worked when the clump of soil falls slightly apart after it is squeezed. Working a garden that is too wet will compact the soil and damage roots of existing plants.

As you prepare to plant, work in compost or peat moss. Lightly fertilize the soil where you plan to grow annuals and vegetables.

Direct seeding is easy. My technique is to scratch up a patch of soil to the depth as indicated on the seed packet, and sprinkle the seeds over top. I then take a handful of the soil and sprinkle this over the seeds and water lightly. To water lightly, use a misting head or fine sprinkler on the end of your hose. A spray bottle works well for small areas. I have found that a watering can with a sprinkling head often pours too harshly and the soil washes off, exposing the seeds.

If you want to plant in rows, make a shallow straight trench to the depth indicated on the seed packet—pile the soil to one side of the trench. Space the seeds as directed, and then push the piled soil over the seeds. Again, water lightly.

For seeds planted less than an inch deep, do not pat down the soil, as some gardeners do, I prefer to let the water settle the soil against the seeds instead.

Vegetables to plant by mid-April would include potatoes, onions, and garlic. You can now seed peas, plants in the cabbage family, Swiss chard, spinach, carrots, lettuce and arugula, radishes, beets, turnips and rutabaga.

It is also the time to direct seed perennial herbs such as chives, oregano, and sage.

Though still too early to plant for Zone 5, come May you can direct seed annual herbs parsley and dill. The annuals that can be direct seeded are snap dragons, petunias, calendula (some consider this an herb), stock, sunflowers and alyssum.

When it comes to perennial seeds, there are a lot to choose from. Some of the easiest to direct seed are blanket flower, black-eyed Susan, forget-me-nots (careful, these can become weedy), lupine, columbine, tickseed, coneflowers, and candytuft.

If you are someone who uses weed-inhibiting chemicals, such as Preen, remember that this product prevents any seed from taking root—including those you want to grow. Be sure to wait until after your seedlings have become well-rooted and sturdy-stemmed to spread the weed inhibitor.

It won’t be long until you see the seedlings pushing through the soil to become part of the joy you find in the garden.

(Image: Gardening – Pea Seeds by Space Monkey Pics, at shutterstock.com.)

 

A Walk through the Garden

For those of you taking your daily walk through the beautiful prayer garden that is Margaret Realy’s blog post, you may notice a different gardener today. As Margaret is on retreat for a few weeks, she has very kindly allowed me to help tend to her garden while she is away.

In the garden

Image courtesy Marty Rymarz.

As an Oblate novice at the same monastery as Margaret, I have been blessed to become friends with her and see her daily blogs. For me, reading her daily post is not unlike taking a leisurely stroll through my local greenhouse in the spring. There, I see many beautiful flowers starting to bloom, waiting to be taken home and planted where they will grow and flower further. Margaret’s daily prayers are inspired flowers of thought that I take with me each day and allow them to germinate in my mind and flower in my soul. Like the lilies and petunias in the greenhouse, some of Margaret’s prayers are perennials and some are annuals. Some will stick with me year after year while others flower brilliantly for a time and may fade away with the season.

It is the loving embrace of God’s light and warmth that allows these flowers to blossom and our prayers to bloom to their full beauty.  A little seed that looks insignificant and gets tenderly planted in the soil may eventually blossom into a beautiful flower. Another type of seed may produce the vegetables that feed us. Though unseen, these seeds are quietly but faithfully striving upwards, ever upwards, towards heaven, until one day, they burst forth from the earth, straining towards the sky and the sustaining power of the Son.

So it is with God’s word and the prayers of others for us. These start as a little seed in our soul that can be covered for a time in the dirt of our concupiscence. Our daily prayers and contemplation give these seeds of our soul the water and warmth they need to grow.  They may manifest themselves, flowerlike, as a beautiful smile that we share with a stranger or a helping hand that we lend to those in need. They may also bloom as succulent fruit and healthy vegetables to feed our own spiritual needs when we minister to those in need. Our job, as gardeners of Jesus, is to cultivate these seeds, while pulling the daily weeds that can so easily sprout, until these seeds grow and others may appreciate the beauty of them as they are reflected not only in our words, but more importantly, in our actions.

So on this day, as we have taken the time to walk through this prayer garden, do we also take time to gaze in childlike awe at the beauty of God’s creation in both this garden and in the beauty of each other’s souls? Do we truly strive to see Jesus in everyone we encounter? For if we did, if we sought to see Christ in both our friends and those who challenge us, we would truly be living in a modern day Garden of Eden. And that garden, my friends, would not be a bad place to live until we reach that final destination that we know, as Christians, is the loving eternal communion with our Father in heaven.

Darkness and Light, Catholic Photo Challenge

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

The Catholic Photo Challenge this week is about darkness and light.

Most living things experience a passage from darkness to light. Whether it is in the womb of the body or the womb of the earth, germination takes place in the absence of light. A seed is planted in the dark soil, and with minimal effort on our part, it grows.

It is awe-inspiring when we realize that God chose the things of the earth to express Himself to us. From the simplest thing of a garden, the seed, comes the greatest revelation. It is from the grain of wheat and the seed of grapes that we receive bread and wine, bread to nourish and wine to gladden (Ps. 104:14-15).  Both are essential: the bread of life and fruit of the vine, the Body and Blood of Christ—Eucharist. From that tiny light in a seed to the startling Light of God at Communion, we hear at every Mass “light from light.”

The Divine Seed, Jesus, like most seeds, germinated in the dark. He germinated in the darkness of Mary’s womb, and grew a religion from a blackened tomb in the earth.

We understand darkness. We were born from a place without light, and our earth was formed out of darkness. Much like the seed to which the absence of light is essential to set root and grow, we too have an inner need for darkness. Without the experience of darkness we would not recognize light. Our roots of belief grow in the fact that Jesus rose from the darkness of his Passion. He rose from an earthen tomb. We sprout and develop faith, our light drawn to His light. We bear fruit by being nourished and fed by that which came from the earth—wheat and grapes, bread and wine. And with seeds from the Fruits of the Spirit we plant kernels of goodness and pray that these seeds too will germinate and take root.

 

(Excerpt from Cultivating God’s Garden through Lent, Holy Thursday)

Quote, Equus Passage 7/30

The following quote just about sums up who I am as I strive toward my eternity; to be centered in God as I experience Him in His creations and to be a small light that offers the same to others. (Its from my first book.)

 

We hunger to return to our place of origin with God, back to the garden, to rediscover that spiritual dimension of centering peace.

I will be at the Catholic Writers Guild conference that is part of the  Catholic Marketing Network trade show in Somerset, NJ. With all that this entails, I will take a short break for about two weeks from my routine of blogging….there may be a picture or two of the journey.

 

(Why Equus Passage)

 

 

 

Starting Seeds Part 2: Practical Gardening Series

In my February 22nd column, Starting Seeds Indoors Part 1, I talked about how to begin growing seeds indoors. I mentioned timing, containers and potting mix, light, temperature and watering. Let’s continue with the care of seedlings after germination has taken place and the first two leaves, called cotyledons, have emerged. Your plastic covering is now removed from the trays.

(If you direct seeded singly in separate peat pots you have already accomplished the following step and can skip the next two paragraphs.)

When three to four true leaves are showing it’s time to transplant into individual pots.  Fiber pots are best or you can make your own from black-ink newspaper: using a 6 oz. tomato paste can, wrap a folded over 1/4-sheet of newspaper that is two inches taller than the can around it, tuck under the 2” surplus and press can down on table to crease it. Remove can.

Fill with moistened (not soggy!) potting mix and line up so sides of pots touch as they stand in waterproof tray used to protect surfaces. Press a hole in the center of soil for seedling. Use a small flexible metal spatula to remove seedlings from growing tray. Holding them by their leaves gently tease away one plant from other seedlings and plant into pots. Lightly water to set soil around their tiny roots. Plant only as deep as seedling previously grew in tray.

You can now use a liquid fertilizer; dilute it twice as much as instructed and use it half as often. Too much fertilizing at this stage and you could burn the plants, but more likely they will grow too fast and become weak and spindly.

Be careful about humidity and watering while seedlings mature. It is at this stage that most new gardeners fail. Too much water and roots will rot, too much misting and humidity and fungal diseases form. A tiny clip-fan works wonders to help prevent diseases by keeping air gently moving.

If you are using paper or peat pots, gauge wetness by looking at the sides of the pots; they will be dark from moisture. Water when soil dries out an inch from the top. I use a Popsicle stick near edge of pot to pull soil slightly to side to check the moistness. Remember that pots in the center of the tray will remain wetter than those at the edges. Pots closer to a window will dry out faster than those farther away.

Seedlings grown at home do not develop the root mass or thickened stems like their commercially grown cousins; hardening-off will take longer. One week before hardening off plants outdoors, cut back on their watering, stop fertilizing and reduce room temperature.

Ten days before planting in the garden, place plants in a bright location out of direct sunlight and wind for 2-3 hours being sure to check watering. Over the next several days gradually increase plants exposure to sunlight, wind and temperature variations. Leave plants outdoors overnight of the last two days.

I like to transplant late in the day when the sun is lower in the sky and not as hot. The leaves will have time to dry before nightfall, and because plants take up most of their water at night, they will be more able to tolerate the heat of the coming day.