Growing from seed starts now

January 23, 2013 

Winter is the time to order seeds for spring gardens. Seed companies have enjoyed a resurgence of popularity as health and wellness moves to the forefront of the minds of not just gardeners but consumers as well.

Western Washington gardeners are lucky because Ed Hume Seed is near Puyallup. As a local garden legend, Hume continues to oversee the operation of the seed varieties that do best in our cool summer climate. Order seeds online at edhumeseeds.com or visit a local nursery or garden center and scan the display of seeds in the distinctive dark black seed packets.

The most important tip for successful gardening from seed is to read and follow the instructions on the label, and arm yourself with extra information on soil preparation and harvest tips.

Tips for Western Washington growing:

1Slugs will eat everything soft and tender and are especially attracted to lettuce and other leafy greens. Plan ahead and bait for slugs before your lettuce seedlings sprout. One way to beat the slugs is to lay damp newspaper on top of your lettuce patch right after you plant seeds. Tiny baby slugs will collect under the newspaper, and you can gather them up easily.

2Heat-loving crops such as tomatoes, basil, eggplants and squash should not be planted too early. I wait until after Father’s Day to add these warmth-seeking plants to my garden.

3Peas need to be planted in early spring because they fade quickly in hot weather. Pre-soak your pea seeds or wrap them in a damp dish towel so they are partly sprouted before you plant. This helps prevent sweet peas and garden peas from rotting in the cold wet soil.

4. It takes skill and a lot of heat to grow amaranth, the ancient grain sold as a complete protein and the darling of heirloom seed companies. Stick with seeds that do well in cool soil. Carrots, broccoli, cabbage and kale are crops for beginners. Want to learn more about heirloom seeds? Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds has great information and fresh seeds for sale, rareseeds.com.

5. Crops in pots is the answer for beginning gardeners. Patio tomatoes, bush cucumbers, basil and other herbs all benefit from extra heat generated by setting a clay or ceramic container on a sunny patio.

6. Plastic pots and lightweight foam containers (some look like terra cotta or stone) keep soil cool and do not release moisture. Gardeners in Western Washington have better luck growing vegetables by using clay or ceramic containers that absorb heat and release excess moisture. If you do use plastic pots, don’t overwater.

7. Most potting soils are sterile or made from what is known as a “soil-less” mix of peat, sand and perlite. That makes the potting soil lightweight, quick-draining and excellent for preventing disease. That also means most potting soils have no nutrition for the plants. You must fertilize container gardens.

8. Berries are easier to grow in Western Washington than fruit from trees. Apples, pears and cherries are more prone to disease in our cool climate. Raspberries, strawberries and blueberries grow better here than almost anywhere in the world. Easiest of all, harvest native blackberries and huckleberries and reap the health benefits without planting anything.

9. Perennial herbs from Mediterranean climates such as rosemary, thyme and oregano will return year after year if grown in a raised bed, rock garden or container with excellent drainage. Fresh herbs can be grown indoors, but after a few months, plants will weaken from lack of sunshine. Most herbs do well in poor soil. They are great plants for beginning or busy gardeners.

10. Some crops grow too well. Mint will take over in a garden with damp soil. Horseradish, hops and kiwi have all generated complaints about invasive growth from local gardeners. Just a reminder that growing your own food is not that difficult in our climate.

Marianne Binetti has a degree in horticulture from Washington State University and is the author of several books. For gardening questions, write to her at P.O. Box 872, Enumclaw, WA 98022. Send a self-addressed, stamped envelope for a personal reply. She also can be reached at binettigarden.com.

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