During WWII, governments the world over were encouraging their citizens to plant “victory gardens”.
In Canada, these were vegetable gardens that citizens planted to help supplement their food resources.
But beyond the practical effects of providing additional nutrition, victory gardens were useful in helping people cope with the realities of war.
Today, we’re in a new war against the novel coronavirus so this is a great time to look for ways to help yourself and your family cope with the new normal. Gardening is a perfect outlet for that.
Depending on where you live, it may still be little too early in the season to be turning the soil outside, as you may disturb hibernating bees and butterflies, (which you’ll need if your garden is going to thrive), but there’s nothing wrong with getting your garden going indoors.
April / May is the perfect time to start with seeds for many vegetable options.
Working With Seeds
Growing veggies from seeds isn’t hard, but it does require a few essentials.
While many garden centres are closed during the pandemic, others have curbside pick up of your order available, so give them a call to see what you can get.
- Use potting mix that is meant for vegetable seed gardening—it’s going to drain well and be more lightweight, so the seeds can sprout easily.
- Vegetable seeds. More below on what vegetables should work well.
- A container for starting them. If you don’t have a seed tray, an empty egg carton will help. Just make sure you have a plastic tray underneath it, to contain excess water! You’ll also need something to cover them with, to retain humidity, in the early days of their growth.
- Once they’ve started sprouting, seedlings need light: a windowsill that gets a lot of sun, or even lights from bulbs will make all the difference.
Once you have your essentials, you can get started:
- Fill your seed trays with the potting mix and water it well before even adding your seeds. You’ll want the mix to be thoroughly soaked but you don’t want to add seeds into the wet soil. Let the water drain through the mix before sowing your seeds.
- Every vegetable will have different instructions, so make sure you read the packet before you start sowing.
- Sprinkle seeds with about a half to full inch between each one and then cover them with another layer of potting mix.
- Cover them with a plastic cover—standard kitchen wrap will work—until they germinate and don’t place them in harsh, direct sunlight just yet. You don’t want to fry them with a hot, direct heat source! The cover will keep them warm and humid, with water dripping down to feed back into the tray: it’s self-watering at its best!
- When they’ve begun to sprout (or germinate, for the technical term), you can take the cover off and move them into a sunny spot.
- For watering, the key is consistency. You don’t want them to dry out or to drown! Even, consistent watering is best.
- You’ll also need to fertilize the soil, if your potting mix didn’t already come with slow release chemical fertilizers. Read the directions carefully however because over fertilizing can burn the very tender root structure that is forming.
Once you’ve planted your seeds, make sure you label the containers with both the date you planted them and what they are.
Different veggies require different amounts of water and light, per the packet instructions mentioned above.
Most seedlings take about 6 weeks to grow to a point where they can be potted into larger containers where you add veggie soil.
They will need 6-8 hours of sunlight a day to keep growing successfully, once potted out, so consider that a window sill might not do the trick after a while.
Whether you transplant them to a garden plot or to larger containers, just remember that you need good drainage to ensure your plants get the nutrients they need without rotting.
If you are using containers, size matters. You can use large trays that are only inches deep for things like lettuce because you’ll cultivate them quickly and before they are very large. Crops like beans and cucumbers, however, need to be able to build a solid root system and have a structure to be able to support them as they begin to climb upwards.
Obviously, crops that grow underground, like carrots, need a certain amount of depth of soil as well.
Before you move your seedlings outside, they need to be hardened. Basically, this involves slowly taking your seedlings outdoors to get them used to the light, wind and rain before you transplant them into a garden bed or large containers outside. Take them outside for the day, and bring them back in at night for several days, eventually stretching that out to all day and night until you can get them transplanted.
If the sun is direct, you might want to give them some partial shade during the hottest part of the day, while they are still very young.
Ambient temperature matters too.
While hardier crops like chard, lettuce and spinach can thrive even if the temperature is around 15 degrees, warm weather veggies like tomatoes and peppers need consistent temperatures of 20 degrees, so consider that when you are thinking of moving your seedlings outdoors.
Vegetables That Grow Well From Seeds
This list isn’t exhaustive, but it does give you an idea of what you can get going on right now, so you can be transplanting when the weather is more consistently warmer, in May and June:
- Lettuce, as well as other leafy greens like Swiss chard and spinach
Of course, you can’t forget all the wonderful herbs that you can grow indoors year round, if you want to: basil, coriander, parsley and rosemary are easy to grow and will add so much flavour to your cooking.
Enjoying a delicious dinner with your family can be a bright spot in an otherwise difficult time.