It has nothing whatsoever to do with seed viability – it’s all about me viability. My personal germination rate is running at about seventy percent at the moment, and by six o’clock tonight it will drop to forty-five.
Spring comes with a price. Schedules that already sigh with the weight of work, volunteer activities and some sort of quality home life, positively groan with the demands of spring sports and garden related work/functions/tours etc. added to the mix. At this time of year I must struggle to stop myself running through the season I adore with my head down and my eyes glued to an ever-lengthening to-do list. At the top of this list is seed starting – a job that is not without its complications.
The details of why, what and how are no problem at all. I love to start seeds. I know how to start seeds. The feel of the soil, the pictures on packets, the irresistible smell of fresh earth, the thrill of new varieties – all are as sunshine to my winter-starved heart.
It’s sorting out the where that fills me with dread.
For those of you who have a greenhouse – read no further. There’s going to be a fair amount of whining over the next few paragraphs, and you probably need to get some fresh air and check on the spoiled brats in your state-of-the-art conservatory anyway. However, those of you who struggle at any one time to find three square inches of space on a countertop, or a fridge, or a washing machine – read on and commiserate with someone who faces down her space once a year and never wins.
A greenhouse is not in the cards for my small town property. The usable sunny areas that could support a structure of this kind have been put down to flowers and vegetables and children and maple trees that suck up light and spit out shade. My potting area is filled with a table and cold frames and lovely views that should not be blocked. And the deck? My husband is long-suffering, but I fear he would finally blow if I claimed eminent domain over half of it and told him to string his hammock in the driveway.
There simply isn’t any room. Yet every single year I am convinced I have carelessly overlooked 100 square feet of usable space…or 48…or even 35. This usually happens as I am falling asleep in the late winter months having just read a book which claims to solve my small space problem with empty promises and horticultural pornography.
“Eureka!” says the sleepy idealistic me, “Why didn’t I see it before?!? I’ll put it in on the south side of the deck support and I’ll start tomorrow!”
In the morning, the pragmatist grabs her coffee, surveys the spot in question and replies “Not if you want to close the side gate or open the basement door you won’t.”
Debbie Downer then proceeds to tramp over every inch of space allotted to her ten years ago and comes to the overwhelming conclusion that if she has started planting on the other side of her fence (which she has), it is time to buy a new house.
The next night the somewhat chastened idealist reads her fantasy literature once again and falls asleep secure in the knowledge that there is a wonderful area inside the house for starting seeds that has remained hidden for nearly a decade. It’s easy. It’s out of the way. It won’t impede the laundry or irritate the husband. It’s perfect.
And in the cold light of day it is discovered that she forgot about the eighteen cookbooks, two pots, wash basket, fish poacher and kitchen scale which currently claim residency in her ‘perfect space’.
It would be about this time that a friend calls wanting to know how to use the brand new greenhouse he bought over the winter for his ten acre property – and she finds herself secretly researching where she can buy releasable whitefly larvae.
Starting seeds indoors in a busy house requires a lot of patience and a truck-load of tolerance. Prepare to be annoyed. Prepare to be hassled. Prepare for the day when you throw them all out of the house whether they can handle it or not (yes I’m still discussing plants).
But above all, prepare for the day in late spring when you survey hundreds of potted up seedlings and your chest swells to bursting. It’s worth it. It always is. It’s just getting there that’s gonna hurt.
N.B.- This year for the first time I have bypassed the inside for the outside using milk jugs as mini-greenhouses. So far so good. Check out more information on this process in This Month’s Garden.