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Planting Seeds

Freedom from the state and self-sufficiency go hand-in-hand. One of our latest projects here at Voluntaryism in Action, “Rooted in Voluntaryism,” aims to assist more people to increase their self-sufficiency through gardening.  A VIA follower and volunteer, Roger Perry, is a master gardener with a lifetime of experience.  Below, he offers a basic explanation for planting seeds.  We hope this will be a helpful accompaniment to your seed starter kit if you signed up for our program, or that you’ll share with friends interested in starting their own vegetable gardens!      

Planting seeds is less expensive than buying nursery plants.  A packet of seeds may cost between $1.00 and $3.00 (check out the options from our friends at True Leaf Market) and will produce more plants than the average home gardener can use. Seeds can sometimes be received free at garden shows, food banks, and other community resources.

A packet of seeds may also be shared between family, friends, or neighbors reducing the cost to almost zero. Planting seeds allows you to extend the growing season as you can plant seeds indoors several weeks before it is safe to plant outdoors.

Before you start to planting seeds, it is important to take a look at the seed packet for important information about the seeds.  The front of the packet has general information such as:  the company name of the seller, cost, name and variety of the seed.  It may also show things like:  number of days to harvest, if it is suitable for growing in a container, if it is NON-GMO (not modified genetically), and the weight of the seeds. 

The reverse side will have a general description of the item, planting instructions, a map of the United States and four climate zones (this is kind of small and hard to see), and the year for which the seed was packed (although seeds are packed for a specific year, they will normally be viable (able to grow) for at least 2-3 years).

When planting seeds indoors you will need a growing container of some type.  Almost any container will do.  It should be fairly shallow, have drainage holes in the bottom, and a plate to catch the water.  It may be covered to retain moisture and warmth.  Recycled nursery containers (see below) are perfect.   They are shallow and have plenty of drainage holes.  They can sometimes be obtained from nurseries, friends, or from items you have purchased. 

planting seeds
Two examples of nursery containers, and a makeshift nursery container from a margarine tub.

You can also use recycled household items (below). 

planting seeds

Clamshell type items can be cut in half (below). 

planting seeds

Put drain holes in one part and use the other as a plate to catch the water (below). When putting holes in the containers be careful not to injure yourself!  

planting seeds

A cover is not necessary, but if you want one you can use plastic film, a plastic bag, or top of a plastic clamshell.  Put a few small holes in the plastic cover to prevent mildew or overheating.  Even with the holes, remove the cover for a few hours a day and make sure the plastic does not touch the soil.

You do not need to buy a special soil mix for planting seeds.  Most yard soil will do; however, if your soil is especially heavy and wet, you will have better results if you can add some potting soil and or sand.

Now you are ready to plant!  Wet the soil and let it drain.  Follow the instructions on the packet for how deep to plant.  Try to allow more space between seeds than the packet indicates to make it easier to transplant when the time comes. If you are planting more than one variety of seed, it would be a good idea to add a marker with the kind of seed and the date they were planted. 

Planting outdoors may be easier and less troublesome.  Whether you are planting seeds or transplanting your seedlings, the process is about the same.  Prepare the soil.  Again, most soils will do without adding costly, processed amendments.  If your soil is especially heavy clay, you may want to add sand, compost, or other organic matter. 

Using a shovel, hoe, trowel, etc. dig the soil up, breaking big clods and adding any amendments as you go. Rake the soil smooth.  Water lightly and let it drain.  Plant seeds according to package directions. Plant seedlings at the same depth as they were in the seed bed.  Adding a light mulch will help retain warmth and moisture and will deter weed growth.

Now, water and weed as necessary until your crops are ready to harvest!

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Self-Sufficiency through Gardening

Freedom from the state and self-sufficiency go hand-in-hand. One of our latest projects here at Voluntaryism in Action, “Rooted in Voluntaryism,” aims to assist more people to increase their self-sufficiency through gardening.  A VIA follower and volunteer, Roger Perry, is a master gardener with a lifetime of experience.  Below, he offers some basic tips for beginners.  We hope this will be a helpful accompaniment to your seed starter kit if you signed up for our program, or that you’ll share with friends interested in starting their own vegetable gardens!      

 

Before beginning your home garden let’s take a look at some of the basics.

Climate Zones

 There are two main organizations that have developed a series of climate zones covering the entire country.  The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Publishes one list, and The Sunset Western Garden Book (Sunset) publishes another.  They are based on different information and so their zones do not overlap—you must be sure that you know which one you are using and which one a catalog, store, or label is using.  They are both widely available at garden stores, libraries, online, seed catalogs, and other sources.  These climate zones give you general guidance as to a particular plant’s adaptability to your general area.  Along with your climate zone you should also be aware of your microclimate—the things affecting your specific garden location.  Will the garden be on the north side of a building?  Is it shaded by trees?  Is it at the bottom of a hill?  Is there a river or lake nearby?  All these factors can influence a plant’s ability to grow in a specific location.

Growing Season

This is basically the number of days above freezing weather.  It starts with the average last day of frost in the spring and ends with the average first day of frost in the fall.  This is just a guide; there are plants that will survive in freezing weather and others that cannot tolerate any cold.  The growing season can be extended by starting seeds indoors, using plastic or blankets to cover plants, using plastic to cover the soil, or by using raised beds.

Soil

Soil is dirt, plain and simple.  You can plant your vegetable garden in almost any common soil and get good results.  There are a few things to watch out for—heavy clay soil, boggy wet soil, extremely sandy soil, acid/alkaline imbalance, lack of basic nutrients.  Clay, boggy, sandy soils can be improved by adding organic material—compost, sawdust, lawn clippings, purchased garden soil.  With boggy soil look for the source of the water to see if it can be diverted.  The general acid, alkaline, or nutrient status of your soil can be checked using a simple soil test kit purchased from a nursery or plant store, or you can send or take a soil sample to a soil testing lab.  These can be located through plant nurseries, local college/universities, or online.

Water

Quality of water is not usually a problem.  If you want your water tested, most municipal water providers, local college/university, or testing labs can do so at a minimal charge.  A bigger concern is with managing the water to ensure it is in the right place at the right time and the right amount.  This is called irrigation.  Plants require regular watering.   Newly planted seeds or plants should be kept slightly damp, but don’t soak them.  After they have become established, water deeply and then do not water again until the soil begins to dry out.  Small gardens can be watered using a watering can, a bucket, or a common water hose. Larger gardens need a water hose or a system of pipes, hoses, sprinklers that all may be hooked up to an electric timer.  A system of ditches, dams and pools can help collect and direct the water.  Mulching can help keep the soil moist.

self-sufficiency through gardening
Even with limited space, a small garden is possible. Here VIA volunteer Jeff has cleared some rocks and planted a pumpkin vine in the small border next to the backyard fence.

Mulch

Mulching is the process of adding organic material (Lawn clippings, leaves, sawdust, bark chunks) around plants growing in the garden.  The mulch helps retain moisture, keep plants cool, blocks weeds from growing, and adds nutrients and organic material to the soil as it breaks down.  As decomposing mulch takes nitrogen from the soil, it is a good idea to add nitrogen when you add the mulch.

Nutrients

Plants need nutrients (chemicals) to help them grow. These can come from inorganic (chemical) or organic (natural) sources.  Both types can be purchased to meet specific needs.  Organic fertilizers can also be found at home, although quantities and qualities are less precise.  Coffee grounds, eggshells, banana peels, and other kitchen waste (but no meat, fat, or bones!), leaves, lawn clippings, sawdust and other organic compounds can add some nutrients.  There are three main chemicals in fertilizer—Nitrogen (N), Phosphorus (P), and Potassium (K). Every fertilizer label lists the percentage by weight of these three ingredients (NPK) and then any other nutrients included.  If you use a chemical fertilizer, look for a balanced one.  These contain equal or nearly equal amounts of NPK fertilizer (10-10-10 or 15-10-8).

Composting

Composting is the process of breaking down organic material into soil.  This is done by building a compost pile (freestanding or enclosed).  Gather materials to be composted (lawn trimmings, leaves, kitchen waste—no meat, fat, or bones—and other organic material).  Shred or chop.  Dig a hole.  Put material in hole, cover lightly with dirt, mix it up, add some water, cover lightly with dirt.  In a few days dig the material, mix it up, water it, and add another light coating of dirt.  Continue this process until the composted material is no longer visible.  Now it can be added to other soil, used as mulch, or used for planting seeds.  If you don’t have the time or energy to turn it all the time don’t worry, it will eventually decompose on its own.  A simple way to compost small amounts is to take the daily kitchen scraps and bury them among the growing plants in the garden.  Be sure to remember where yesterday’s scraps are buried and stay away from plant roots.  Another easy way to compost is in the spring and fall when the garden is not planted, start at one end of the garden, and dig a hole.  When you have enough organic material, bury it in the hole.  Dig another hole and continue the process.  By the time you get to the end of the garden you can start again. 

Organic or Chemical?

Many people, especially those growing their own food, feel that organic is the way to go.  Others feel that proper use of chemicals is safe and easy.  The choice is yours.  There are organic fertilizers, pesticides, and insecticides.  They may not be quite as fast or effective as chemicals, but they will not harm the environment, they allow for biodiversity, they provide “clean” crops, and they encourage you to be active in your garden.

 

Good luck in your gardening adventure! If you can’t afford starting seeds, be sure to visit VIA’s Rooted In Voluntaryism page to request help.

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