My father has spent seven decades–more than seventy summers–playing in the dirt. He’s taught my daughter and me a thing or two about keeping a garden.
This year, the biggest lessons we’ve learned revolve around growing a garden from seeds. In New England, a gardener must know how to lovingly court seeds on cold winter months if she wants to be engaged in a sweet relationship with the garden on fleeting summer weeks.
While this skill, imperative in a northern climate, was never something my southern-boy dad had to master, he–not unlike my own daughter–learned a lot from a grandfather.
Every day his father, Jim, walked off in the dark of the West Virginia morning, toting his lunch pail and heading toward the Potomac River where he took a little boat to the other side and walked over the Randolph Tunnel toward the B&O tracks. Jim certainly knew how to tend the warm summer soil, but his main goal was to plant a little nest egg. So he walked far and worked hard to provide a small bi-weekly paycheck by maintaining the steam engines’ tracks and keeping them clear of rocks, which were continually descending down the surrounding cliffs. Meanwhile his father and his only still-at-home son (my dad) maintained the crops in the fields to provide the family’s food.
I’ve absorbed some of my father’s and grandfather’s gardening knowledge. Working barefoot-to-barefoot beside my daughter, who has inherited and then compounded my father’s love for agriculture, I’ve learned even more. She used to bring home plants from PapPap’s garden in cottage cheese containers and plant them with a plastic shovel.
More than a dozen years later, and she loves playing in the dirt even more today than yesterday. This winter she grew over 4 dozen different plants herself from heirloom seeds, and now our garden is teeming with her efforts.
5 Simple Steps to Garden From Seeds
Spray your seeds.
When you plant seeds in pots in cold winter months, use a spray bottle to water them, never a watering can. The strong flow from a watering can will cause seeds to move in the soil, pushing them too too deep or raising them too shallow. Excess water may also cause seeds to rot. But the gentle, steady, evenly distributed mist from a spray bottle is perfect hydration for tender seeds.
Prepare seeds for the summer sun.
When late spring arrives, 4-7 days before you’re ready to transplant your precious green miracles in the garden, set young plants outside, for about 1/2 an hour at a time, in the direct morning or early evening sun, to let them get used to the heat gradually.
Shade young plants from direct sun.
Once they’re in the ground, offer young plants some shade during the hottest part of the day, for the first week or so. Even after your gentle preparation, non-stop, direct sun will be hard on the tender plants. This year, we used our tomato cages and ladders as framework for a haphazard, funny-looking, yet effective labyrinth of old-sheets-and-drop-cloth tents that we could easily take down in late afternoon and put back up the next day before the sun got too hot.
Plant the leggy ones nice and deep.
If you look closely, on some of your young plants, you’ll notice tiny root hairs growing quite a distance up from the base of the plant. Go ahead and plant all those root hairs in the nutrient-rich soil, to help the plant get all the good minerals, as well as important stability, that it will need.
My daughter keeps a detailed gardening journal; we’re always glad she wrote down specific details that we would have otherwise forgotten many growing seasons later. And we have a section in Our Backyard Book just for garden plants. We add new pages whenever we discover a new variety of tomato plant we love, or when we consider adding a we’ve-never-grown-this-before vegetable to our garden and want to research it before we plant it.
In my next post, I’ll share 5 Easy Ways to Enjoy Gardening With Kids This Summer along with a free garden plants printable. For now, I’m gonna go join my dad and daughter in our happy place.