Sunday, March 13, 2011

The Value of a Vegetable: Starting Your Garden From Seed by Patti O'Neal

Photo by Duane Davidson
When Punxsutawney Phil did not see his shadow, gardeners everywhere sprung into action, no longer just pouring over seed catalogues and wishing, but whipping out the credit cards and typing madly on computers, getting orders placed lest we not get the latest, newest or most prized seed from our favorite sources.

Yes, it is time to start planning the 2011 vegetable garden and begin gathering the supplies we will need. Why do I get so excited about my vegetable garden? You can’t get away from all the information and encouragement to get more vegetables and fruits into your diet that is available these days.  Neither can you argue with the tight budgets that our current economy has handed many, if not most, of us.  So growing your own vegetables is a way to address the nutritive needs of our bodies, while being respectful of our pocket books.  In addition, I find the exercise and connection to the land very satisfying. 

Let’s take a tomato, for example, as it is the fruit of the garden that most people know, understand, and if you can only grow one vegetable, it is the one selected 9 times out of 10.  Once you successfully grow a tomato plant and get the itch for that real tomato taste, it’s hard to accept the hard, reddish grey balls that are offered to most of us in the grocery store.  Then there is the expense of the beautiful heirloom varieties that are available in the summer, which are priced out of most people’s range.  So, what is the average family to do?  Grow a tomato, of course; in your own well fed soil, harvested at the peak of its vitamin and flavor packed perfection.

Tomatoes should be planted outside once the threat of frost has past, usually around May 15th.  That is recognized as the last day in spring on which there is less than 50% chance that a freeze will occur.  So that is the date from which we count back to start seeds inside.   So approximately mid-March, you should plant your seeds. 

If you are a beginner, set yourself up for success by purchasing clean seed that is packed for the current year.
·      Decide on the containers you will use and make sure they have good drainage.
·      Use clean seed starting medium, moisten.
·      Plant to the depth specified on the seed packet.
·      Top-dress with additional soil less mix; also specified on seed packet.
·      Place in a warm place to germinate.
·      Move to light once seeds germinate.
·      Transplant if necessary, if weather precludes planting when you had planned.
·      Assure good air circulation, water from the bottom, give good light and turn frequently to prevent leggy plants.
·      Plant outside in ground or in containers.
·      If growing in containers, choose a determinate variety that will be easy to manage without staking or supporting.

An average determinate heirloom tomato plant, given proper conditions, will yield ten to fifteen pounds of tomatoes; mostly at the same time.  So for an investment of approximately $l.79 of seed, some seed starting mix and containers you don’t need to pay for, your yield could be worth anywhere from $90-$120 of taste tempting tomatoes.  An indeterminate variety which continues to produce all season (a cherry tomato for example) can yield up to 20-25 pounds in a season can yield the same value, more if it is an heirloom variety.  Gives you pause, doesn’t it?  

This may seem simplified, but the system works.  You will be adding value to your family’s nutrition as well as value to your pocketbook.  Some of the best seed starting education can be learned from the seed packets and seed catalogues.  If that is still daunting, there are lots of classes currently being offered that can give you the confidence you need to get going.  

So, even though Punxsutawney Phil’s prediction record is right only about 39% of the time, it gives me the “inch” I needed to take a “mile” of action to get ready to start my garden from seed.  You can do it, too.

Patti will be teaching “Starting Your Garden From Seed” at Feed Denver on March 12 (for more information:

She is also teaching “Totally Tomato” a class on all things tomato at the Denver Botanic Gardens on April 23 (