I saw a ladybug crawling around my backyard yesterday. I enjoyed the sound of an intense bird yelling; yes, it sounded like it was yelling its song. I smiled at the soft drip, drip sound of the snow converting into valuable moisture for my garden.
It’s official! Spring is here, both technically and physically!
I turned my compost and was amazed that it was loose enough and not still frozen in a heap. This is surely a sign of active biology in my pile, which is always my goal.
I then emptied some bags of leaves onto my vegetable patch that I had saved from last fall for just this purpose. These leaves will keep the ladybugs snug until they move out in earnest. They will also feed and protect the microbes and worms I am so intent on protecting and growing in my soil.
I then tried to dig in, as the soil looked damp and loose. Spring in Calgary can be a slow process however, and I came up with a “thunk” sound and a sore wrist instead. The ground is still frozen. So, what to do when spring is in the air, but you can’t yet plant in your backyard bed?
Start some seeds indoors. If you have already started your tomatoes, they may even be ready for a pot upgrade.
Once seedlings get their “true” leaves they are ready to transplant. If you haven’t already started , now is the time to seed some leafy greens to give them a head start. By seeding them indoors now, you will be ready to eat them by May.
By stretching the season you certainly provide yourself and those early spring critters, such as ladybugs, a boost until the soil is ready to dig.
Get that Pro Mix potting soil out of the garage, or go purchase some from the nearest garden centre and get that kale, chard, parsley or lettuce started!
If you’d like to learn more about starting seeds, sign up for Grow Food Calgary’s program. Register.
Many gardeners grow food to save money. By buying seeds and starting your own plants, you can save even more money.
A packet of seeds is exponentially cheaper than buying bedding out plants, even when you factor in cost of soil and containers. If you order from a good seed house, their prices are often lower than your local retailer. And you get access to more variety, which is the second reason to start your own seedlings.
Most garden centres carry a limited variety of popular seeds. You might be able to choose from four kinds of peas, three varieties of carrots, and globular or cylindrical beets.
There are hundreds of vegetable varieties with their own charms like being ready to eat in 45 days, or providing an unusual colour. Vibrant colours in vegetables are signs of nutrients.
Commercial operations require tomatoes that are uniformly shaped and sized, and so they survive un-bruised in transport, skins as thick as leather. And almost no trace of tomato taste.
An heirloom tomato might be purple, yellow or black, with a skin that is almost not there, and a taste that can be described as heavenly.
Why not try seeds of a vegetable you’ve never tried eating before, like kohlrabi? This cabbage family member grows a strange bulb above ground and makes fabulous French fries.
One year I grew purple potatoes. After our guests’ initial shock they were a tremendous hit at our Thanksgiving dinner!
A few dollars for a package of seeds is a small-risk venture with potentially great reward: discovering a new wonderful food!
Another reason to start your own seeds is you can choose organic.
Organic produce is expensive and we don’t really know if we can trust every producer’s adherence to organic practices.
We can’t even trust those practices, as organic certification boards are taken over by Big Food companies who argue they can’t make money growing strawberries if they can’t spray them.
That’s why we can no longer buy truly organic strawberries in our supermarkets.
But you can raise your own.
I’m also wary of organic food from China. Their food safety reputation is highly suspect. One report showed organic garlic from China was watered with industrial polluted water, complete with heavy metals and other toxins. Plants uptake these toxins and then we eat them.
When you start your own seeds you control the soil, light and water. Doing it yourself ensures that your produce is free from unwanted, often dangerous chemicals. Starting with organic seeds is the logical first step.
A side benefit of starting your own seeds is building community with other gardeners. We don’t often need a hundred seeds of celery so sharing your leftovers is a great way to build community with your gardening peers. Sharing also saves money.
Another bonus of community is sharing the harvest. Your carrots may have done poorly this year, but the seeds you gave your friend across town yielded a bumper crop!
By starting your own seeds, you will have healthy plants. Commercial greenhouses don’t necessarily have the end result in mind: your dinner plate.
Their job is to supply retailers with good-looking, often too-large plants. In Calgary we can’t safely plant bedding out plants until the end of May, but the garden centre tomatoes are blooming May 1. By the time you can safely plant, your tomatoes are root-bound, maybe leggy. Those coveted blooms will likely fall off as the plant reacts to the shock of being transplanted.
By starting your own seeds, you can schedule your seedlings to be the right size when you’re ready to plant them. If the plant is healthy, your harvest is sure to be more rewarding.
Where can you learn more about starting your own seeds? At Grow Food Calgary, our Vegetable Gardening Immersion Program, our April session includes lessons on starting your own seeds. And some seeds to get you started. You don’t want to miss it. Register today!
Shelley Goldbeck is co-founder of Grow Food Calgary, on a mission to give Calgarians the skills they need to grow some of their own food.