Having just bought my first home with a sunroom, I decided to start growing my first natural vegetable garden. Not all plants can be grown indoors, but salad greens, like lettuce, cress, or arugula, are ideal for container gardens and can easily be grown indoors in a bright sunroom or under a skylight or artificial lights.
Herbs such as basil, thyme, sage, or oregano are also easy to grow indoors. Simply snip off the leaves as you need them. Pepper plants are amazingly productive, and it is possible to harvest 2 or 3 peppers per day. Peppers are annuals that will live for only one year outside. Their lifespan can be prolonged indoors.
The same is true for some kinds of tomatoes. Eventually, though, you will need to start new plants from the parents’ seeds. The initial cost of buying seeds, soil, and containers quickly pays off when you figure all the money you will save at the grocery store.
But first, you have to learn how to properly start seeds indoors, otherwise, be prepared to repeat the same mistakes over and over and never knowing why your seeds sprout and die. (Unfortunately, I speak from experience on this.) At first, I made the mistake of thinking I could just fill some pots with potting soil, plant a few seeds, water, and wait for nature to do the rest.
Not surprisingly, this didn’t work out so well. The seedlings fell victim to a condition called dampening off, where the fragile baby roots are killed by a fungus that grows in too moist soil, and I learned the hard way that planting seeds in regular potting soil are a big no-no. This is probably the most important piece of gardening advice anyone can learn. Y
You are supposed to use a special growing medium that is either totally soilless or has very little soil and is high in a spongey matter such as perlite or peat moss, which helps the soil retain moisture and oxygen. Why you ask?? Don’t the plants outside in nature grow in regular dirt. A bird drops a seed, and soon they sprout up all by themselves without any help from anyone, sometimes in hard, dry soil, so why are my seeds so picky??
Well, it’s true in nature, seeds do grow in even the worst soil, but the parents’ plant often has to drop thousands of seeds before one manages to take root and grow. This is fine for the tree, but for a gardener, one packet of seeds containing about 15 seeds costs approximately $3.00. With those odds, you would have to spend $200 on seeds to get one plant! I don’t know about you, but I sure don’t have that kind of money, so we are trying to improve the odds of success, and to do this, we need a good seed starter mix.
Seed starter mix is easy enough to find at the garden center. You can buy it at gardening stores pre-made. You can also make it yourself. Traditionally the three main ingredients of a seed starter medium are a combination of equal parts peat moss, vermiculite, and perlite. But peat moss is a non-renewable resource, and the harvesting of it is bad for the environment, so you may prefer to use a more environmentally friendly alternative to peat moss, like coconut coir. Coconut Coir (the ground-up hair that grows on coconuts) is the best alternative, although it is expensive.
Many gardeners claim to get just as good results using clay cat litter or shredded newspapers as a substitute; just make sure if you use newspapers, the ink that is used is soy ink. I admit I have been using peat moss for starting seeds though I am currently testing out a new mix that includes shredded newspapers, so hopefully, I will be able to wean myself off peat moss in the future.
Now when you are in the garden store looking for the ingredients for your seed-starter mix, you will no doubt see little seed starter kits or containers for growing seeds in, but don’t be tempted to buy them. There is a very simple way to make containers perfect for growing seeds out of toilet paper rolls. Just save up toilet paper rolls, then get a pair of scissors and make about five 1/2 inch long cuts on one end of the rolls.
Make sure they are spaced evenly apart. Then turn the tabs inward to create a flat bottom capable of holding the seed-starter mix. Get some sort of a plastic container and put the toilet paper rolls inside it. Fill them with your soilless mix (which should be kept moist but not soggy), plant the seeds, and wait.
After the seeds grow large enough, they need a larger container, but there is no need to disturb their fragile roots with transplanting. You can simply take each toilet paper roll and plant the whole thing in a larger container. In time the toilet paper roll will break down in the soil allowing the roots to grow and expand.