Once upon a time, say, about 1000 b.c.e., my ancestors lived in an agricultural world. They sowed seeds around this time of year, brought first fruits in late spring, and celebrated the harvest in the fall. More recently, my grandfathers were businessmen; my maternal grandfather, whom I never knew, worked in the stock market in New York City; my paternal grandfather traveled to New Jersey from Brooklyn, bought eggs, and re-sold them in Brooklyn. My mother, the first generation to live in suburbia, grew tomatoes and cucumbers in our back yard; she bought them as little seedlings. The only seeds my father sowed was grass seed for the lawn.
When my boys were no longer toddlers, I decided to try the hobby of starting seeds in the basement. My first attempt was probably using dirt; I grew weeds instead of whatever it was I had planted. I then read every book I could on seed starting. I bought some seed starting formula, learned about the placement of the seed in the formula: the bigger seed needs to be buried deeper. I set up some special lights on top of my seed; they were not terribly expensive, I bought them at Home Depot. I put the lights on timers; it seems that seed need darkness at night.
And so I waited. And then…yes! Little seedlings sprouted up. I had the best luck with marigolds and tomatoes. I remember impatiens had tiny seeds that needed to be set on the top of the soil, because they required light to germinate. By the end of the summer, I had one little impatiens plant from seed. A lot of effort for one tiny plant.
What I also discovered was seed starting, in New Jersey anyway, coincides with “get your house ready for Passover” season. And then we went up to the Boston area for Passover that year; I was all worried about my little seedlings! I had left them by themselves in the basement. No babysitter. My father’s cousin lives in the Boston area, and he grows orchids. He knew all about seed starting. I should have left the seeds with a bit of water under them. And so I learned about watering seedlings from underneath. Also, seedlings, unlike babies, can last for a few days without “mama”.
The next year my seedlings had competition. Actually, I think they had so much competition they were never born that year. My daughter was born in July; so with a baby in the house and Passover to prepare, the seedlings didn’t happen. I don’t recall if I did much at all with my garden that year. If it’s a choice between gardening, house chores, holiday preps and baby demands, baby wins.
I no longer start seed in my basement. I have learned which seeds starts nicely outside. The lights that I bought at Home Depot have long been smashed by the bouncing of some boy or another in my basement. And the shattered glass long been carefully picked up. I now buy Rutgers tomato seedlings, a local brand of tomatoes that are not too big and not too small. I had lots of tomatoes last year, grown in my compost piles.
If you want to learn how to grow seeds in your basement, I’m probably not the best teacher. But you may have learned what NOT to do. Here’s a book I own, highly recommended:
The New Seed-Starters Handbook by Nancy Bubel