American Community Gardening Association Three Key Hints for Starting Your Own Seeds By Don Boekelheide, Charlotte, North CarolinaStarting your own vegetable plants from seed makes a Remember, not all plants are well suited to transplant-lot of sense for community gardeners. For the modest ing. Some, like beans, root crops (turnips, radish,price of a seed packet, a community garden group can beets…) and most melons (in my opinion), do bettergrow more than enough tomatoes or peppers for an planted directly in the garden. And, once the ground isaverage vacant lot-sized garden. That’s not all – you warm, it’s sometimes easier to simply direct seed cropsalso have a potential educational benefit if you can get like cukes, leaf lettuce and okra.kids involved in the process, and you can grow choicevarieties – especially heirlooms – rarely available in gar- 2. Let there be light! The problem I see mostden centers. You can also time your growing so you’ve frequently with indoor seedling projects is lack of light.got top quality seedlings ready to go at the best time Once veggie seeds have germinated, they want brightfor your particular gardens. and ample light for 14-16 hours a day. A south-facing window isn’t enough. The least expensiveTo reap the rewards, though, you have way to provide the needed light is withto do things right. To thrive, our tiny plain ordinary shoplights with regular flo-crop, like all babies, needs tender lov- rescent bulbs (no fancy ‘grow lights’ing care applied with common sense needed). You need to suspend the lightstechniques. Doing it right doesn’t, by just above the growing baby leaves – justthe way, require spending a wheelbar- an inch or two, literally right down on toprowful of money. of them. Since you need to be able to move the lights up as the plants grow,In the next issue of Community Green- you can suspend the lights from the ceil-ing, you’ll find a longer article with ing or on a simple frame.more detailed information on startingseeds. In the meantime, keep these 3. Getting it right. Getting startedthree key points in mind: can be especially confusing. There are some excellent web-based how-to guides1. Timing is everything. You and a couple of excellent reference bookswant your seedlings to be ready on – use them! I like Purdue University’s guide atplanting day, which means paying attention to the cal- www.hort.purdue.edu/ext/ho14.pdf, and Whitneyendar. For spring planting, determine your last frost Farm’s site at www.whitneyfarms.com. In print, Idate (Cooperative Extension agents and their Master recommend New Seed Starters Handbook by NancyGardeners often have this information at their finger- Bubel (Rodale Press), and Caring For Seedlings bytips), and work backwards. Start warm weather crops Shepherd Ogden (Brooklyn Botanical Garden).like tomatoes and peppers roughly 6-8 six weeks be-fore that date. For instance, if you can plant out on Bonus hint – if you are new to all this, start small, withMay 1, you can start your tomatoes indoors on about just a single plastic seedling tray or the equivalent, andMarch 15. No sense in rushing – I’ve seen people start pick easy plants, such as tomatoes. Let them be yourwarm season crops far too early. (forgiving) teachers the first time around. Next season,If you just have to grow something, start a cool season you can go for broke, once you’ve learned the ropes.crop, like broccoli and lettuce. These can be plantedoutside 2-3 weeks before the last frost (and even earlierwith row covers or in mild-climate areas), so you canstart them earlier, 10-12 weeks before the last frost. Illustration by Natalia MorozExample: If your last frost date is May 1, you can start http://www.absolutearts.com/portfolios/n/nataliamorozyour spring broccoli in late February-early March.