Jean Courcy lives in western Maine with his wife Elizabeth. His large yard is filled with auto, building and garden projects. He is always active and interested in everything, and generous to friends and neighbors with expertise and assistance.
Here is his latest advice about vegetable growing with no way to recognize baby seedlings.
You want to plant seeds in little containers in loam or potting compost that has no weed seeds in it. You can use pressed peat pots. You can also use pressed peat pellets, which are the pot and the soil in one, such as Home Depot Jiffy Pellets. You soak them and they expand with a little hole for the seed. Or you could use egg crates. Plant 1 seed in each egg space with potting compost. Water your seeds and keep them in a sunny window in an old loaf pan or other waterproof pot. Water them so they are always moist but do not give them too much hot sun. Then when the seedlings are well up, you can plant them in a container or bed. The peat pots and pellets just go straight into the bed. If you used the egg crate you move the seedlings by lifting up the whole seedling with its soil in between your fingers and placing it in a prepared hole. Water the seedlings plenty! This is called preplanting. You can begin inside the house and gradually move the seedlings outdoors as the weather warms. Walmart sells a mini greenhouse; bring it out into the sun during the day in early spring then bring it indoors at night.
Start out with a few little things, so something will work. People have different levels of experience and ability. Buy a package of radish seeds, even if you do not like radishes.
Use a little tray, something like you would make brownies in, but with drainage holes, and plant your radish seeds one and a half inches apart and put them out. [Plastic flats for starting seeds are available from gardening centers.] You will get radishes. It is a way to start, just to build your confidence. Seeds are really cheap so you could try different kinds.
Buying seedlings instead of seeds
If you buy seedlings instead of seeds, then you know where the plants are. You do not have to wait for the plant to come up and then try to distinguish between the plant and the weeds.
If I plant carrots or beets straight in the ground, there is no way I can distinguish between the plants and the weeds. And the weeds will come up before the plant! A beet starts like a little purple string coming up out of the ground and you cannot see that among the weeds. In the past I have lost a row of seeds among the weed. I like to have my wife help me with the weeding. I do a good job weeding, but only the weeds come back!
You can try marking the seeds with brightly colored popsicle sticks. Or you can buy the seeds in rolls, so then you know where they are. But the rolls are much more expensive. They worked well when I tried but they cost almost ten times the price of the seeds. You could almost buy the vegetables for the price!
Everything this year is going to be above ground. I am going to have my strawberry patch above ground on an old table about the size of a picnic table. (Check out the photo at the top of this post.) It has walls and drainage holes and I am putting in tar paper like you put on roofs so the table does not rot. Also cover it with chicken wire or some other kind of screen to stop the birds.
This year I am going to grow cucumbers in a tray about waist high as well. If I put the seeds in a contained space, then I know where they are, and also if the container is raised like my strawberry table, I can look at them without crawling!
If you cannot manage a table, 5 gallon pails are good for growing. Sandwich shops get them delivered a lot with pickles etc. You could ask at your local sub shop. [Check out the link about growing potatoes in a 5-gallon pail at the end of this post.]
Up in Maine the growing season is short. Vigorous vegetables like squash may be up above the ground in a few days and you can harvest in 60 days, but other vegetables take longer to germinate.
Beating the weeds
Weeds are the biggest problem. Do not start with lettuce; it has tiny seeds and everything eats it! I have had success with tomato plants and used tomato rings so I know where the plants are. Pole beans grow faster than the weeds and you can mark them with a tomato ring as well. You can use margarine tubs to mark plants. Cut off the bottoms and place them at intervals in the bed. Put one baby plant in each tub. Every time you water just fill the tub. Remove the tub ring when the plant is too big to weed out by mistake. If you are planting in a bed, set the rows across the bed; it is easier to keep them straight.
I did very well with summer squash. It comes up faster than the weeds. Then the leaves get big and shade the ground underneath. There is no sun for any weeds.
More advantages of container gardening
~You can’t tread on the plants you just planted.
~You won’t get hit in the face by a bush, trip over the hose or lose track of your trowel.
~ And as Jean says, you do not have to crawl!
Ideas for smaller spaces
~ Long window boxes for porches, either sitting on the rail, or on porch brackets which hang the boxes outside so plants get watered by rain and don’t need a tray.
~Tomato plants in hanging baskets, also now cucumbers in hanging baskets.
Links to previous gardening posts