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Ready, set, sprout

It may be too early to plant outside, but it's time to get growing inside

April 09, 2014 - Brandon Twp.- While it's not quite warm enough to plant your garden outside, you can get a head start inside.

"Now is the time to start plants from seeds," said Kurt Batschke, annuals retail manager at Wojo's Greenhouse, 2570 Oakwood Road. "It's a great time to get seed catalogs. Go online or to the library, just use whatever resources you have to make contact with seed companies and get catalogs and some information."

Wojo's, which is now open, has seeds available as well. Many vegetables can be grown and also harvested indoors, such as leaf lettuce, spinach and arugula. Cole crops, which include cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts, start more slowly and tolerate cold better, so they can be planted earlier.

To start your indoor garden, Batschke recommends getting plastic-type flats, fiber or plastic pots, and inserts or cell packs from a garden center. Containers must be new or have been properly sanitized, as bacteria and pathogens are the enemy when trying to start seeds. Pathogens hang around from season to season, tolerate cold temperatures, and will foil your attempts to start plants.

Also key to a successful planting is high quality, professional potting soil or seed starting mix.

Once you have a pristine container, fill 3/4 of the way with the soil, then use a pencil to press indentations, sprinkling seeds and labeling each row to remember what seeds are where. Dust over with another thin coating of soil, watering so it is uniformly moist. Planted seeds should be kept in a bright room that is about 70 degrees. While gardeners can supplement with artificial light, sunlight is essential.

Batschke said seed trays can be placed on heating mats to keep a constant temperature until seeds germinate, which can be three or four days, or three or four weeks.

"The advantages of seeds besides pure enjoyment and pleasure of getting something started indoors is using heirloom varieties that are handed down," said Batschke. "You can save the expense of buying seeds by keeping your own. Some folks keep seeds over from year to year. Seeds need to be processed in summer. If you pick a tomato and get the seeds out, they need to be carefully dried, so there is not excessive moisture and rotting."

After drying, seeds can be stored in old prescription bottles, in a Ziploc bag, in the refrigerator where they are cold but don't freeze.

Growing your own plants from seeds also assures you of the plant's origins, for those who are particularly concerned with growing organic.

Charlene Molnar, horticulture advisor with MSU Extension, Oakland County, said people often prefer to buy transplant seedlings. While the advantage of seeds is finding more varieties and having broader choice, growing from seeds does not result in a stronger or healthier plant. Indoors, lack of sunlight and lower humidity compromises environmental conditions. Seeds are certainly cheaper than plants, she adds, but growing your own vegetables and having a garden ends up being more expensive in the long run than purchasing produce from the store.

"Most people that garden don't do it to save money, they do it as a hobby and to know what they are getting," she said. "People will be gangbusters to get out there to start, but around late July, they think it's too hot to go out and weed, they'd rather do it tomorrow and go to the beach."

Still, she adds, some vegetables are bulletproof— like lettuce. She suggests geting a soil test done to learn what nutrients need to be added, or do a container garden, which can be successful for most vegetables, with the exception of potatoes and carrots.

When planning, Molnar reminds gardeners to not overplant.

"With enthusiasm at the beginning of the year, you can have a 500-square foot garden and then the harvest comes in all at once and you have an overabundance of zucchini," she said. "You also have to consider critters."

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Susan covers Brandon Township and Ortonville
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