With spring right around the corner, the time for gardening is fast approaching. The earth will soon be waking from its winter slumber. Seeds buried under last years leaves will start to look for the light and warmth of the sun. Tulips and daffodils will start to explode with their magnificently rich color, erasing the dreary gray and white of winter, at least in their own small way. Soon the trees will wake and blossom. And gardeners will bring out the gloves, the rakes and the shovels to get their beds in order for spring planting. The goal of filling their pantries and their bellies with the harvest of their labors is first in their minds.

First cherry tomato of the season

It’s a difficult and yet extremely rewarding challenge they begin. Believe me, growing a garden isn’t as simple as throwing a few seeds in a hole, sprinkle on some water, and poof, out comes all the succulent fruits and vegetables you could want. I have failed in my attempts to grow vegetables more than I care to admit. So many evil things fight this process, from bugs to bacteria to animals, that it can be extremely frustrating. Filling my belly from the fruits of a seed has been tough! If you are new to gardening, be prepared for this!

Success starts with learning what will actually grow where you live. I found that one reason I failed at an attempt to grow some food is that I tried to grow broccoli in south Florida. Broccoli is a cold weather lover and can tolerate temperatures of 40 degrees F (I know this because I subsequently researched the problem).

I tried to plant the seeds in March. They did grow, but the heat destroyed the florets that tried to grow. I was not able to harvest them. It was a little heartbreaking for me to see them almost liquify in the heat of the summer. I tended them, watered them, and proudly watched them grow tall. Then, I had to watch them wither and die. So I learned that before I grow anything, I need to make sure that it will actually grow and produce where I live.

The first step to figuring out what does grow in your area is to determine what your hardiness zone is. The US is broken into zones based upon their average annual low winter temperatures. The USDA has an interactive map you can use to determine your zone.

Once you know your zone, make a wish list of the plants you would like to grow. Armed with that list, research each plant to determine if and when they will grow in your area. Make your selections after you do this research. Otherwise, you could be wasting your time and money on plants that just wont grow in your area. After you know what you can and want to grow, you have to plan out when to start each one. All plants have different times for starting them. Again, make sure to check them against the area you live in to know when to plant each one.

One piece of advice I see in just about every gardening guide I’ve read is to grow what you eat. I always wonder why this is included. It seems natural to me if you are going to invest the time and money into gardening, you will want to benefit from it by eating what it produces. Why in the world would you grow something you aren’t going to eat? I have always made my selections based on what I eat like carrots, tomatoes, onions and a variety of herbs. But, it seems that I should mention this on the off chance you don’t think this way. Grow what you will eat!

There are two major challenges when it comes to gardening:

  1. Growing a plant from seed
  2. Keeping the plant healthy through harvest

These are two skills that I am actively practicing so I can get better. Neither one of them is easy to accomplish and both take a lot of work. I will explore the first challenge of growing a plant from seed in the rest of this article. The next article will go more in depth on harvesting from a healthy plant.

Growing a plant from seed

This is so much harder than I thought it would be. I have tried to grow rosemary from seed three different times. All three times I had problems. The first time it did sprout a plant and grow a little, but stayed stunted and small. I have yet to determine the reason behind this. The second time, nothing happened. The container remained empty for a month! So, I did some research and found that rosemary seed casings are tough. Soak them to soften them and then plant. BINGO! So I soaked those babies for six hours and then planted them in a nice seedling medium.


I just couldn’t get those suckers to germinate. So I bought new seeds, built a nice germinating tray on a heating pad, put it in the dark, soaked those babies for eight hours and then planted again. And again, nothing happened. The moral to my story, besides I suck at growing rosemary and clearly need to do more research, is that growing plants from seeds can be a real bitch to accomplish.

Gardening is nothing if not a trial and error learning experience. The above method, while unsuccessful with rosemary, was successful for the sweet onions I also planted from seed. I will be transplanting them to the outside garden bed soon. I can take some comfort from this in that my seedling plan is starting to get on track. I just have to keep trying to crack open the damn rosemary.

From my research and my own trial and error, I have found there are things you can do to coax seeds into growing:

Create the right growing environment

Make sure you are planting them in the right environment. By that, I mean more than just the soil you put them in. In order to germinate, seeds need the right soil, light, humidity and warmth. Picture them laying in the dark, humid leaf debris from last fall, waiting to reach for the sky as soon as they feel the warmth of the sun’s rays. This is in their nature, and they need it from you.

According to Barb Fick from Oregon State University, “A good germinating medium must be fine and uniform, yet well aerated, loose and free of pests, diseases and weed seeds.” Once you have that, plant the seeds in a clean tray or pot and put it somewhere that is secure, dark and warm. One suggestion is putting them on top of your refrigerator. If you have a cabinet above it, this will do well keeping the light out. Also, the heat of the refrigerator running will warm them up nicely.

Water them correctly

Water amount is crucial to seeds. If you let the planting medium dry out, they won’t grow. They must remain moist at all times. However, giving too much water also causes problems. I’ve used the self-watering trays that sit on a liner designed to wick water up from a pan. These things seem to do more harm than good. I have had problems with a very fine string-like fungus growing over my seed beds. I noticed that when I control the water my seedlings receive, I don’t get this fungus. You must absolutely pay attention to them, checking every day that they aren’t too dry or too moist.

Germinating time varies

The amount of time it takes a seed to germinate differs. Since you need to take care of seedlings differently than you do the seeds before them, make sure that you can move each individual seed container around. I made the mistake of planting marjoram, which germinates quickly, with carrots, that take forever. Because I couldn’t give the marjoram seedlings light without ruining the environment for the carrot seeds to germinate, the marjoram got leggy. This simply means it got a long and weak stem that bent under the weight of the tiny leaves it was supporting. The seedlings grew like that because they were looking for light.

[leggy seedling photo].

Let there be light

After the seeds germinate, give them light. I created a home-made light box to put the seedlings under. It has grow light bulbs on a frame that moves and is wrapped in tin foil. Add a fan to blow them around, and they should be happy little guys. Once they get some substance and have a few leaves, weather permitting, you can put them outside to grow up.

First strawberry of the season

If you find success after these four steps, you will be moving your little guys to the outside garden and taking pleasure in watching them grow. In my next installment, I will go into detail on what I’ve found to be the difficulties and pleasures of trying to get your seedlings to grow big and strong. After all, we do all of this to be able to eat the delicious and nutritious fruits and vegetables they will produce for us.