Sowing edible greens and sprouts indoors, reading seed and plant catalogs, and growing peace lilies, are some of the gardening activities for this month.
If you have a set of grow lights or bright windowsill, you can grow mesclun or other quick-growing greens to add to early spring salads. Fill a tray with moistened seed-starting mix and sow seeds thickly, then cover with one-quarter inch of soil and mist the surface. Don’t let the surface dry out. As soon as the first seeds germinate, keep the lights about 4 inches above the tray.
You can start your own sprouts for salads easily under even lower light, buying seeds for this at garden stores or online from catalogs. You can buy special sprouting trays that stack, or simply sprout seeds in a jar covered with cheesecloth. Moisten seeds overnight, then drain and place a layer in the container. Rinse and drain daily. Many seeds can be used such as beans and peas, mustard and other similar greens, grains such as wheat, grasses such as oats, lettuce, and even onions and their relatives.
Whether you use warm-white and cool-white fluorescent tubes or special plant lights to start seedlings, they lose light intensity after a few years and ideally should be replaced. If you feel it’s hard to justify buying new lights that often, consider all the time and effort you’re spending on starting plants. Without adequate light, your seedlings will grow spindly and will be less productive in the garden, and you won’t get the most out of your efforts. Look for darkening at the ends of the tubes, a sign they are losing intensity. When replacing tubes, look for the lower wattage, energy efficient ones.
If you plan to order seeds from catalogs or online, or are considering this, there are some words to understand. If you’re concerned about GMO’s (genetically modified organisms), look for companies that have taken the “safe seed pledge” to not sell these. An example would be a corn variety which has had genes from the Bt bacterium inserted, in order to make it more pest resistant.
GMO’s are not the same as hybrids, which are merely the result of crossing a couple parent varieties—similar to what nature does, only these being in a controlled manner. The abbreviation F1 or F2 denotes a first or second generation (crossed a couple times) hybrid.
Other abbreviations you may see in descriptions, particularly for some vegetables, refer to disease resistances. The catalog will have a key to these. So, for instance with tomatoes, TMV refers to resistance to tobacco mosaic virus, N for resistance to nematodes, V for resistance to verticillium wilt, and so on.
If you want an easy-care houseplant which will tolerate fairly low light conditions or even daily artificial lighting, consider peace lilies (Spathiphyllum) if you aren’t already growing one. These have long, strap-like leaves, and periodic white flowers. The flowers are elongate, half-cup shaped with a central white stalk. They don’t like overly wet soils, but will take periodic drying out. This is a great indicator plant for watering—when it starts to droop, check your plants for watering needs.