Friday, December 04, 2020

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Germination Station: A Bit of Flora for Every Season

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It's been a challenging winter for Nutmeggers ... although perhaps we should be used to these conditions. After all, cold temperatures and snow just go with the territory, and wintery weather shouldn't be much of a surprise in ... winter. Still, who isn't more than ready to toss the snow shovel and break out the garden trowel?

Whether you want to get a jump-start on spring, improve the chances of success of your gardening endeavors this summer, or just want to behold a bit of colorful flora year-round, indoor gardening via a "Germination Station" is an inexpensive and fun solution.

"It's like having a little bit of sunshine in your house," explains Amy Earls, Operations Vice President at Page Hardware & Appliance Co. (as well as a Germination Station owner).

The invention is basically a mini heated greenhouse that serves two purposes: "You can start your plants with it and then eventually be able to plant them outside. Alternatively, you can grow plants to keep in the house," she explains. In the Earls' abode, for example, there's lettuce growing for salads, as well as herbs that are easily accessible for cooking.

Guilford-based Page's has had pieces of the product but just started carrying the entire station this winter. The kit (available for $32.99) includes a seedling heating mat, waterproof base tray, two-inch hydration dome, 72-cell seedling inserts, seed starting booster, and instructions with growing tips. For those whose seed tray is not going be located in a super sunny spot, a grow light system ($71.99) can be kept inches away from germinating seeds and then adjusted up to as high as two-feet ias the newbies grow taller.

One of the big plusses of starting seeds indoors is that you increase the odds that the plants will succeed outdoors. Tomatoes are a classic example. "Anything where you go into a store and you see that they're selling the plants instead of the seeds ... something where you can't plant until after the frost. You're giving these plants a head start in a nice, warm and controlled climate."

While the Germination Station may not cut your produce bill the first year, you will have control over what varieties you are getting. "There are lots of catalogs, nearby stores and online sites that have heirloom seeds available, while you may not be able to buy the plant," she points out.

Earls adds, "You know where they came from and you have control over their whole growth cycle as opposed to buying from a greenhouse where you may pick one that isn't really thriving and not realize it until you're home."

But how does one know when to start what? "Most seed packets will tell you, in fact some of them even tell you start seeds x number of weeks before planting or before frost," she says. There's a chart in the store which is also accessible through Page's website (www.pagehardware.com) that gives you a good idea of what vegetables need to be planted before the last frost, what vegetables need to wait, and what things you can do a second planting of later in the summer.

Setting up and growing with the station is not difficult. Earls did so with her 7-year-old "and didn't even make a huge mess! The messiest part is putting the soil in the holes. Then you're planting 72 little seeds and adding water. In a half hour you're done," she says adding, "It's an easy and forgiving project."

Regardless of whether or not you're with kids, "it's just fun to see the whole process from seed all the way to the edible vegetable, and to prove to yourself that you really can grow your own. It's a very satisfying experience."

Tips from Roger and Mark, Page's lawn and garden experts:

  • Use a light, aerated soil, or one specifically labeled for seed starting. Dirt from the yard or topsoil will be too heavy and young roots need space to form.

  • Completely fill the holes in the tray with soil. Partially filled cells will not provide enough moisture retention and you risk burning your plants.

  • Make sure your grow light is set close to the seed tray at first. When the light source is far away, plants will stretch to reach the light and end up spindly. The light system we sell is on an adjustable stand, so the light can be raised as the plants begin to grow.

  • Use a spray bottle to evenly water the seed tray daily. Pouring water on new seeds can wash the soil away that is covering the seed, or drown the poor things. Soil should feel like a damp sponge. You can add extra moisture and leave the plants for a day or two, if you are going away for the weekend. If you leave for a week's vacation, it is smart to enlist a plant sitter to keep them watered.

  • April is a good time to start seedlings like tomatoes (check seed packet instructions or the Farmer's Almanac for specifics). Starting plants too early, especially with our late springs, means you lose enthusiasm before the ground thaws. Roger and Mark wait until after Memorial Day to transplant their vegetables outside.

  • When you poke gently into the soil cells and find the soil tight or firm, it is time to transplant into a larger container. This indicates that the roots are taking up all the space, leaving no room for soil. Transplant each seedling into a 3" peat pot, which you can then put directly into the ground after Memorial Day.

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