Friday, May 6, 2011

Starting Seeds (On The Cheap)

Growing your own food, no matter how little you can manage, is perhaps one of the most empowering DIY projects you can take on. Since I moved to Boulder from Seattle, I've been working on starting a garden from scratch and adapting to the climate in Colorado. Much to my dismay, I wasn't around long enough to harvest very much of my garden in Seattle, except a bit of chard. I am hoping that this time I won't have to move, and the work pays off. I'm dreaming of the first homegrown tomato, which will assuredly never make it out of the garden without being eaten. 

There are many reasons why I aim to grow at least some of my own food, and honestly the primary reason is not to save money. It's about the food, the quality and freshness, the satisfaction of home canned produce all winter long, and not having to throw away packaging, or feel guilty about buying a watermelon grown in an entirely different continent. However, in my pursuit of all these (hopefully) noble goals, I aim to not spend more than I have to. Gardening can get expensive if you let it. I had dreams of a container garden that I could just pick up and take with me when I move, but I had to let it go, because containers are just too expensive. I don't want to turn into this guy.

Sadly, I realized that this $6 container will only give me one or two artichokes.
Starting seeds may be the most expensive part of gardening, besides the cost of water. I've read that it's cheaper than buying seedlings, but honestly I think that depends on how you do it. You could buy seed trays, and then larger pots to transfer the seedlings to later, a grow light, or warming pad, and the electricity to run them, seed starting mix, root powder, not to mention potting soil, compost, fertilizer, and, oh yeah, seeds.

Little onions, and some green garlic.

I opt for recycled food containers instead of seed trays and pots. I am lucky to have a nook in the living room with windows on three sides that is perfect for starting seeds. I will admit, I would love to have a greenhouse. I think that is one cost that is totally justified. However, greenhouses are out of reach for me and most folks who live in apartments or generally don't own a house. 

I did buy potting soil, compost, and fertilizer. I started some seeds in seed starting mix, and some in a high quality but less expensive potting soil, and had the same success rate with both. I'd say opt for good potting soil. I have a compost pile of my own decomposing away for future gardening purposes, but it's unfortunately only a few months old and thus not ready for current use. 

Our friendly squirrel neighbor also makes use of our compost.
Most of my “pots” are recycled yogurt tubs and soymilk boxes. Make sure to punch holes for drainage in the bottom of your containers. I also save clear plastic milk jugs for use as mini-greenhouses. So far, I've had a 100% success rate starting seeds with no artificial light or heat except the radiant heat of my apartment, which is generally a little under 60F. I was worried that my tomatoes wouldn't germinate, so I covered them in plastic wrap and they sprouted a couple days later. 

It's not as cute as rows of ceramic pots, but this motley bunch is just as functional.

I bought my seeds from companies that sell heirloom and organic seeds, which means I can save seed from any food I harvest, and use it to plant the next year without having to buy more seeds. Hybrid and GMO seeds do not have this ability. I recommend buying varieties that have been adapted for your climate, or one very similar to yours – another great quality of heirlooms, as many types have been around for hundreds of years. I haven't found them to be significantly more expensive than any other old seed packets, and when you calculate in the benefit of being able to replant from next season's seeds, they are downright cheap. Also, heirloom varieties are just way more awesome than the usual hybrid varieties. Want purple beans, green cauliflower, golden beets, rainbow chard, or black tomatoes? I know I do.

For an interesting look at the cost benefit analysis of a home garden, check out this post by Kitchen Gardeners International.

No comments:

Post a Comment