The April showers have arrived, and they are doing their best to bring the May flowers. Everywhere I walk outside, I notice that nature is waking up. Delicate buds about to break open and determined shoots pushing up from underground. Ahh, Spring, how I missed you. These signs tell me that it’s time to dust off the seed trays and heat mats, grow lights, and plant labels-planting time has arrived! And sow it begins.
Indeed, it is the time of year when my office gets converted into a make-shift greenhouse full of budding possibilities. All of those seed packets that I hoarded (ahem, I mean purchased) are awaiting their turn at the potting bench. According to my meticulously laid out planting plan that I poured over for weeks, they have been sorted and organized by planting date. I had resolved to get organized this planting season, and I am proud to say that I may just have pulled it off. Yup, I am prepared, I am excited, and I am…completely overwhelmed.
The long, cold winter days have erased my memory of how hectic and overwhelming seed starting can be. How could I have forgotten that my office transforms into a jumble of tables crisscrossed into a maze-like configuration during seed sowing season? A virtual labyrinth with one way in and one way out, narrow passageways, and hazards at every corner. Extension cords powering heat mats, grow lights, and timers are all waiting to trip you, no matter how hard you try to organize them neatly. Plus, watering cans and spray bottles, potting mix, plant tags, extra trays, and pots are all precariously balanced like a game of Jenga waiting to topple at the slightest breeze. Once you go in, you may not be able to find your way out, so, like Hansel and Gretel, plan to leave a trail of vermiculite to find your way back. Someday, someone may discover me in that seed starting room huddled on the floor next to an empty bag of vermiculite, having succumbed to being unable to find my way out. Then, of course, people will shake their heads and say, “The poor Dear, she tried to grow too many plants.”
If I survive the maze of seed trays, I have other hazards in my way. The simple act of planting the seeds is enough to overwhelm. Have you ever looked at the back of a seed packet? You better study it like you’re about to take the SATs. Note the planting depth-is it 1/8-inch, ¼ inch, or ½ inch? Do you cover the seed with potting mix or not? Some will only germinate in the dark, but others need light to sprout. Some seeds are so tiny you can’t see them, but be sure only to put one in each tray cell. And then you have to worry about when to sow them in the first place. Six to eight weeks before your last frost date or three to four weeks? Wait, when is my last frost date again? Do the seeds prefer being directly sown in the garden or started indoors? You must consider all of this before you even open that seed packet!
If you make it past the seed sowing stage, Bravo! But don’t be too quick to pat yourself on the back. Now you have to get them to germinate. You can’t water too much, or they will rot, but don’t water too little, or they will still perish. Like Goldilocks, they want their environment just right. So now I start to fret about heat mat or no heat mat, dome or no dome. Sweat forms on my brow as I nervously check on my trays each day. Fungus gnats? No. Are they damping off? No. Mold on the potting soil? No. Okay, they have survived another day, phew! And then you wait in agony for hours, days, and sometimes weeks for your precious seeds to sprout-if they sprout at all.
If you do get some of your seeds to sprout, hip, hip, hurray! Now you have to keep them alive until you can plant them in the garden. The concerns now turn towards when to fertilize, how much water, and how much light they get. And don’t forget to harden off the seedlings, or all of your hard work will be negated within minutes on planting day. You must haul your trays of seedlings inside and outside, day after day, until they have acclimated to being outdoors. Give them too much sun too soon; they will die. Expose them to too much rain; they may drown. You’ve worked hard to keep them alive up until this point-don’t blow it now! The pressure is on.
In my excitement for the growing season, I must have also forgotten how difficult it is to grow seedlings in a house full of plant piranhas (our beloved family cats). Even if I’m in there for a millisecond, I can’t forget that the door must be securely closed, lest the plant piranhas slip in and munch on my precious seedlings. A few years ago, I lost an entire tray of broccoli seedlings in less than two minutes. Cause of death, you guessed it, plant piranha. Don’t’ let them fool you; they’re cute, but they have an insatiable appetite for seedling destruction.
With all of these hazards that I navigate when starting seeds indoors, I often ask myself if it is worth it. Is it worth the cluttered space, the worry, aggravation, and stress? Is it worth the disappointment of low germination rates and inevitable seedling deaths? Should I stop putting myself through this year after year? And then, the first seedling sprouts! I stare at it with awe and excitement. I revel in the miracle of Mother Nature and the fact that I played a small part in creating that life. I am overwhelmed again, not by the stress of growing seeds but rather by the sheer beauty of the simple act of planting one. “Yes, it is worth it!” I whisper to myself. Life has sprouted, and soon it will bloom-I just have to keep it alive until then. And sow it begins.