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Start your garden … indoors

Kits enable novices to try their hand at starting plants from seed

By: By Lucy Haines

  |  Posted: Saturday, Apr 05, 2014 06:00 am

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  • FROM SEED – Pepper seedlings get a head start on life at the Enjoy Centre.
    FROM SEED – Pepper seedlings get a head start on life at the Enjoy Centre.
    APRIL BARTLETT/St. Albert Gazette
  • FLAT CHANCE – Jim Hole uses basil seedlings to show that even novice gardeners can start plants inside from seed using a kit with grow lights and flats.
    FLAT CHANCE – Jim Hole uses basil seedlings to show that even novice gardeners can start plants inside from seed using a kit with grow lights and flats.

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The winter is long for everyone in St. Albert, but gardeners get especially antsy by early spring, anxious to get outside and get dirty. Overnight temperatures must stay consistently above freezing (and that’s not until well into May), before transplants and seedlings find a home in garden beds and patio containers, but green-thumb types can get a head start, germinating vegetables, herbs and even flowers indoors from seed.

Jim Hole, owner of Hole’s Greenhouses and Gardens at the Enjoy Centre, said gardeners can start many plants indoors now – tomatoes, herbs, marigolds – as long as they have a few essentials: flats, grow lights and a good seedling soil mix.

“People just want to get going – they get as much joy seeing something pop out of the ground as at harvest time – but some get frustrated when plants grow too leggy before it’s time to transplant,” said Hole. “It’s the light that is key – a plant’s fuel is sunlight.”

After a seed germinates in 22 to 24 degree conditions, usually in the home’s kitchen area, the key is to get the seedling immediately into a cooler space with bright light, usually the basement with fluorescent grow lights, Hole said. It’s that combination, plus slow and steady time spent outside to toughen, that will provide a stocky, hardy plant ready for the growing season outdoors.

While T5-type grow lights are very cheap to run, costing only about 75 cents worth of electricity for three months of round-the-clock use, there’s an even simpler way to get started. Hole recommends the new Nanodome kit, which includes a seedling flat, grow light and cover – all a gardener needs to start favourites like heirloom tomatoes or the newer plants of interest: kale and even quinoa.

“Today, we’re not restricted to having a big garden plot in the yard – gardens grow on towers, in raised beds and containers – and if you can grow a plant, you’re a gardener – the fun is in the trying and making mistakes and learning,” Hole said.

As part of the St. Albert Botanic Park spring gardening classes, prize-winning vegetable grower Derrick Harrison will offer ideas (April 9 from 7 to 9 p.m.) on what local gardeners can grow and harvest in one season – edible favourites like carrots, lettuce, cabbage, potatoes, herbs and more – most from seed.

Harrison said getting started early indoors does require dedication, plus light, space and time, but it’s especially important for plants that take a longer time to grow, like tomatoes.

For those who want to skip the start-your-own-from-seed step, this past president of the St. Albert Garden Club has some 120 plants now started in his home, most of which will be sold at the club’s spring auction and plant sale.

If you’re looking for ideas on what to grow, visit a greenhouse, buy a starter kit, or consider a class for inspiration. The St. Albert Botanic Park’s lineup of spring classes include: growing interesting vegetables in interesting places, container gardening, growing hardy and tender roses, backyard perennials and shaping up trees and shrubs. Call St. Albert Botanic Park at 780-458-7163 to register.


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