PLAINFIELD, NJ — Gardeners by their very nature are creatures of hope, and I'm no different.

We sow a seed, water it and wait. While we wait, our hope is that the tiny seed will eventual grow into something useful, something beautiful, something pleasing to the palate and pleasing to the eye.

The simple yet powerful act of sowing a seed is the tangible expression of this hope.

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We know that the tiny seeds which we sow today will feed us tomorrow. That's why we do not despise these small beginnings, knowing that while the seed nourishes our spirits today, it will nourish our bodies and souls tomorrow.

What can we do right now while we wait for things to change? Let's maximize this season of waiting by sowing seeds of hope! Gather your supplies - pots, seeds, water and watch something wonderful unfold.

At my home, while sheltering, I've been transforming my basement into a makeshift greenhouse. Keep in mind as you consider a location in your home to start your plants, use any room in your home which gets the most sunlight during the day. Before germination most seeds need only warmth (there are some seeds like chervil which needs light to germinate). Once your seeds sprout they will need constant light for 16 hours a day and darkness for the remaining 8 hours. If you have a less than an ideal location, consider investing in a grow light.

Pots  

Use recycled containers, It's good for the Earth. Don't worry if you don't have special planters for starting your seeds, you can use recycled containers which are at least 21/2 " deep. This depth will give the seedling enough root space to grow. I started my plants in plastic containers that mushroom are sold in. You can also use large plastic cups and yogurt containers.  I find that the containers that grapes or tomatoes are sold in work really well, they are deep enough, and they already have drainage holes. But be sure to poke drainage holes in the bottom of whichever container you use. Sterilize the containers first with a bleach solution and allow them to dry completely.

Soil

Use a special seed starting mixture. Seeds need a sterile environment for the best growth. But they don't need fertilizers quite yet. Your backyard soil is not a good choice for starting seeds, it's filled with weeds, insects and pathogens-disease causing bacteria.

Seeds

Seeds can be purchased several ways: online; from seed catalogs; or your local garden centers and plant nurseries.

  • Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, website - Rareseeds.com
  •  Seed Savers Exchange, website - Seedsavers.org
  • Burpee, website Burpee.com
  • Visit your local plant nurseries such as Dreyer Farm in Cranford or Halls Garden Center in Berkley Heights or one of your big box stores

Transplants

Purchasing transplants or "starts" will give you instant gratification, they mature sooner and can be harvested earlier. Transplants are baby plants usually sold in pots of 4 or 6 and are ready to be planted directly into the garden.

Keep in mind that we are still experiencing cool day time temperatures and even cooler nighttime temperatures, but there are certain plants which thrive in these cooler temperatures of early spring, and can be planted outdoors right now. Plants such as cabbages, kale, broccoli, cauliflower, collard greens, Bok Choy, spinach, lettuces, arugula, peas. Sun loving plants such as tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, squash and sunflowers can only be planted outdoors when the threat of frost has passed. In our area the best time to begin planting heat loving plants outdoors is around Mother's Day in May.

Easy plants to start from seeds

  • Arugula; Lettuces; Swiss Chard; Beets; Bok Choy; Collards; Sugar Snap Peas; Scarlet Runner Beans; Zinnias and Sunflowers.

Note: bean and pea seeds germinate quickly and are best started outdoors. These seeds are usually marked "direct sow".

Other things you can do to prepare for the gardening season

  • Inventory your supplies
  • Repair and clean your garden beds, clear debris from beds, old plant materials, leaves and twigs
  •  Add compost to your garden beds

Each morning despite what we're collectively undergoing in our world, I experience a sense of excitement, an expectancy as I rush down to my basement to see what has changed since last I looked.  What I discover is that the scarlet runner beans have sprouted, the chervil has developed its true leaves, the sugar snap peas are stretching upwards.

As I shelter in place I continue to do what I do. I continue to sow seeds and look with hope towards the future.

Happy Gardening and Be Well!

Althea Llewellyn, Master Gardener, Speaker + Square Foot Gardening Specialist