December has come, and with it comes long nights and cold days. Outside, the last of the firewood is being chopped, fences are mended, and holly boughs are joyfully being strewn about. In the greenhouse, perennial seeds are being sown. (Annuals to come later). Plug trays are filled with a neutral growing medium. By this I mean any number of naturally occurring, water absorbent materials that has no fertilizer or feed, such as peat. Seeds and young plants can be damaged by adding fertilizer too early, so it is best to wait until the true leaves have emerged. Once the trays are filled, they are deeply watered by way of a misting wand, and the seeds are inserted. The trays are placed on heat mats to warm the soil and humidity domes are set to cover them.
Different seeds require different attention. Some ask to be covered and kept in darkness, while other’s like to lay atop the soil and will only take if supplied with sunshine. All, however, need a damp, well-drained soil. Too much water will cause any number of complaints and ailments, while a soil that is too dry will most assuredly stunt progress.
A Light in the Darkness
Stepping from the biting cold of a winter’s day into the loving embrace of a greenhouse in the early weeks of germination is one of the most singularly profound experiences a person is likely to have. It is not just the moist, womb like warmth, or the rising scent of earth in the air, it is a pulse. A truth in the most accurate sense of the word. A feeling that swells the soul and would cause even the staunchest nihilist to ponder its meaning.
Now we wait. If patience is a virtue, anyone who grows anything must stand at its pinnacle. Sure, we could endlessly pace the length of the floor, tightly wringing our hands all the while, or stomp and shout at the seeds, cursing them for their tardiness. However, I find the best approach is the simplest one, and that it is just to be. Draw in, exhale out. Let the experience flow through you and you will find that life gives breath to life.
How exciting it is to see the first seedlings emerge. Yesterday’s cubes of dirt are today’s carpet of green. Though it is difficult to properly view these angelic wee folk through humidity domes, it is best to take care not to remove the covers very often. A cold snap or dramatic change in temperature is detrimental to proper seedling growth and will on occasion pop their heads clean off.
Watering is critical at this stage. The humidity domes do a great job of keeping the moisture levels up, however, if they begin to clear of condensation, check the soil and water as needed. Some use a can to water. I find this method far too aggressive and hard on the plants. Misting is best to take care of the pressure issue. Our greenhouse is watered by hose, which can be problematic in the dead of winter. A solution is rain barrels painted black and fed by an intricate solar powered, heat taped rain gutter system. This system feeds into a D.C. marine pump and out the hose to a misting wand. If a person has an excess of time and no desire for overly complicated alternative energy solutions, a hand sprayer works nicely. Keeping an eye on progress and watering as needed, we continue in this manner until true leaves emerge.
The True Nature of Things
True leaves are the first leaves to arrive that look as the leaves on the plant will look. These leaves will unfold and stems will thicken, giving a true definable shape to the plant that is to be. Now is the time to remove the domes and temper the plants to their surroundings. It is also time to feed. A thin mix of fish emulsion, which is an organic liquid fertilizer made of fish byproduct, is applied by watering can. The plants themselves should be strong enough to withstand the force of pouring water, though it is best to aim for the base to minimize risk of damage.
In these weeks, we encourage the young upstarts to rise, we foster those in need, and mourn the loss of those never to emerge. Our time is deliberate, our action precise, we grow.
Stay tuned gentle reader for the dramatic conclusion of the Modern Herb Grower.