Gentlemen, start your engines!

4 Mar
I’ve been hearing a lot of talk about those winter-doldrums-blues lately.
You know, I get it: March rolls around, you’re brow-beaten by the long months of cold through which you’ve come, March teases you with the occasional sunny day, but the cold and the wind just stretch on, despite your yearning for the warmth of spring. If you’re nodding your head, I ought to call you a sissy, but I will refrain and simply point you in the direction of light at the end of the tunnel. You can see it from here! Some of my fellow plant-deprived city-dwellers may not have noticed, but I have. The little green heads of those ever-resilient chives snaking up through last season’s dead leaves…
Well, that’s the only action so far in my pathetic excuse for a “garden” (quotation marks used to distinguish my landless, apartment deck potted garden from that glorious kind of real garden that doesn’t require transporting soil, and where at the end of the day you’re left with mudcakes on your knees.) But if I still had my irises and day lilies and daffodils, I bet they’d be sending out some little green feelers right about now, too.
I’m telling you, plants are the cure for your long winter blues. If you’ve never grown a plant from seed, my God, are you missing out! Spring isn’t just about warm weather; it’s about new life, the hope in beginnings. Giving life, watching your little seeds grow into beautiful, fruitful beings. It’s thrilling; it’s empowering. Bring some life into you city squalor!
Now: an overview of my (albeit overly ambitious, for my itty bitty deck) garden plan for the summer.
I ordered my seeds from Underwood Gardens, who offer a wide selection of heirloom varieties.
Sweet Jupiter Peppers
Oregon Spring Tomatoes
Early Dell Celery
Scarlet Runner Beans
True Lemon Cucumbers
Mesclun Medley
Golden Midget Watermelons
Cilantro Santo
Mariska Dill
Hairy Mountain Mint
White Sage
English Thyme
A mix of basil varieties
and Roman Chamomile
(I had also planned on growing lavender, but sadly, while working outside this morning, the wind picked up and carried my packet of lavender seeds off into the abyss.)
The average last frost date in New York City varies from source to source, but are all within the first couple weeks of April, so approximately 6 six weeks from now (for yours, you can check the Farmer’s Almanac). Which means, of course, that I am behind schedule, but not by much. A marked improvement from years past!
Last night, I started by painting my markers–markers are most important at first planting, since that’s when it’s hardest to tell what’s what. It’s easy enough to scribble a name on a popsicle stick or plastic plant marker, but attractive markers can really make a huge difference in how attractive your garden is, especially in small, city gardens like mine. When surrounded my cement, I like to take every opportunity for beauty within my power. There is so much ugliness around me that I can’t change, all the more reason to improve what I can. So, I picked up some nice, sturdy, wooden plant markers and got out the paint!
Colorful Plant Markers:
8″ wooden plant labels from Burpee–I got mine from Home Depot. You could also use tongue depressors, though they aren’t as sturdy, or appropriately sized wood scraps if you have them.
Acrylic paint–Available at any art or craft store. Don’t use tempera, it’s water-soluble. You could also use latex-based paints leftover from your home-improvement-past, or in sample size from the hardware store. Oil-based works too, but they will take a couple of days to dry completely.
Paint markers–paint markers offer a unrivaled opacity if you’re writing over strong colors, and most importantly, they aren’t water-soluble. You can buy them for a couple bucks a pop at any art or craft store.
Varnish–not necessary, but nice. Adds a smooth sheen and brightens up your colors. I used Modge Podge, available at any craft store.
And this morning I got my seeds started! Sown in the simplest of recycled, homemade egg carton greenhouses:
I’ve been saving my egg cartons, both plastic and paper. Cut the cups out of your paper egg carton, poke a hole in the bottom of each with an awl, and set them inside the cups of your plastic egg carton (remove the cupped flap that covers the egg tops). With this setup, you have biodegradable seedling pots that can be watered from below by filling the plastic cup with water and placing the paper cup in the water–this is preferable to watering from above for some plants, especially those that are most susceptible to damping off (a fungal ailment). Always read the directions on your seed packets before planting, they should alert you of these kinds of things, but if they don’t offer enough information for your liking, there’s plenty of helpful information online. After the last frost, your paper cups can be planted directly in the ground, minimizing the risk of disturbing or shocking your delicate seedlings, and the plastic covering creates a small greenhouse to keep your seedlings toasty on that drafty windowsill.
Today I sowed the rosemary, sage, thyme, and celery, which boast the longest germination periods of all my varieties. I’ll start the basil, chamomile, peppers and tomatoes as soon as I can scrounge up a couple more egg cartons, and the rest will be sown outdoors, in April.
Now I’m just crossing my fingers that those mischievous cats don’t disturb them! 
(Dinah, the troublemaker.)
Happy germinating!

One Response to “Gentlemen, start your engines!”

  1. Stephanie March 5, 2011 at 4:29 pm #

    Love the plant sticks!!! Sounds like there may not be much room for people on your balcony…but that OK. the more plants the better. The daffodils have popped up as well as a few other various shoots. I put the deer-netting (re-named "dog" netting) up around the large bed to keep Oslo out. Now I have to figure out how to protect my ostrich fern from him…a challenge. Happy almost spring!

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