There is no part of my life that is not imbued with magic. And so magical gardening is just how I do it. But I’ve been gardening for a while now, so I also have plenty of practical tips to share. You'll get both of those here. So let’s begin with the practical and magical steps of starting a garden from seed.
Step 1: Choosing seeds | Heirloom, Hybrid, GMO
HEIRLOOM seeds come from the same plant that came from the same seed that came from the same plant, straight down the line. Growers carefully prevent pollen from other types of the same plant from fertilizing their blossoms. So an 1894 variety of tomato plant will never cross breed with an Anna Banana Russian. To be considered Heirloom, the plant must have been in existence in its current variety for at least 50 years.
HYBRID seeds come from plants that are deliberately cross bred to gather the most desirable qualities of different types of plants into a new variety. However, hybrid plants are often sterile, meaning you can’t get growable seeds from the plant in the same way you can’t breed a mule. You can cross a donkey and a horse and get a mule, but that mule will be sterile.*
Many hybrids have been bred to be disease resistant or unappealing to insects. They’re bred for improved flavor and faster growing time and a higher yield. And that’s nothing inherently wrong with a hybrid plant, and in fact, some hybrid varieties have been in existence for so long they have crossed over into the Heirloom category.
GMO: “A GMO, or genetically modified organism, is a plant, animal, microorganism or other organism whose genetic makeup has been modified in a laboratory using genetic engineering or transgenic technology. This creates combinations of plant, animal, bacterial and virus genes that do not occur in nature or through traditional crossbreeding methods.” –NonGMOproject.org
Since we have no way of knowing what sorts of elements have been added to a GMO seed’s DNA, and since if the plant should produce more seeds or fertilize nearby plants, we can be sued by Monsanto, I chose not to use GMO seeds or plants. Most non-GMO items are labeled as such.
ORGANIC seeds are just what they sound like. They are grown using sustainable methods without pesticides or chemical fertilizers on land that has been cultivated for at least 3 years using the standards established for Certified Organic farming. Some organic seeds are heirloom and some are hybrid, and they will be so labeled.
KNOW YOUR ZONE. The US is divided into growing zones. I am in Zone 5. You can find your climate zone at the USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map. Just choose your state, fill in your zip code, and you'll know. Choose seeds and plants that are matched to your zone. Every seed catalogue and garden supply shop lists these with the products.
Using all the parameters above, you can now choose your seeds.
Next Choose Your Dirt
If you’re just starting out, you’re going to need to buy some dirt. We did a lot of research for starting our plants this year. What’s available in your area will vary, but the parameters we wanted were these:
It had to be organic
It had to be animal-product free
It had to be made from plant-based materials.
It had to have a diverse range of ingredients and an excellent mineral content.
BETTER THAN BUYING
You can make your own soil. Start composting your fruit & veggie scraps, coffee grounds and so on, and you will have your own homegrown potting soil by the time next spring rolls around. Composting is a post all its own, though, so we’re going to leave this right here and move on.
Prepare the Seeds
Read the label on your seed packet. Some will suggest soaking the seeds in a small amount of water for 6 to 8 hours, or even overnight. This softens the outer shell of the seed, signaling that it’s time to wake up. Others suggest placing the seeds on a wet paper towel and covering with a second wet paper towel until they crack open and a tiny taproot comes emerges.
Both of these methods require careful attention, very low light, a consistent temperature of 72 or higher, and consistent moisture, and access to air flow. Don't keep them too wet or too dry. If they dry out, you’ll probably have to start over with new seeds.
Prepare the Containers
You want a pot big enough for the plant to stay in until it is transplanted into the garden. If you’re growing indoors, you can put your sprouted seed directly into its grown-up container. But if growing outdoors, this pot is only a temporary home for your plant. This factors into what sort of container you choose.
You might want to use the small seedling containers that decompose in the soil. This way when your plant escapes the trauma of a full on transplant. You can plant pot and all (although I always tear them up a bit so I can “tickle” the roots loose before placing the plant in the ground)
Whatever you use, put your soil into the pot, wet it down, wait a bit, wet it again, and when the seed is ready, poke a small indentation with your finger and drop your seed into it. Sprinkle soil over the top. If your seedling has sprouted a taproot, that root should be pointing downward, not upward. It’s a root, not a shoot.
Add some magic
Hold your hands over the planted seeds. Close your eyes and feel your connection to the earth, of which you are a part. Feel the energy of Gaia, of Mother Nature herself move up through your feet, and inward from all around you, filling you completely. And then direct that loving, nurturing energy, blended now with your own, into the seeds.
CHANT THE CHARM
By stem and bud,
By seed and root,
By leaf and flower and fruit,
Life quickens in thee And so mote it be
WATCH THEM GROW
Place your plants in a sunny window that has a fairly consistent temperature. Keep them moist and watch them grow!
Talk to them regularly. Beam energy into them. Charge the water with love and light before you water them. Play gentle music for them. If you don’t believe this could possibly be effective, read The Hidden Messages in Water by Masaru Emoto
Moving them outside
Some plants can handle a mild frost while others cannot. To be safe, don’t transplant your babies outside until all danger of frost has passed in your area. You can find out what that date is for you at the Old Farmer's Almanac Frost Page. In my area May 1st is considered the earliest safe time to put plants outside.
For the first few weeks outside, stay abreast of the weather forecast and sign up for your local news channel’s weather app. They all have one these days, and you can usually set it to alert your phone if there is a danger of frost.
Even with every precaution, sometimes the worst happens.
If your plants are outside during a frost
If you know ahead of time that there is going to be a frost, you can protect your plants by covering them with a light fabric, just like tucking in a baby on a chilly night. I used to use bedsheets in a pinch. You can always use a light tarp or sheets of plastic. You can use stakes or even inverted vases, buckets or jars to hold the fabric up off the plant and avoid crushing it. Place stones or something heavy around the outer edges of the fabric or plastic to keep it from blowing out of place. Be sure whatever you use to hold down the fabric is going to stay put, and not roll onto your plants.
First thing in the morning, remove the covers and water the plants, getting all their foliage nice and wet.
DIDN'T COVER THEM IN TIME?
If you didn’t have any advance warning and your plants got nipped by frost, they might look wilted or brown in the morning, or they might not show the damage until much later. By then it will be too late to save them. If the temperature overnight dipped below 32 Fahrenheit you’ll know by the white glitter on the grass. At first glance it looks like a trace of snow, but it’s not. It’s a thin white coating of ice.
If you see that on the grass early in the morning, grass, even if your plants look okay, take action. Get out there as early as possible and water the plants. Use the “shower” setting on your hose nozzle, and soak the foliage and stems in cold water, which is warmer than the frost. If you get to them soon enough you can minimize the damage. The water will stop the frost from doing more harm.
Later in the day or the following day, the plants should perk back up.
Make it fun!
Gardening should not be work. It should be ease. You’re working with nature, not against it. Your harvest will contain whatever energy you put into it. If you’re out there bitching about weeds and bugs and resenting all the extra work, you’re not gonna have a good time, and neither are the plants.
Do your gardening when you are feeling great, when your mood is excellent, when you’re flying high. You can also use your gardening hours as an escape from the rest of life or as a healing haven that restores and replenishes you. Never see your garden as an obligation or a chore.
A garden is a partnership between the gardener and Nature Herself. It's a sacred thing, and there is nothing more magical than co-creating life hand in hand with Gaia.