My gardening season officially opened this past Friday with a seed purchase that included winter squash (Waltham butternut) bush beans (Contender) pumpkin (sugar pie) cukes (Marketmore and Homemade Pickles) Romaine (Cos and Garnet Rose), popcorn (Robust) stevia and Quinoa (Brightest Brilliant Rainbow).
The quinoa – impulse buy. I have no idea if it’ll grow in CT but it’s pretty, so I’m gonna try. Usually there are about ten impulse buys in the seed section, especially if my beloved isn’t there to have an intervention on me, which generally amounts to him actively removing seed packs from my hands. He wasn’t there but I promised I’d behave. And I did. Except for the quinoa. Have I mentioned it’s pretty?
The stevia was not an impulse buy. It is however, more of a pain in the tush than I realized. See, I have this habit of not reading things through completely, like recipes and seed packets. It’s why I’m constantly in the middle of cooking going “Whaaaat???! I need Cognac and stinky tofu to make this?!” or in my greenhouse (read: the living room) going, “Whaaat?! I need to start stevia indoors?!” For those of you out there who may not be of a gardening mind, some seeds, like pumpkin or cucumber, can be directly planted into the soil once it’s warm enough. Others are Seedzillas and need constant care and attention weeks before you dump them off – sorry, gently place them – into the warm ground. Tomatoes and peppers fall into this category, as does stevia apparently. Normally this isn’t an issue, as I tend to do a ton of seedlings, and could just lump the stevia in with the others. Here’s what the start of my gardening season generally looks like in March:
What you’re looking at here are tomatoes, peppers and a bunch of other stuff getting their start under grow-lights and on top of heating pads. Growing plants from seeds is time-consuming; as the seeds grow they need to be watered and rotated, thinned and up-potted, hardened-off (the process of acclimatizing them to outside light and temps) and eventually planted. Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing quite so satisfying as eating a late-August tomato from a seed you planted yourself in April but it is a task that takes time. It’s a task I normally love. But this year I am positively buried under a number of other projects, some of which might actually make me some dough, so I had to make the reluctant decision to forgo my own seeds in favor of direct sow and getting seed “starts” from a reputable nursery.
That was the plan until the stevia. I have zero experience with stevia, so I have no idea why I thought I could just fling the seeds into the ground come the end of May, and am just chalking it up to yet another misguided case of “I reject your (stevia) reality and insert my own.” I have a lot of those moments. Not just with seeds. Anyhooo….yesterday I got the stevia seedzillas going and thought I’d share the process, complete with pictures. A wordy blog AND photos! Do we live in amazing technical times or what? Hah. Okay here we go. It’s simple.
Step One: Get your seeds, seed starting mix, a bowl, something to plant in, and a cat. The cat’s optional.
Step Two: Keep your cat out of the starting mix. I failed on this count.
Step Three: Mix your starting soil with water. Don’t soak it. You want it to be the texture of a wet sponge, more or less.
Step Four: Place your soil in whatever container you’re planting in. I use all kinds, from actual seedling trays with dividers to yogurt cups to old produce containers. That’s what this is, an old “Olivia’s Organic Spinach” container with holes poked in the bottom for drainage. Repurposing at its best! =)
Step Five: Plant your seeds. How you do this depends on the seed and what kind of container you’re using. Also, how long it generally takes you to go from peacefully potting and humming “you are my sunshine” to tearing out you’re hair and shouting, “FRAAAAACK.” For me it’s about 1.3 seconds when dealing with tiny little seeds like stevia. I didn’t plant them so much as I sprinkled them like sugar on top of the soil, and then covered them with a little more soil. You can barely see them in this picture. I apologize for the quality of the picture AND my hand; I seem to have channeled the wrinkly (though no doubt ever-wise!) hand of a 7,000 year old Tibetan sage here.
Step Six: Keep your other cat out of the seeds. Cats are cool, but pesty.
Step Seven: Again, what you do next depends on what you’re growing. I did a bunch of quickie research on stevia – did I mention I really have no idea how to grow it? – and it needs to be covered until the plants emerge. So, once again, my handy-dandy spinach container comes into play: I just closed the lid.
Step Eight: Now the seeds need to be kept warm and moist. Normally I’d have all my seeds under grow lights on one giant table and lamp set up constructed by my love (see above pic) but this year, with only one container, it’s the old-fashioned way: in front of the wood stove.
Okay, there’s a light as well. =) Stevia needs to be at 70-75 degrees but I’m the lazy gardener and can’t be bothered to keep that good a track of things, so I just plunked it in front of the stove and under the light and left it at that. I figure nature finds a way (name the movie!)
Step Nine: Keep track of planting date, and germination date, and of transplanting date, and any bugs or pests that impacted the plant. Basically, write down all the stevia happenings from birth. It’s like a baby book for buds. I’ll be super conscientious about maintaining my garden notes for about ten minutes or so. Like I said, the lazy gardener.
And that’s it. Now we wait. Takes about one – two weeks for stevia seedlings to emerge, and in that time I’ll be watering and warming and turning and fretting. My readings tell me stevia is not particularly easy to grow from seed; even the official stevia website has a “yeah, good luck with that” attitude going on. We shall see. If there’s one thing gardening teaches you it’s that it’s possible to do everything right and still fail, and that the best you can do when faced with the small sadness of unrealized plants is to remember why you wanted to garden in the first place: for that delicious moment when a little green shoots pokes its head through the dirt and says, “I’m here.”
BOOK IT, DANNO
1. The Seed Underground: A Growing Revolution to Save Food by Janisse RayFour-Season Harvest: Organic Vegetables from Your Home Garden All Year Long by Eliot Coleman