Growing to Eat - Starting from seeds

An amateur’s story of best practices, successes and set backs in gardening.

One of the reasons I wanted to move to Washington state was to have a backyard where I could grow my own food. Every time I visited my parents in Zimbabwe (and now in India), I was treated with homegrown papayas, mangoes, tomatoes, avocado, peaches, oranges and even turmeric. They didn’t look perfect, but the taste of homegrown, organic and ethically produced fruits and vegetables is very different from what we buy in stores. This gave me all the reasons to want to be able to grow our own food. 

Now, my mother has a green thumb, as you can tell. She would put a banana peel into the ground, and a tree would emerge. But unfortunately, I did not inherit that from her. I have attempted to grow and managed to kill many herbs and little seedlings. Whatever managed to survive was eaten up by my cats. This was when I was trying to grow stuff indoors when I lived in a condo in New Jersey. But I didn’t give up. And now that I have a backyard and optimum climate and soil to grow my own veggies and fruits, I am at it again.

But this time, I started with the realization that I am no expert and a green thumb is not hereditary. I knew I needed help and the right equipment to be successful. I started by going for a free seed starting workshop in the local library held by Lisa Taylor, author of the “Maritime Northwest Garden Guide” and “Your Farm in the City; An Urban Dweller’s Guide to Growing Food and Raising Animals”. This was a hands-on workshop where not only did we get to understand what kind of plants and veggies grow well in this region but also when should they be started in order to have a successful crop. Lisa holds workshops for kids too and approached our info session in the same way. 

Lisa Taylor at the Seed starting workshop

The main take away from the workshop was how to sow the right seeds, in the right way under optimal conditions to ensure success in starting seeds indoors. This is what I learned that afternoon:

What you need: A grow light apparatus, seed starting pots, seed starting soil, watering can, labels and some love.

What you need to do: 
• Set up the grow light so it is about 2–2.5 inches above the surface of the plant/seed pot.
• Choose what seeds to sow based on your region and time of the year.
• Moisten the soil just enough so it stays in your hands as your hold it up in a fist.
• Fill a jiffy pot with soil and tap it on a firm surface to ensure the soil has settled well into the pot.
• Examine the thickness of the seed you want to sow. Now using the back of a pencil or your finger tip, make a hole (or a few holes) in the pot that is about 2–3 times the thickness of the seed.
• Drop the seed in that hole and lightly sprinkle some soil on it.
• Tap it gently with love and water abundantly.
• Label the pot and don’t forget to add the date so you know when to expect germination.
• Wait for a few weeks (time varies for different plants, check seed pack for that information) until the seeds start germinating. Seedlings need to grow 2–2.5 inches tall before transplanting. 

Theoretical knowledge is great to get started. But it does take some practice (and probably a few dead seedlings before you start to see some success). That afternoon I sowed some kale, onions, peas and cilantro. 

Those onions died. But a few months later, I am happy to announce that the kale from that afternoon is happily feeding my entire neighborhood. The peas are ridiculously long and beautiful but they don’t have any fruit yet. I have harvested cilantro multiple times and as of 1 month ago, I stopped buying cilantro all together. 

In the coming posts, see my journey from transplanting seedlings into pots, to getting garden beds and finally giving these little guys a ground to grow.

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