I’ve been feeling a bit untethered since we uprooted ourselves from San Diego and transplanted ourselves here in west Sonoma county. I couldn’t be happier about the move, but the transition into a new life is exhausting. There’s so much to think about, figure out, find, solve, address. Where do I buy chicken feed? Why is there sediment in our water? What size rug do we need? What’s that terrible smell? So much new, so little familiar. My poor brain has no time or energy left for the imagination and creativity that’s so much a part of who I am.
I’ve been trying to figure out how to get myself grounded but I’ve been at a loss as to how to start. Hmmm, hang on, did I just answer my own question a second ago? Uprooted, transplanted, grounded… obviously my subconscious is trying to tell me something. I need to get back in the garden.
I’ve been sifting and sorting and obsessing over seeds for several weeks and have been dying to start planting, but even if I had garden beds ready it’s too early to plant most seeds outside. Too cold, too wet. Luckily for me, as any diehard gardener will tell you, it’s never too early start seeds indoors!*
*Note: this is not true at all. There are historically- and scientifically-based reasons for starting certain seeds at certain times, but the itch to garden is a powerful force and it’s just not worth fighting.
I’ve got a nice variety of heirloom seeds but since my potting area is just a little table in the dining room (thanks honey ;) I don’t have a lot of room for seed trays or grow lights. With this in mind I decided to try something new – starting seeds in paper towels. Yep, it’s true, you can start seeds in paper towels!
It’s a pretty cool trick. I tried it because it looked like a good way to start a lot of seeds in a small amount of space but it’s also proven to be a great way to test germination. Old or new, some seeds don’t sprout. Why waste time watering your seed trays and waiting, watching, hoping that something is going to pop out? Using this method, if it’s going to pop you’ll know, and fast!
If you want to give it a try, just lay your seeds out about an inch apart on one half of a moist paper towel. Fold the towel in half and place it into an air-filled ziplock baggie or a plastic clamshell. The idea here is to create a mini-greenhouse with enough space to allow air to circulate and enough humidity to keep the paper towel slightly moist, but not so wet that the seeds rot.
Put your mini-greenhouse in a sunny window, make sure the towel stays moist, and check daily for sprouts. You will be amazed how fast it happens. See these little guys below?
They were just six days from seed to healthy sprout! For those who Moon Phase garden I’ll note that I started these two days before the full moon, maybe that had something to do with it?? Check it out – the roots grew into and through the paper towel:
Of course this means you need to be careful moving them from the towel to the potting medium. I gently tugged on each sprout and those that came free easily I planted as they were. For the ones that were really embedded I tore the little patch of towel it was attached to and planted the whole thing. The towel will break down and I didn’t traumatize the delicate root.
I just potted up my first experimental sprouts. Soilless growing medium is usually recommended for this technique but since I didn’t have perlite or peat I used a light potting soil. I filled my tray with the soil, watered it thoroughly and drained it, then created an indentation using the head of a screw because, well, it was handy. I carefully placed each little sprout into a hole:
I then covered the whole sprout, leaves and all, gently with soil. After a light misting with water I placed the tray under the grow lights inside. One day later they don’t seem to be suffering from my use of potting soil, in fact they seem quite happy! They’ve straightened themselves out and their leaves have popped right through the soil.
A few days later and they’re doing great! Zoom zoom! I only hope I haven’t missed the chill-factor window for cauliflower. I think it likes cold weather for the beginning of its growth cycle but to be honest I’m not sure. Only one way to find out!
I must say, getting my hands dirty, starting my spring seeds and getting back into a ritual I’m familiar with has made me feel much more… myself. I have dozens of seedlings sprouting and no idea where they will end up but their mere existence motivates me to build new beds, sheet mulch the hell out of the meadow, create an outdoor potting station and, most importantly, get some dirt under my nails. Every. Single. Day.
Thank you, gardening, for helping me establish new roots and thrive here in our new home. I’m so relieved to have you back.
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