Thursday, March 24, 2011

Thinking outside the Strawberry Cage

It just wouldn't seem like summer to me if I didn't plant melons and squash in my garden.  I love picking a juicy melon from the vine and eating it with prosciutto for lunch, or with vanilla ice cream for dessert.  And who doesn't love growing squash.  Grow one plant and you'll have enough for the neighborhood.  One thing I have noticed about plants in the cucurbit family (which includes cucumbers, squash and melons) is that they don't like having their roots disturbed when being transplanted.  I like to start my seedlings inside under grow lights before transplanting them into the garden so I needed to find a pot that could be buried at planting time.  The green plastic cages that hold strawberries work well for these seedling pots. 
Now, I don't buy strawberries in the store, but I did have a a few cages that I was using to corral seed packages in a drawer.  I had to search a bit for a replacement for the strawberry cages, but eventually found and recycled some plastic boxes that worked just fine.  I also needed some "trays" that were deep enough to hold the strawberry cages.  More searching.  Good thing I save everything!  Some window boxes that weren't being used were the perfect size.  The only other supplies that I needed were:
a bowl with water
potting soil
clear plastic (I reused the plastic from the drycleaners)
string for tying down the plastic
Tear or cut your newspaper into strips and wet them in a bowl of water.  Using a criss cross motion, place strips of news paper down through the cages with pieces of paper overlapping on the edges.  The whole process kind of reminds me of making a something out of paper mache.

When the strawberry cage is covered with damp newspaper fill with your favorite potting mix and plant your seeds.

After covering the seeds with more potting soil I placed the cages in window boxes and covered each tray with a large piece out of a dry cleaning bag.  I used a piece of string to hold the plastic in place and set the seeds under grow lights.  I placed 2 of the 3 trays (window boxes) on heating mats.
Just 13 days later 9 of the 13 cages have sprouted.  The worst germination rate was the tray that wasn't on a heating mat.  I've since given the remaining seeds heat, and hope to have seedlings in that tray soon.

With summer just around the corner it's not too early to get your seedlings started indoors.  By starting your own seeds you not only save money but you get a jump on the growing season, which can be especially helpful if you garden in a climate with cooler summers.  As an added bonus, you'll find a much greater variety of choices if you shop in the seed section rather than in the plant section. 
Spring is officially here so grab some reused containers, seeds and soil and get growing!  It's never to early, or late to grow your own,
Happy Spring!

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