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Starting Herbs from Seed: Bringing Some Spring into February

It’s been a long, dark, damp and cold winter this year, and I find myself wanting to spend most of my time hibernating in a warm cozy den of blankets, with a hot cup of tea set down close enough to grab without exposing more than an inch of forearm to the cold living room air. It doesn’t help matters that my husband is psychologically allergic to winter and turns into a crotchety get-off-my-lawn old man at the first hint of snow in the air.

A few weekends ago I found myself annoyed by a cold draft of air making its unwelcomed way into my cocoon of pillows, blankets and Battlestar Galactica DVD’s. The source of the draft turned out to be the above mentioned crotchety old man fiddling with my blanket, trying to get my attention.   Apparently, he’d had just about enough of this Canadianesque winter and was going to do something about it, and I was going to help him. Even if it killed me. After skillful cajoling, veiled threats, and some seriously unfair blanket theft, I graciously allowed myself to be persuaded to get dressed and venture out into the cold. You see my darling blanket-stealing husband had an epiphany of sorts; since spring was stubbornly refusing to show itself outdoors (I blame the groundhog), we would just have to find a way to bring spring to the indoors.

It was late in the evening, and we had to journey long, and journey far (Walmart). We fought our way through the last-minute Valentine’s Day shoppers, the giant boxes of chocolaty candy and the toppling towers of red and white stuffed animals emblazoned with the word “love” in 15 different languages. When we finally arrived at the blissfully empty island of tranquility that was the gardening section, we loaded up the cart with packets of seeds of every herb we could find. All nine of them. Joy of  lazy gardener joys, right next to the seed packets was a display of handy-dandy Jiffy seed starter kits, complete with compressed pellets of Canadian peat moss. Just add water, seeds and presto, insta-garden! We then zipped through the lighting section, picking up a pair of florescent light fixtures and some daylight balanced bulbs. We fought our way back through the now desperate throngs of  husbands and boyfriends to the self-checkout isle, paid a surprisingly small amount of money,  and escaped with our bounty.

The next day we bought an industrial shelving unit, survived assembling it, and created our indoor greenhouse in an unused corner of our basement. I supposed we could have waited to start the seeds to be sure that they wouldn’t be ready too early to go into the herb pots I usually plant with purchased seedlings every year. But I’m all about instant gratification, and if any of the herbs take off and mature too early to go into the garden, I’m sure I’ll be able to find something creatively culinary to do with them. Can you say fish with baby dill and lemon?

It’s been 2 weeks since our midnight seed escapade, and except for the parsley and rosemary, all of our herbs have sprouted. After much time spent herb watching, I’ve discovered that if I move in real close to the tiny sprouts, close my eyes and breathe in deeply, I can just about smell summer.

And on the bright side, winter is more than half over for most of us south of the 49th parallel.  Very soon (and not soon enough), we’ll all be able to pack up the blankets for the summer, throw open the windows and watch our herbs grow in the sunshine.

What You Will Need:

  1. Seeds: Your choice
  2. Containers: Use purchased containers or old plastic cups. Punch holes in the bottom for drainage.*
  3. Plastic tray for drainage basin.*
  4. Potting mix: A soiless potting mix (peat moss) is best.*
  5. Labels: Tape or paper labels are essential for those of us older than 35.  Labels are optional for twenty-something’s with a photographic memory.
  6. Plastic Covers: To create a mini-greenhouse, trapping moisture and heat.*
  7. A Light Source: A cheap fluorescent fixture works just fine.
  8. Water
  9. A small fan to circulate air, prevent mold, and strengthen stems (optional)

*Use a fabricated seed starting system, such as Jiffy brand, to make things a little easier on yourself

Plant seeds according to the package directions. Seeds will be planted at different times depending on the time it takes them to mature, and the date you are going to plant them outdoors. Keep the soil moist until germination.  Once the seeds sprout, turn on the lighting system and give them 12 to 16 hours of light per day.  As the seeds mature, pick out the weaker seedlings, leaving only the strongest in each pot. A few weeks before you transfer outdoors, start leaving the plants outside for a few hours a day.  This will “harden” then, and prepare them to survive in the big, bad outdoor world.