Text and photos ©Nancy J. Ondra
It’s a funny thing about seeds: First you worry that they’re not going to sprout; then you worry how you’re going to deal with all of the seedlings. It’s so easy to sow a dozen pots, plunk them onto a heating mat, and fit them neatly onto a shelf under a single fluorescent light fixture. It may take a few days for the first leaflets to appear, but before you know it, the pots are filled with forests of study little seedlings. The next step is to transplant those seedlings into individual pots. And then, my friends, is when reality sets in.
Why does this reality take me by surprise every year? On one hand, it’s an absolutely thrilling thing: A single packet of seed becomes a full pot of seedlings, which results in dozens of wonderful new plants. But that same reality is shock from a physical-space standpoint: A single packet of seed turns into one 3.5-inch pot, which turns into dozens of 3.5-inch pots. Multiply that by over 100 kinds of seeds, and the problem is obvious.
Today was my first transplanting session of the spring. (Later on, I’ll start being more realistic about what I really need, and I can make myself toss excess seedlings into the compost pile. But right now, every seedling seems precious, so I can’t bear discarding any of them, even if I really should.
Why do I need 17 plants of ‘Violetta’ artichoke, or 14 pots of ‘DiCicco’ broccoli? (And why did I just sow another pot full of mixed broccoli seeds?) Do I really need 50 plants of ‘Greek Salad’ onions (well, maybe I do; they’re the best red onions I’ve ever had) or 50 plants of ‘Blue Solaize’ leeks? I’ll tell you, potting up 100 onion and leek seedlings is exactly as exciting as potting up 100 blades of grass. At least I could cram them into trays with 2-inch cells, instead of individual 3.5-inch pots. Even so, those four pots of seedlings, which took up less than 1 square foot, now fill 8 square feet: one entire shelf of my three-shelf light stand.
I still have 10 other pots of seedlings to pot up, and I sowed 18 more pots of seed today. You can see where this is going, can’t you? Well, I’m not prepared to worry about that quite yet. I’ve decided that the broccoli, onion, and leek seedlings are tough enough to live in the cold frame during the day and the kitchen at night, so I’ll keep the space under the lights for the agastaches and other more cold-sensitive seedlings. That means I should be ok for another week or so. Whew.
Right now, I’m still inclined to find this all terribly exciting. When I was moving the winter-chilled seed pots out of the cold frame to make room for the broccoli, onions, and leeks, I found a sure sign of spring: the very first outdoor seedling!