I started some of my seeds under grow lights inside in early March. I think I could have actually waited a bit and sowed them directly in the ground, but I was really eager to get started and just grow something.
After researching online, I quickly determined that professional grow lights were way too expensive and instead jerry-rigged my own system out of six shop lights we had in our basement. For bulbs, I used 42-Watt Daylight CFLs, which were impossible to find in any Home Depot in Manhattan, Brooklyn or Queens. I went to four different stores and then finally ordered them from Amazon.
I also bought two Burpee Seed Starting kits, which I highly recommend. The peat pots I used dried out far too quickly under the grow lights and required twice daily waterings, while the Burpee kit kept everything hydrated with minimal attention.
I ran my lights on a timer for 16 hours a day – any longer and the plants will actually start to turn purple, which mind did when I kept the lights on 24/7. When I reduced the number of hours, they regained their green color in a few days.
To maximize the effect of the lights, I covered my shelves with tin foil, which made my basement look like an extraterrestrial landing site, but it really helped to direct the light onto the plants farthest from the bulbs.
In just four weeks I had tomato, kale, cabbage, and pepper seedlings, as well as daisies, zinnias and forget-me-nots!
I purchased most of my seeds a few weeks ago from a company called Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, which I read about last summer in The New York Times. Founder Jere Gettle is a bit of a rare seed wunderkind who started his first mail-order seed business at the age of 17. Today, his catalog includes over 1,400 different varieties of flowers, vegetables and herbs.
I’ll admit I really don’t know too much about heirloom seeds. While I’ve heard that genetically modified foods come with certain risks, my foray into heritage planting was inspired more by aesthetics than by health. I was wooed by the idea of eating the same fruits and veggies that were grown in this country generations ago.
As I learned recently, “heirloom” is a bit of an ambiguous term – kind of like “sustainable” or “organic.” It doesn’t always mean better, and these seeds often make for plants that are more difficult to cultivate and protect against disease. So, like last year, I plan to supplement my heirloom varieties with some standard Burpee stock. Either way, if I pull it out of the ground myself, I’m likely a step ahead of most store-bought foods when it comes to freshness and taste.
So without further ado, here is my seed list. This includes most of what I plan to grow from now through early June. ( I know there are a few late summer/early fall crops – like pumpkins – that I will have to order later.)
American Melon Emerald Gem
Garden Pea – Lincoln Update 4/05/2011: Canceled due to lack of space.
Spinach Merlo Nero
Beet – Detroit Dark Red
Pepper Italian Pepperoncini
Carrot Cosmic Purple
Carrot Danvers 126 Half Long
Cucumber – Parisian Pickling
Wild Rocket Arugula
Oak Leaf Lettuce
Lettuce de Morges Braun
Traditional Cayenne Pepper
Chadwick Cherry Tomato
Tomato Ananas Noir
Pantano Romanesco Tomato
Black Elephant Purple Tomato
Italian Black Kale
Burpee Watermelon (Sugar Baby)
Top: Cecily Parsley’s Nursery Rhymes by Beatrix Potter
Bottom: Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds