The Cranky Gardener

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Plant a Seed and Watch it Grow

It's one of my favorite times of the year - seed catalogue time. I just love them. All those varieties of flowers and vegetables to choose from. And the gardening accessories. Woo Hoo! Sometimes it's nearly impossible to choose.

I've been gardening a long time, so I'm on a lot of mailing lists. So far this year I have received 51 catalogues. My mailman hates me. Well, he says he does, but I think he's exaggerating the pain from his hernia. I'll make sure he has fresh veggies this summer to make up for it.

Sometimes folks ask why I bother to start plants from seed when it's so easy to go to the local garden center and buy plants. When you start with plants you can space them properly in your beds. And when you purchase the larger sized plants you can have an almost instant display. And I do buy plants on occasion for those very reasons.

But I start most of my flowers and vegetables from seed. There are a number of reasons for this. First and foremost, I just plain enjoy it. There's something special about taking a tiny seed and watching it turn into a beautiful mature plant. Call it maternal or whatever you like, but planting seeds gives me a great deal of satisfaction.

Another good reason to start from seed is to obtain varieties unavailable at garden centres. Even the best garden centres have a limited variety of plants to select from. You might find a dozen varieties of tomato, for example, or 8 varieties of marigold. When you start from seed you can choose from hundreds of tomatoes and dozens of marigolds.

An annoying problem with starting from plants is that you may find a variety of pepper one year that you just love and never find it again. This has happened to me. And boy is it frustrating. The same thing can happen with seeds, but it is less likely. And if you suspect that a variety is going to be discontinued, you can always save your own seed for use the following year. But that's another article.

When you plant seeds you can have your seedlings ready at the perfect time to transplant into the garden. This is especially important for fall gardens when nursery plants are harder to find. But it is also very important in the spring. The garden centres in my area begin selling plants too early in the season. By the time it is actually time to transplant them, they are often too large and root bound. This makes transplant shock and losing your plants more likely.

Not convinced yet?

Seeds sown directly into the ground and left to grow where they germinate will normally be healthier than the same variety that is transplanted. I once conducted an experiment with marigolds. I purchased a 6-pack of marigolds from the garden centre and planted them in a flower bed. Next to them, the same day, I planted seed of the same variety. After 8 weeks, the plants from seed were the same size as the transplants. After 12 weeks, they were larger and produced more blooms.

And starting your own plants from seed can be more economical than buying seedlings. Whether you save money or not will depend on how much money you spend on seed-starting accessories. The cost of the seed is the least of it. But take some advice from the Cranky Gardener - all that expensive, fancy stuff is a waste of money unless you are trying to start some exotic plants that are very difficult to germinate.

My favourite way to start seeds is to use Jiffy pellets. These are compressed peat pellets that expand into little pots when you soak them in water. You can get them with netting or without. I use the ones without. The thing I like about them is that they can be planted directly into the garden without disturbing the roots of the plants. They are easy to find and are inexpensive. You can buy them in black plastic trays with clear plastic lids. This creates a mini greenhouse and keeps the pellets moist while your seeds are germinating. Or you can buy them in bags and use a throw-away container of some kind or even a Styrofoam meat tray to set them in and cover them with plastic wrap until the seeds sprout.

Some plants are easier to start from seed than others. Some require a cool room in order to germinate while some require a warm one. Some seeds are best sown on top of the ground rather than in it. Some seeds need to be soaked first and them planted. Some should be nicked with a knife before soaking. And germination times vary widely.

Next time we will divide some common plants into categories depending on the conditions necessary to get them to germinate. And I'll give you a list of plants that are easy for beginners. Until then, have fun reading those seed catalogues.

This week's recipe is just in time for Valentine's Day and features the food of the season - chocolate. What could be more romantic than:

Chocolate Passion Cake


  • 5 eggs
  • 2/3 cup - 150g, 5oz - fine sugar
  • 1¼ cups - 125g, 5oz - flour
  • 1/3 cup - 35g, 1½oz - unsweetened cocoa
  • 2 carrots, grated
  • 1/3 cup - 45g, 2oz chopped walnuts
  • 2 Tablespoons canola1 oil
  • 12 oz - 350g, 12oz - cream cheese
  • 1½ cups - 190g, 6½oz - confectioner's sugar
  • 6oz - 175g - semisweet chocolate, melted

Lightly grease and line the bottom of a 8n inch (20 cm) round cake pan with parchment paper. Place the eggs and sugar in a large mixing bowl and set it over a pan of gently simmering water and wisk until the mixture is thick enough to leave a trail. Remove the bowl from the heat. Sift the flour and cocoa into the bowl and carefully fold into the egg mixture. Fold in the grated carrots, the walnuts and the oil.

Pour into the prepared pan and bake in a preheated 375ºF/190ºC/Gas Mark 5 oven for 45 minutes. Turn out onto a wire rack to cool.

Beat the cream cheese and confectioner's sugar together until combined and smooth. Beat in the melted chocolate. When the cake is cool, split it in half. Use half of the chocolate mixture to fill the cake. Top with the remaining chocolate. Chill before serving.

This cake is pretty garnished with strawberries.

The Cranky Gardener


12.02.04 Front Page

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1Cooking oil made from oil seed rape.

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