Starting the Autumn Garden

Yes, this article is 5 years old, but the ideas are timeless. It’s time to get our gardens started!




Mixing a tiny seed into some soil, merely adding water and keeping it in warm sunlight does not sound all that astonishing, but when was the last time you went hungry? To see a tiny green sprout rise above the soil as a seed germinates, to control the sun, rain and environment of a growing plant, and to realize that this life will soon be food for our families is what keeps us tethered to our humanity more than most other endeavors. I still feel the excitement of the first sighting of leaves breaking the soil after waiting those several days after planting.

This initial chapter in a plant’s life is the best time to invest in quality, especially seeds and a seed-starting soil mix. Seeds contain enough plant food to sprout and set a first pair of leaves. Save the rich compost and fertilizer for the production phase of gardening. Construct a “germination station” to keep the sprouting location warm – not hot – brightly lit and tolerant of irrigation splashing.

The majority of vegetable crops we grow at Sundew Gardens are started as transplants. While the transplants are growing in the greenhouse, a concurrent crop might still be in the ground. The only plants directly seeded to the garden beds are carrots, beans and radishes. To start most seedlings, I fill a square 4-inch pot with soil, poke a quarter-inch impression into each corner, and drop two or three seeds into each dimple. Cover the seeds with a thin layer of potting soil and water carefully. When transplanting to the garden in six weeks, quarter the root ball to create four seedlings, one from each corner.

I start a dozen tomatoes, peppers or eggplant seeds in a small pot. After sprouting, use a kitchen fork to lift and separate individuals for planting into their own container. This exclusive attention works best with plants we grow all the way to fruiting stage. Cucumbers and squash are started with two seeds in each pot. Bump up the whole root ball to a larger-size pot, and then grow it out to then plant to the garden.

Plant scallion seeds like you would on a Chia Pet, creating a carpet of sprouts. At 3 inches of growth, remove the pot and prune the root ball – soil and all – to 1 inch in length. Separate the onion sprouts, losing the potting soil in the process. Finely cultivate a garden space and set the individual green onion sprouts about 1 inch apart into a 2-inch deep furrow. Backfill with compost and prepare to be amazed!