Patience is a virtue (for the gardener)
Indoor winter sowing, greenhouses and DIY seedbeds
Finally the days begin to lengthen, the earth seems a bit less frozen and we are eager to start sowing and to dedicate ourselves to the garden, shuddering for spring.
In this period, it is impossible to sow outdoors in the ground due to the adverse climate, but there are many alternatives for those who want to take care of their harvest from the beginning: sowing can be done outdoors protected by a greenhouse or a tunnel, in a hot bed seedbed or even inside our home. Early sowing gives us the possibility, as well as accelerating our harvest for a few weeks, to create a protected environment in which we can control variables that are unmanageable in nature such as temperature, humidity and soil type. We also add that seeding their own plants is certainly cheaper than buying ready-made specimens, often sold in packs and with very little choice of varieties.
When it comes to sowing rule number one is always to be patient: especially here in northern Italy, it is better to sow some time later rather than to anticipate, failing which you will lose your harvest. It is necessary to have a suitable instrumentation to be able to sow indoors in the middle of winter, time and detailed botanical knowledge; it’s better to be on the safe side, waiting for the right time and spending more time designing and selecting varieties suitable for the climate of your region. Needless to devote yourself to melons and watermelons in areas where summers are short: you will struggle to take care of your seedlings and you will get a poor harvest.
Once you have chosen vegetables and aromatics that are more suited to your climate, you need to take some precautions so that the seedbed grows prosperous.
The plants must receive sufficient sunlight to grow strong: if the light is not enough the shoots will spin, developing a long stem that will not be able to support them once they have grown. The outdoor seedbeds should preferably face the south-west, while the indoor ones should be placed in a large window where they will receive at least 6 hours of natural light. In case of lack of lighting it will be necessary to make up with a fluorescent lamp, like those used for indoor cultivation of hot peppers.
The sowing can be carried out in special containers, but I advise you to use recycling containers. The best ones, in my opinion, are the old packs of seedlings bought in the nursery the previous years: they are perfect in size and will allow us to extend the life of these plastic containers that would otherwise end up in the bin. There are also blocks for planting in peat or biodegradable materials: the idea is good, but in practice they dry rather quickly and require constant humidification. The rolls of toilet paper are a good idea, suitably folded; I did not feel well, however, with the egg containers, which have too little space for the substrate. Yoghurt pots or plastic bottles are excellent, provided with holes on the bottom.
The substrate can be purchased specifically or created with part of sand part soil. The seeds should be distributed homogeneously and covered with at least the equivalent of the seed thickness in mold, then gently pressed. Moisture is very important for the germination process: after seed placement, the seedbed should be watered with rain, preferably with a sprayer to avoid moving the seeds with a jet that is too strong. If the containers are small and manageable, it is possible to wet by directly soaking the containers in a large bowl, where they will become wet with water; the jars should be drained and then repositioned in the seedbed.
It is preferable to cover the seedbed once sowing is done and until germination. In this case, small greenhouses or boxes made of transparent plastic are very useful, which allow to maintain constant humidity and temperature also avoiding cold drafts. I use the very common Ikea Samla boxes: there are many sizes, they are cheap and once the sowing period is over they can be used for other purposes.
Inside the germination closures, both outside and inside the house, it is good to constantly check the temperature so as not to cook the sprouts: to this end you can buy a thermometer for substrate with a few euros that will greatly facilitate the task. In case the temperature reaches high peaks it will be possible to open the greenhouse and aerate the shoots, always checking that there are no cool drafts.
The seedbed in the early stages does not need light; on the contrary, some plants sprout exclusively in the dark. In ideal conditions of temperature and humidity, the seeds germinate from a few days to three weeks; for the transplantation it will be necessary to wait at least the appearance of the first couple of true leaves, which are those that appear after the cotyledons. If you wish to respect the traditions or want a biodynamic crop, you should sow following the phases of the moon, even if there is no scientific proof of the influence of the moon on sowing and transplanting.
If you have therefore decided to venture into your first seedbed, I suggest you consult the sowing calendar of this month. I always remind you to keep in mind the climate of your region: on the seed packages the sowing period is always reported divided by climatic band, to be respected slavishly. I live in Piedmont, in this period I sow only some varieties of lettuce in indoor seedbeds, for all the other vegetables I wait for March or even April; unfortunately in the past I happened to lose a lot of plants because of the haste or the late frosts, and that’s how I learned that patience is the virtue of the vegetable garden.
Written by non-native speaker: please excuse any mistake.