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Start a veggie garden with ease | The Gardener's Way

The chocolate cherry and striped roma tomatoes were a big hit at the Federal Way Community Garden last year.

So were the Chioggia beets, white satin carrots and colorful sweet peppers.

About the only way to experience these vegetables is to grow them from seed. You will not find them in the grocery store, or at the nursery as starter plants.

Starting your own seeds is not difficult. Soil, water, heat and light are the critical needs of a plant. Let’s start with the soil. Most any potting soil you buy in the garden area of a store works just fine. I use the plastic six-packs that you can buy at most nurseries. It is essential that the container compartments are large enough for the roots to grow. Therefore, egg cartons are not a good option.

Keep the soil wet during the early growth. I cover the whole container(s) with kitchen plastic wrap until the first signs of germination occurs, then immediately remove the wrap.

Seeds need more heat to force germination than they do to grow. For your tomatoes, for instance, 75-80 degrees is needed for germination, 70 degrees for growing; for lettuce 60 degrees for germination and growing.

If you do not have a greenhouse, you will need to supplement your light or your seedlings will become “leggy” (tall with week stems). A standard fluorescent light works just fine. Arrange the lights to be within 2 inches of the top of the plants and move them up as the plants grow. Leave the lights on for at least 12 hours per day.

One of the most important aspects of a successful garden is the soil where the plants grow. Over the years, I have spent a lot of effort improving the soil at my house. The most important thing that I have done is add compost. Lots of compost. At the community garden, we use Cedar Grove compost. I added 4 inches the first year, then 2 inches every time I plant a new crop. Healthy plants have a better chance of standing up to attacks by bugs and diseases.

And a final word on slugs and bad bugs. With our warm winter, the slugs are active. Not only do active slugs chew up our plants, but they are busy making more slugs that will hatch later this spring.

You can reduce your slug damage this spring by taking some preventive action now. I use a product called Sluggo Plus. It is made from iron phosphate and kills not only slugs, but also cut worms and earwigs. I get mine from Territorial Seed company.

Next article: We will explore what vegetables to grow, where to buy them and when to plant them.

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