February in Edmonton means short days and biting cold, yet now’s the time to start growing seedlings for the upcoming garden season.
“Starting your own seedlings, it can certainly be a way to reduce cost,” said Stephen Legaree, a biologist who launched an urban gardening website from his location in Fort Saskatchewan. His site promotes organic gardening in Alberta that is simple, sustainable, and affordable.
Being selective in the grocery aisle can be a good way to get high quality seeds.
“If you’re looking at the organics section in your grocery store, buy now and save the seeds,” said Legaree. He recommends organic produce. Non-organic produce is more likely to be hybrid and may not yield the same type of food that you got the seeds from.
Seed swaps are another low-cost seed source. At Edmonton’s Seedy Sunday, gardeners, seed savers, and heirloom cultivar enthusiasts gather and participants can find information on a variety of topics, like seed varieties, earthworm raising, and mushroom kits.
“There are certainly a lot of people who have booths and lots of experience and ideas on reducing costs,” said Suzanne Cook, a Seedy Sunday volunteer. “But the heart of Seedy Sunday is the seed swap table.”
Another way to cut costs is to make your own potting medium, but Legaree suggests pasteurizing backyard compost.
“To kill pests and weed seeds, it needs to reach an internal temperature of 160˚ C,” he said.
He prefers to buy his compost because packaged compost must adhere to regulations, including pasteurization.
Mark Stumpf-Allen, composting specialist with the City of Edmonton, said the Internet has plenty of information on homemade potting soil. A good soil should contain a physical support and nutrients. Sphagnum, peat, or coconut fibre are a stable carbon base.
“There’s also vermiculite and perlite, which is baked volcanic rock that holds air and nutrients for the seedling’s roots.”
He suggests watering with “worm tea” (liquid concentrate from worm compost) or worm castings (worm manure), a better alternative than store bought fertilizer because only half the nutrients in chemical fertilizers are available to the plant, and salts from the fertilizer build up in the soil, making it detrimental to plant growth.
He stays away from backyard compost since it can also be too salty, but a no-cost alternative is leaf mould that has decayed for at least two seasons.
“Carbon grabs onto metals and salts … making them unavailable to plant roots. There’s lots in leaf mould and compost and in peat moss,” said Stumpf-Allen.
Making your own seedling containers is another cost savings. While yogurt containers are a good depth, Lagaree doesn’t recommend egg containers, as they’re too shallow and the soil can dry out.
Stumpf-Allen offers a few ideas. Staple the top of paper-wax milk containers and slice off a portion along its length. Or, tear one sheet of the Rat Creek Press into four strips along its length, wrap each around a can or bottle, fold the bottom, and dampen with water. He said one issue of the RCP should make 16 pots.
“Rat Creek Press rolls into a stable pot that is durable enough to last six to eight weeks until transplant time. Larger format papers are not as straightforward,” explained Stumpf-Allen.
And it’s not too early to register for a plot in your community garden. At least four community gardens are in the Rat Creek Press area: Parkdale Cromdale, Eastwood, Elmwood Park, and Alberta Avenue community leagues.
INFO & EVENTS
March 18, 11 am–4 pm
Central Lions Seniors Recreation Centre (11113 113 St)
City of Edmonton composting info
Urban gardening in Edmonton
TIPS FROM MARK STUMPF-ALLEN
Second Nature compost, made by the City out of our household waste, is similar to worm castings: they both have slow-release nutrients. Wait until the plant has two sets of true leaves before using it.
Go to the Reuse Centre on 83 Street for whimsical and inexpensive containers.
Find inexpensive lights at garage sales, like lights from broken aquariums. Use drinking glasses to support lights over the seed tray until the plants are big enough to pot up.
Featured Image: At transplanting time, drop the whole pot into the earth and water in. | Mark Stumpf-Allen
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