You Gotta Kill a Few

IT WAS ALL SOIL...NOT A SEEDLING TO BE SEEN! As my daughter Emma and I studied a tray of basil seeds that hadn't germinated, I thought failure would be a good blog post.

Even as an experienced gardener, I have failures—so I figure it’s good to reassure new gardeners that these things happen. (Of course, you don’t have to tell people about your garden failures, although I find that when I give talks, people enjoy my stories of failure…did I tell you about my parsnip wine?)

 Bob Martin says, "You Gotta Kill a Few!"

Bob Martin says, "You Gotta Kill a Few!"

I reached out to Bob Martin, a.k.a. The Veggie Guy, a wholesale producer of vegetable plants for home gardeners here in Ontario. He shared his top four tips. A professional grower, Bob is also one of the most down-to-earth gardeners I know. “I like to see people have fun growing,” he says.

One of the first things Bob said to me was, “You gotta kill a few before you get it right.” He recommends keeping notes so that you remember what worked and what didn't. “I still kill things,” he adds.

Here are Bob’s pointers for compact seedlings:

  1. Where: “You want the sunniest window or grow lights,” advises Bob. Ideally, a warm spot with air circulation.

  2. What: Bob suggests starting out by growing something that is easiest to grow yourself, such as cucumber or zucchini.  As gardeners get more experience growing from seed, they can progress to other crops such as eggplant, tomato, and pepper.

  3. How: “Seed into pots, cover with just a touch of soil, and cover with a clear bag to keep up the humidity,” he says. As soon as you see plants emerging, take off the plastic.

  4. Bob says that keeping seedlings cooler once they get their first “true leaves” helps to keep them compact. In his tomato seedling greenhouse, the night temperature is 15°C, and it’s only 20°C by day.

BONUS TIP: with tomato plants, he recommends a bit of stress to toughen them up. Dry them out a couple of times till they just start to wilt. “That just makes them stronger,” he says.