By Vicki Matsumonji, White Mountain Community Garden
This is a typical February day at White Mountain Community Garden where Show Low averages an annual accumulation of 22 inches of snow and 16 inches of rain. Our growing season of about 120 days starts after the last frost in May, extending to the first frost in October but… Mother Nature never follows the rules so our growing season may fluctuate between a long season one year and a short season the next.
As gardeners, we’re anxious to get things growing even while snow is on the ground and night temperatures dip into the 20s or low 30s. In order to get a head start, the key is to start growing seeds indoors, which gives us an earlier and longer growing season. Growing seed starts indoors also saves money and keeps us on a path to being a sustainable garden.
Gary Hull, one of the early members of WMCG, is an old hand at starting plants from seeds at his home garden called, Blossom Farm in Snowflake. He joined WMCG in 2010, the garden’s first year. Gary has been growing and developing his garden for the last 15 years. The actual growing space is half an acre and he plans to expand more plots on his 3-acre spread. He’s grown a variety of vegetables that ultimately led to selling produce at Snowflake Swapmeet and Flea Market for three years before moving his operation to Show Low Farmers Market last year. All produce is organically grown such as garlic, onions, beans, lettuce, tomatoes and other summer vegetables. He also sells fresh eggs from chickens that are cage free.
Gary uses his garage/workshop to grow the seed starts on racks of shelves that he built rigged with fluorescent lights to provide artificial sun light and heat pads to keep the soil at least 70 degrees. He also keeps a space heater nearby to maintain a warm environment around the racks. The combination of heat, light and moisture under controlled conditions triggers the germination process and the seeds sprout in a matter of days. The sprouts become seedlings and develop a foundational root system to support the plant. As the plant continues to mature over a period of weeks, the plants may need to be transferred to larger pots to accommodate the roots or, the plants may be ready for transplanting directly into the garden. It’s all about figuring out when you want to harvest.
It’s important to acclimate the young plants to the outdoors through a process called hardening off. The process of gradually exposing the plants to the outdoors can take a few days to a week. Avoid direct sunlight until they’re ready for transplanting into soil.
Lettuce, kale, tomatoes, most greens only take a few days to germinate. Most herbs take about 7-10 days to germinate. Onion seeds take much longer and should be started in October for spring planting and harvest by the end of June. Check the seed packets for detailed information. The internet is a great resource for starting your garden indoors. It’s easy to do, inexpensive, and a fun way for kids and adults to learn the basics of gardening.