Are you in or out? According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the average American spends 93 percent of their life indoors: 87 percent is spent inside buildings of some sort, then another 6 percent in automobiles. That’s only 7 percent of one’s entire life outdoors. Ouch.
There are dozens of creative ways to lure yourself outdoors: Walk to the library, visit the beach at low tide, walk the dog, or take your camera for a walk. For gardeners, they have a trick up their sleeves: To spend more time outdoors you need to start seeds indoors, because seedlings will eventually need to be transplanted and tended outside.
So let’s talk about seed starting and its many benefits. For one, nurturing seedlings on the windowsill or under fluorescent lights in the garage cures the restlessness and winter blues that can set in during the winter.
Starting seeds indoors also gives you a jump on the growing season. You see, living in the north Pacific means cool springs and short growing seasons. Thus, if you want to grow broccoli, but you wait until May or June when conditions are optimum for sowing the seeds directly in the garden, there isn’t enough time for the plants to reach maturity. No fresh broccoli for cranberry-broccoli- almond salad for dinner.
“Oh, but I can buy broccoli and kale at the store,” you say. Sure, but I challenge you to compare store-bought kale (often bitter, tough as leather, nutritionally drained, and turns moldy within a week) to homegrown kale (sweet, tender enough to eat raw, nutritionally superior, and lasts for two-plus weeks in the fridge). It will change your life. And to say nothing for the energy footprint to ship produce from California, Peru and Mexico.
Here’s another example: Tomato plants shun cool temperatures and demand 60 to 90 days to mature from seed to harvest. Again, if you’re craving the culinary pleasure of homegrown tomatoes, you’ll need to grow them in a hoophouse or greenhouse. You have two options: start them from seed indoors in February or March or wait for spring to buy ready-to-grow transplants from a nursery.
The same is true for flower and herbs. Impatiens, lobelia, pansies and petunias; parsley and dill are best started indoors. Otherwise you’ll have little time to enjoy their beauty, flavor and fragrance before autumn arrives.
What to grow?
If we’re talking veggies, what do you like to eat? Compare your list with what will grow here, keeping in mind that tomatoes, zucchini, cucumbers, basil and peppers require the protection and added warmth of a greenhouse or hoophouse. Still, there are dozens of varieties, from Swiss chard to spinach that thrive in Kodiak’s temperate rainforest climate, a list I’ll share in a future column.
If you’re new to the garden process, draw up your wish list, but consider keeping it to six to 12 items so you are not overwhelmed. As your confidence grows, so will your wish list.
Indoor seed starting gives you control over crop timing, as well as a greater selection of varieties (including many heirlooms that are not often sold as transplants). But more than anything, “Starting your own seeds is fun,” says Marie Rice, who has started her own seeds for almost 45 years. “It’s neat to be able to watch them mature from tiny seedlings to full-sized plants.”
One winter, a while back, I spent a “boot camp” of a winter working on tugs.
We loaded the fuel barge in Nikiski (Cook Inlet) and delivered it to Valdez, Kodiak, and Dutch Harbor. Food was hearty but creature comforts were sparse. After taking a shower, I remember needing to dry my hair before going out on deck to work. I discovered my favorite hair dryer: On the upper deck, next to the stack that vented warm air from the engine room.
Later, while visiting my mom in Seattle, I told her my hair-drying story.
“You could have caught your death of cold!” she said, wagging her finger.
Well, I never believed that wives’ tale. I think we get colds and flus more often in the winter because we spend so much time inside and are exposed to more higher concentrations of nasty viruses.
A new study in the Journal of Environmental Science and Technology states that being outside is strongly linked to better moods, better self-esteem and better outlooks on life. Even 10 minutes outside each day (hopefully with some exercise thrown in) will do you a world of good. Plus, you’ll get a healthy dose of vitamin D. Isn’t Mom Nature wonderful?
As for what’s coming up, I’ll be sharing the nitty gritty details of how to grow your own seedlings and what varieties love to grow in Kodiak.