Window Jungle

By Lauren Kepkiewicz

I’ve been excitedly coddling my seedlings for the past month or so.  They’re all clustered in the window, vying for optimal sunlight, roots ready to expand beyond pots.

I started to think about seeds in February, browsing websites with tea in hand and snow outside.  I settled on ordering some seeds from the A’bunadh Seed Catalogue whose website promised “local Alberta grown short season open-pollinated and heritage seeds”.  We chose early tomatoes, sweet momma squash, and onyx zucchinis, which we started inside, and carrots, beets, spinach and mesclun mix which we’ll plant straight in the ground as soon as our garden plot is ready.

While I do have a season of working on an organic farm under my belt, I’m new to window gardening, to garden plots, and to mountain gardening.  At the farm last season, we grew our seedlings under grow lights in tidy trays with fans for air circulation.  In contrast to the sort-of order of the barn grow room, my window is a jungle of clambering seedlings.  The tomatoes are two feet high, the coriander is crowded, and the zucchini leaves rival the size of my outstretched hand.  Next year I’ll build a table that reaches the height of the window sill so that new seedlings won’t have to stretch so tall for sunlight and form gangly stems.  Next year, I’ll need more windows.

While coddling seedlings (but not too much!) dampening off is heartbreaking.  One day, every one of those seedlings looks tall and healthy and the next day one or two are completely withered just above the dirt so much so that the stems snap in half and the plant has no hope at reinvigoration.  To avoid such tragedies amongst my window seedlings, I borrowed some advice from a seed workshop at Rosemary’s house.  I sprinkled cinnamon on top most of my newly planted dirt way back when the window was empty of plant life and watered sporadically with chamomile tea.  No dampening off – brilliant!

It turns out, one of my biggest challenges has been exercising the power to decide which seedling should grow and which should be plucked to make way for stronger root systems and a healthier plant in general.  I left thinning much too long and now have more than one pot of tomatoes that house two rowdy plants that have grown too close and too big to separate.  Oh, the woes of a gardener.

My next challenge is how to harden off my seedlings when I don’t have a deck to leave them out on for brief periods, and then long periods, so they become accustomed to sunlight without the filter of being indoors – sunlight from all sides and wind and rain.  I still have images of two entire trays of herbs we forgot to bring inside over lunch during a particular roasty Ontario spring day that scorched all seedlings involved.

Scorched plantlings aside, my jungle window is a constant reminder of the excitement of growing vegetables.  As I prepare to put these new little plants out in the garden, I wonder at their eager root systems, their sometimes delicate stems, and their outstretched leaves.

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