Story by Meghan Sheffield
Photography by Jeannette Breward
Though the fields are barren and the greenhouses are still too cool for tender shoots, at Puddleduck Farm in Pontypool, a tiny, insulated potting room is home to hundreds of tiny green plants. Here in the warm room, made in the back of an old semi-trailer, Merridy Senior and her farm apprentice have been carefully seeding and caring for the signs of new life, destined to become hearty vegetables and summer sustenance for a whole community.
Seeds for many summer annual plants can, and should, be started early, indoors, to extend the growing season that may be too short for plants like tomatoes, melons, peppers, and herbs.
Here are Merridy’s steps for successful seed-starting:
Mix water in the soil, before seeding. Put the soil into a large container and add in water gradually, until the soil just holds together, but not so much that you’re able to squeeze a lot of water out of the soil.
Put the soil into containers or cell packs, and plant the seed according to directions on the package — planting depth varies according to each seed. Once the seeds are in, you don’t want them to dry out, so tray covers are important at the start, working as mini-greenhouses to keep moisture levels even.
Merridy uses a tool from Soil Blockers to create the blocks of soil, allowing the farm to make their own blocks without extra plastic waste, and transfer seedlings to progressively bigger blocks — from a tiny ¾” square to a 4” block as the seedling grows, with less shock to the plant and a higher success rate when transferring plants into the earth. Read on for your chance to win your own!
Don’t be shy to experiment with things. At Puddleduck, Merridy often plants more than one seed per pot, to be sure she gets enough germination. Later, herbs can often be separated and thrive afterwards, while kale will happily grow with other plants in close quarters. Choose a warm place in your home for the trays while the seeds are germinating. Once the first green sprouts start to pop up, put them in a bright, south-facing window, or under fluorescent lights, as they do at Puddleduck Farms.