at the Water's Edge

Living life and learning all I can along the way!

An Experiment in Growth: A Winter Garden Tale

Spring is officially here -- hooray! My crocuses are up, the robins are back and I'm ready to come out of hibernation. Spring is my favorite season. Don't get me wrong: I love summer and fall, but spring has the distinct honor of being the first season that is classified as "not winter."  And "not winter" is really my favorite season. Spring brings along with it sunshine, longer days, refreshing rain, and the hope of new life. What once appeared dead is now alive and blossoming into something beautiful. Spring is a season of dreams and possibilities. For me, it's also the start of garden season. Well, normally. This year, I got a grow light for Christmas, which I have been experimenting with in my basement.  I tried growing basil, parsley, lettuce, chard, arugula, cilantro, spinach...and just for good measure: tomatoes.  Of course the primary intent of my grow light is to start seedlings, but I wanted to see what I could actually get to grow indoors -- hence the focus on greens and herbs. And, I got an early test for my tomatoes by planting a few seeds.  And let me tell you...I have never grow a tomato seedling as strong and vibrant as this one!

A tomato plant, started from seed in my basement in January - a little over two months ago

However, not everything grew so well. In typical fashion, I planted about twice as many seeds as my grow light can really support, so that's my caveat. While everything germinated quickly, some continued to grow strong and others did not. I got an organic fertilizer to feed the plants since they were all sitting in pots, and they were all fed evenly. The real shocker came when I was transplanting tomatoes. I had let two seedlings grow in the same pot for a while, until it became clear which one was going to be dominant. The very slightly smaller plant, I took out and re-potted. The original seedling took off immediately and became the huge, lovely specimen above. The other hardly grew.

Watch my garden grow over the first six weeks!

There are only a few factors here that could be making the difference. Firstly, because the one tomato had gotten so big, I had to raise the light more than the recommended 2-4 inches above my other plants. It's angled, but still leaves some of them too far away.  The spinach and parsley didn't seem to mind. In fact, I'm pretty sure this is the best spinach I've ever grown. The controlled climate keeps it from immediately bolting like it always wants to do outdoors. Parsley quickly outpaced the other herbs, even though it was planted later. The basil remains stunted. The arugula hardly grew large enough for me to thin and then it bolted. The lettuces and chard are growing reallllly sloowwly. So, what gives? I started looking at my plants and realized that I had used two different soils. Don't ask me what they were -- but I know I bought some soil and had some on hand. One has more of what looks like wood mulch in it and the other finer soil seems to be producing better plants.

Wintertime basement garden under a grow lamp - herbs, greens and a couple of tomatoes

I've had some pretty bad snafus with soil in the past, and I still don't really do the recommended seed starting medium, etc., as I've not had good luck with it. But I did decide to do another little experiment and put a couple of soils to the test. I purchased two different potting soils to start off my garden this year: an organic potting soil sold under the Whitney Farms brand, and a cheaper Ace Hardware brand potting soil, to see if the soil really made a difference. The organic one has more of the wood mulch in it, so I'm curious to see if the seeds don't grow as well because of that -- as seems to be the case in my winter garden. So many things can make a difference in how plants grow, but the soil cannot be overlooked. Poor soil was likely the cause of my lackluster garden last year. And, it got me thinking...people aren't much different.

The things that we allow to penetrate into our hearts and souls form the soil of our own selves and affect how we live and grow. What are you adding to your soil? What are you feeding your soul? Are you mixing in worry and anxiety? Are you adding jealousy and envy? Or are you nurturing wisdom and stockpiling truth, fostering joy and faith?  It reminds me of what we know as the Parable of the Sower, in which Jesus describes four types of "soil":

“A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown. Whoever has ears, let them hear.” --Matthew 13:3-9

I want to cultivate good soil -- in my garden and in my heart. Good soil is rich in life-giving nutrients, is free of rocks, allowing the roots to penetrate deeply, remaining firm and granting the ability to grow strong. As a gardener weeds her garden to prevent unwanted plants from choking out her crop, so should we work to root out the negativity, doubt and lies that have taken hold in our own hearts, lest they distract us, cripple us, and prevent us from growing and blossoming into our true potential. So, this spring I will consider what I am planting my seeds in, and what I am rooting my life in -- seeking out ways to learn and grow in love and joy, as well as in vegetables and herbs!

A little parsley harvest from my basement garden!

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Hi there! My name is Dana and I live in West Michigan with my husband, Tom and our dog Copernicus. I created this space as a place to share the things I learn along this journey I call life. I work in marketing and I'm a sort of Jane of All Trades, interested in all things nature, gardening, cooking, exploring and learning new things. This blog is a conglomeration of my interests, hobbies, life and life lessons. Thanks for stopping by!