Will Daniels: Starting from Seed
Starting plants from seeds keeps EMG Will Daniels out of the weeds, literally and figuratively. His gardening passion, he says, is nurturing seeds “some as small as dust particles” into edibles or beautiful perennial flowers. Mission accomplished, he gives most of his plants away. He doesn’t really have space for everything he grows, and he admits he doesn’t really want to take care of them for too long either. Community gardeners via GardenFest, NSVMGA’s annual plant sale and fundraiser, are the biggest beneficiaries of his patience and labor, which he describes as minimal effort for maximum return.
A lifelong hobby gardener, Will incorporated seed-starting into his work as a mental health rehabilitation counselor for Loudon County Health & Human Services. Gardening is one of the programs offered at Friendship House, the county’s psychosocial rehabilitation center that helps adults develop skills for independent living. Before retiring to Luray in 2018, Will’s basement was his makeshift “greenhouse” for starting seeds and nursing plants for his own garden or Friendship House. In Luray, his plant room is also his home office.
Beginning in the doldrums of late winter, Will sets seeds for peppers, petunias, lavender and other plants that take eight to 10 weeks to be ground-ready, counting back from the expected date of the last frost. Following directions on the seed packages, augmented by additional tips and information he finds on the internet, Will’s seed campaign continues in “waves,” with plants that take six to eight weeks, followed by the four- to six-week group of mostly warm-season vegetables and delicate herbs such as basil. He sows the last seeds directly into the garden, including marigolds, alyssum, and most of the vegetables.
“It gets out of hand quickly,” he said of his seed-starting operation. “By early June, I’m ready to reclaim my office.” When all the plants are finally moved outside, where they can soak up the natural sunlight, Will’s patio becomes a plant nursery for GardenFest donations and struggling seedlings.
When he and his wife, Sue, moved to Luray, Will joined the Hill & Valley Garden Club. He thought it would be a good way to meet “nice, plant” people. He joined NSVMGA Class of 2019 at the suggestion of a couple of members. “I’m retired. I have time,” he reasoned, adding, “I wasn’t able to coast on what I thought I knew.” In addition to learning a lot, Will also gave back a lot. This year, he plans to donate more than 75 perennials, representing 25 different species, as well as an assortment of annual flowers and vegetable starter plants to GardenFest, June 5, 2021 at Belle Grove Plantation in Middletown.
“Planting from seed is an economical way to reap so much from so little,” said Will. In addition to minimal effort, Will’s approach to home gardening includes minimal infrastructure and limited space. Inside, he uses heating pads only when absolutely necessary. Outside, a cold frame and floating row covers are his only concession to the whims of nature. By making light work of gardening, he is able to pursue his bigger goal of creating a permaculture: a sustainable and self-sufficient, food forest with fewer annuals and more edibles like fruits, berries and nuts. He credits Sue with making good use of everything he grows.
His advice to new seed starters is to be realistic; expect only half of the seeds to produce healthy seedlings. For added encouragement, start out with easy-to-grow, less finicky plants. Finally, don’t be afraid of how delicate the seedlings appear. “I’m always amazed at how much a seed wants to grow and how much a seedling wants to survive,” he said. “It’s so rewarding.”
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