It Begins Again

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I did not purchase many seeds this year.  I cleaned out old seeds and purchased heavily last year.  This year I only purchased new things that caught my eye and a few things I was low on.  Some of the ones I am excited about are pictured here.

I have my seed bench moved inside, all my tools organized, and am ready to go.  I will be doing some planting outside in the high tunnel and the garden as well.

I am especially excited about growing Roselle (a hibiscus flower used for drinks), Johnny’s new “Flower Sprouts”, some beautiful patty pan squashes from Baker’s Creek, Indigo Rose tomatoes from Johnny’s, and Jicama.

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Starting Seeds Indoors

Quite a few people have asked me about getting their seeds started indoors.  It is not as easy as getting them into soil and putting them in a window.  Yesterday, I started a flat of flowers so I could give you the step by step of my process.

First of all, use a good planting calendar to find out what to start inside, what to seed directly into the garden, and when to do it.  Look under “tools” at the right side of the blog and choose one of the planting calendars.  They all do the job.  I use a frost-free date of May 5th when I do my calculations.

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Once you have decided what you want to get started, you will need a tray or small pots (I like trays with clear plastic dome covers), soil (use potting or germinating mixes, not soil from outside), a water source, and LIGHT.   A heating mat is also really useful, but in lieu of that room temperature and a dome cover will get you by.  In my opinion, a “grow light” is a must have.  All of the times I started seeds and failed was because I thought the light at a window would do the trick.  Strong, healthy transplants need the broad spectrum of light that only comes from being directly outdoors or from a special grow light.  How much you spend, how many, and what type of grow light you get are dependent on your situation.  I have one very nice fixture (the one pictured) that cost me about $200 and does an AMAZING job.  I also have less expensive fluorescent fixtures that plug right into power strip that I purchased locally.  They do OK.  When my transplant cart gets really full (which will be this week), I will rotate flats into the best light.  I hope to buy another high-end fixture this year.  For you locals, you can shop grow lights at Bennets, Menards, and Rural King. Other places have them, I am sure, but this is where I have had good luck finding them.

I also have a 4 shelf mini greenhouse I bring indoors to keep all my seedlings on.  The advantages are: I can keep all my seedlings in one place, the plastic cover helps maintain heat and moisture, and it is easy to attach lights and heat mats to each level.  It is the best way minimize the space I need.  If you have a small garden, this is overkill, but if you are ever interested, here is one similar (a bit smaller) to the one I have (and it is a fantastic price): Mini Greenhouse.

In the photos, I am using Burpee growing pellets.  I do not like the Jiffy pellets which are widely available. This is not the cheapest way to go, but I find they germinate seeds better, are easy to store and use, and hold moisture fantastically.  In past years, Burpee trays with the pellets inside have been available at Home Depot and I highly recommend them.  I have all the trays I need now, so I buy just the pellets via mail order.  I add one pellet to each cell making sure they are sitting flat against the bottom (not sideways!) and I use my sprayer at the sink to add warm to even hot water to the trays.  The pellets will expand.  Give them time and add more water as needed.  You can really soak them.  When I’m done, I drain the excess water from the tray and use my finger to break the soil up a little.

Now, you are ready to seed.  I add 2-3 seeds per cell in case one does not germinate.  When I took my Master Gardener Training, one of the most useful things I learned there was about seed planting depth.  This is the rule of thumb that I use:  plant the seed about as deep as the width of the seed.  I most cases, that means quite shallowly!  Lettuce seeds for instance are tiny.  I don’t even cover them as much as make sure that they are pressed into the moist soil.  For slightly larger seeds, I just make sure they are covered.  For any seed you ever plant, always make sure that you press them in.  When I was teaching Lillian to garden as a toddler,  I explained to her that the seeds needed to be tucked in to bed in order to grow, so make sure they have good contact with the soil.  I also taught her you should sing them a lullaby, but that is not a must 🙂  The year we moved to the farm, Lily was 2, and she grew a pumpkin plant that she sang “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” to every evening.  She harvested 4 beautiful pumpkins that fall.  Just saying.

Make sure you LABEL your plants.  A plant marker and a Sharpie is NOT the way.  Trust me.  I have been down that road and ended up with tomato “grab bag” after all the “sharpie” names have washed away.  This year, I am using a special pen for tagging plants in nurseries. So far, so good.

After seeds are sown, labeled, and tucked in, get them on the heat pad (if you are using one), cover them with a dome (if you have one), and get them under some good light.  From then on, you really just need to maintain those outdoor-like conditions until it is safe to plant outside. Check moisture several times a day.  A dry seedling can die quickly, but do not flood them.  I water in 2 ways–with a spray bottle and with a turkey baster.  The turkey baster does a great job of getting water to the soil without pounding tiny seedlings.   The sprayer helps with humidity and also is the perfect way to water ungerminated seeds as well as very small seedlings.  Different seeds germinate at different rates, so don’t assume you did something wrong unless you are well outside the expected time period.  Most of my zinnia’s came up an inch overnight, while other seeds can take nearly a month.

I plug lights in when I wake and turn them off before I go to sleep.  I leave the heat mats on 24/7 for flats just getting started.  Once the seedlings are up a few inches, they will be fine off the mats if they are at room temperature.  Some seeds need greater warmth to germinate and then prefer cooler temps. This blog shows a nice chart:  Natural Gardening

The process of “hardening off” gets transplants ready for the move outside.  I’ll blog about that later on.

Getting Started

The first trays of seeds have been begun inside.  Even though Lily and I already sowed lots of seeds in the high tunnel on New Year’s Eve, this marks a new season for me.  

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I started a handful of onion varieties as well as some shallots, cauliflower, sugar peas, and broccoli.  Three days later and I can see peas, broccoli, and cauliflower seedlings.  I am starting things earlier than ever this year since I will be able to plant crops 4-5 weeks earlier into the high tunnel beds.  I will also be starting plants for my gardening students at my daughter’s school.

This morning, I walked past the seed starting bench and smelled the wonderful scent of damp earth.  I consider myself very lucky to have found the thing that fulfills and renews me.

Seed Inventory 2011

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Yesterday, an empty clementine crate called out to me to become my seed file.  It works great!  (far better than the box I use) And while I worked I made an inventory of all that I had that was still viable.  Those marked in green designate opened packages.  Now that I am organized, I can finish my orders. Also a few pics of high tunnel carrots.  Lovely!

seed inventory 1 2011

seed inventory 2 2011

Onions

The first year I did a BIG garden, I bought onion sets at the local hardware store–the ones that look like little pearl onions.  After months in the soil, they maybe doubled in size.  That’s it.  They weren’t even worth the trouble of peeling them.   The next year I decided onions weren’t worth the real estate in my garden. 

This year, remembering that the teacher from my Master Gardener’s classes who covered vegetable gardening started hers from seed, I was determined to do the same.  When Mother Earth News ran a mid-winter article about growing onions, I knew it was fate.  So, I got seeds.  I seeded them individually into cells and fairly quickly I had tiny little seedlings.  Well,  that was easy, I thought.    At this point, the seedlings were under high quality grow lights indoors.  They grew slowly, but did not get very robust looking.  They stayed like this growing nearly imperceptibly.

Once the hooophouse was done, I moved some of them out there.  However, they were so sad-looking that I held out little hope.  I eagerly purchased starts from my neighbor’s greenhouse.  Those were planted outdoors in early April and are flourishing.  Now, the ones I planted tin the hoophouse are growing just as well.  So, I did do it!  I also have learned that instead of growing each little seedling in its own cell both onions and shalots can be seeded in a larger container as a clump and then separated at planting time. 

Now, we are starting to enjoy the bunching onions (spring onions) I planted.  Some of these were transplants from seeds I started indoors and others were direct seeded in the hoophouse.  I am growing Evergreen and Crimson bunching onions.  Delicious!  Will seed more this week to stagger the harvest.

Well into Spring

We are well into spring now and life seems to be rushing past.  I need to slow down and savor the miracles around us.  New lives are abundant here.  The daffodils bloomed today for the first time.  The now one week old kittens are starting to open their eyes.  I knew kittens were born with closed eyes, but I did not realize that their eyelids slowly unzipped.  A tiny amount each day starting at about one week old.  2 of the 4 still have eyes that are completely sealed, but 2 now have tiny openings starting at the inside.  It gives them an alien-like appearance.  What must those little creatures think as their dark world becomes one of images?  It is like a second birth.

The 26 new chicks in the barn are doing great and are already in their gawky preteen feathering out stage.  The laying flock has been sick.  Some kind of respiratory infection.  It has affected about 1/2, but has been very mild.  Some have had wheezing and many are coughing and/or sneezing.  I was very alarmed at first because there are a number of things this could be and some are pretty devastating.  I contacted Purdue Extension and was referred to where I could take dead birds for necropsy, but looks like we lucked out on this one–it has been mild and have not lost any of the flock.  We did add electrolytes to their water just to boost them.  It seems to be mostly over with just a few still coughing.  The new chicks are in a separate stall and did not get sick.  We did our best to try not to cross contaminate and it seems to have worked. 

The hoophouses are working well and we are almost ready to start harvesting some salads from there.  Seedlings are up in there and doing well with one major exception–onions.  My onions from seed are weak little things and seem to be languishing.  I will be buying some already started ones when Hamilton’s Greenhouse (our neighbors!) opens.  What I did start from seed successfully for the first time is broccoli.  I have never done well on it before and always end up buying transplants, but the hoophouse seems to be a big boost for it.   I have a great micro greens blend that is going crazy in there too.  

Paco and 2 of his employees worked a good portion of the day to move the 4 apple trees (which we had planted way to close together 2 years ago)  and 8 grapes (4 new) into what is becoming our orchard.  We now have 4 apples, 8 grapes, 3 kiwi, 2 peaches, and 1 pear all behind the garden.  In the garden are 50 strawberries, 8 raspberries, 3 blueberries, and 3 blackberries.  I got the raspberries and blackberries pruned in the nick of time.  What a long way we have come!  I have a dream that 5 years from now I can walk into the backyard (in all seasons) and get supper.  Never satisfied, now that I have a hoophouse, I want a high tunnel or two that I can grow in year round.  How wonderful it would be to go stand inside in the depths of winter and get some fresh greens.  My idea of nirvana.

Pepper, eggplant, herb, raddichio, and tomato seedlings are all up and looking fantastic. I started at least 70 tomatoes and might need a 12 step program, but I imagine I will find good homes for the ones that I can’t plant. 

More Snow…and Onions

Nearly two weeks of bronchitis/asthma and a very busy time at the restaurant coupled with tax time have me really short on time.  BUT I wanted to post a brief update.  I have lots of stuff started in the indoor greenhouse. 

Indoor crops: lettuces, tuscan kale, and micro-greens (all nearing harvest)

Phase One: Starts to be moved out into small hoophouses (yet to be built!)—kale, romanesco broccoli, waltham broccoli, mixed japanese greens, evergreen bunching onions, mache, romaine, chard, strawberry spinach, broccoli raab.  New territory to me to try to get such a jump on the season and I am excited about it.  Hubby and I will be using pvc to make removable hoophouse tops in three of the raised beds.  Greenhouse plastic is one the way as well as some wax paper “hot caps” for added protection.  We’ll see how it goes.

Phase Two: 2/15/10 started crimson bunching onions, newburg onions, siskiyou sweet onions, and white lisbon bunching onions as well as Grumolo Biondo Golden chicory. 

Here are a few pictures taken on 2/13/10.  We had two spectacular early morning shows of snow and glittering frost on the trees. Truly amazing.  I have spent my drive time this winter marveling at the beautiful silouhettes of winter trees–often standing alone in a field.  Easily as lovely as they are in summer, if not more.