By Karen Cohen
Spread across my kitchen table are seed packets, lots of them! In glorious color, images of veggies, not sugarplums, dance in my head. Oh the countdown begins. Some seeds can be started indoors in January, just a few more weeks! Some can be started, also indoors, about 6-8 weeks before the last outdoor frost. Indoor frosts do occur when the power goes out, which happens in these here hill but let’s not even go there. Some seeds have to wait for the ground temperatures to warm up to 68 degrees or more so they can germinate. As Tom Petty says, the waiting is the hardest part. But you know that!
New for us this year is our big plastic mini nursery shed, complete with zippered windows and a zip door. Last year, we used a plastic tarped tunnel over a garden bed for growing greens like kale, mustard, and collards. This year we plan to go BIGGER. The desire for more is ever present in all humans, isn’t it? At least, that’s what psychologists tell us. It seems the theory says that we are insatiable creatures. As soon as we achieve or get one thing, we jump to the next desire.
Well I do desire more production out of our garden. So there, I said it. Does that make me seem ungrateful? Yeah, I may have too many winter sweaters, too many gloves often with one hand missing, too many spices in the kitchen, but as far as growing food goes…one can never have too much. If you do have too much, zucchini for example, give it away at the food bank or your neighbor’s mailbox. No one complains about free food in my experience.
Back to my seed packets. I group them according to the starting dates. I have a simple chart that clues me in to exactly when to get things growing. Leeks take 120-150 days to grow to harvest size, so these are the first seeds to germinate. January is my start date. Seed trays complete with see thru clear plastic tops allow me to see what’s happening inside. Seeds need to keep moist and warm, not wet, to germinate and the plastic tops allow sunlight and also cause a light misting inside just from evaporation. I use special heating pads for germination. Always check the soil to be sure it hasn’t dried out.
Onion sets can be started in pots kept indoors about six weeks prior to putting in 50 degrees soil outside. You can direct seeds when the temps are right but for our growing zone, I prefer to get them in the ground when they have a good start going already. They take about eight weeks to fully mature. On my calendar, my indoor seed start date for onions is February.
Greens are the one item I am committed to growing more of. Salads, daily salads, are what I crave to keep the vitamins, minerals, and fiber coming into my body. I’m trying some new salad blends this year from High Mowing Organic Seed company. Two Star lettuce is bolt resistant and dark green, hence two stars! Gemstone Greens is a spicy blend that grows quickly in a month’s time with a mix of mustard greens. Another blend called Red Planet salad is great to pick as baby greens. You can keep your greens growing by picking just the outer leaves each time for your meal allowing the center to keep sprouting more leaves. I never can wait for lettuce to come to a full head before I dive in! Lettuces can be started indoors in January, then nurtured along until they can be set in the ground in early spring. A protective cover can be thrown over the garden bed when frost might be in the air! But lettuces do prefer cool temps.
So many seeds to consider. And to plant. And to eat. And to share.
(Karen Cohen writes from her garden journals about organic growing. She is a nature lover, avid explorer, and photojournalist. If you would like to have a seed starting chart mailed to you, please email your request to firstname.lastname@example.org, and Happy Gardening!)