My son is 3. In other words, he is at an age where his participation in house projects ranges on the spectrum of “kinda helpful” to “tornado of chaos and anarchy.” No problem, comes with the territory. So when he is attentive, happy and engaged in a task, even if just for 10 minutes, I’m one happy mom. I was very pleased to have the “kinda helpful” kid with us when we got the stuff together last weekend to plant our first seeds for our garden this year.
These babies will be transplanted mid-April after the last frost date in our area. A little bit later than I had wanted to start them, but still plenty of time before we need to move them outside.
A few notes on supplies
Containers. I have used the same Burpee seedling flat with greenhouse lid for a few years now. In addition, I’ve saved a few other containers from starter plants we bought in previous years. You really don’t need to get fancy and purchase all new stuff each year or think you need to spend a lot of money to start seeds inside. Ask friends and family for used/rinsed yogurt containers and poke holes in the bottom. I mean really, you’re putting dirt in them, no need to go crazy. You could even just pile dirt in a leftover flat and forget the little containers altogether.
Some people use fluorescent lights and hang them just above the seedlings. I don’t have that kind of set-up, but that doesn’t stop me. My starter plants sit next to the window and get sun first thing in the morning. They are pretty happy there so I don’t plan on changing our method. Plus, they are conveniently located in the kitchen so I can keep an eye on them.
Starter soil. We had a crazy cold and snowy winter this year and had I been planning ahead I would have dug up some compost and dirt and kept it in a bucket in the basement for the winter. I didn’t do that, so I had to shovel snow and then use a sharp shovel to dig some compost and dirt up. Your best soil to grow seedlings in is 1 part sifted compost and 1 part bed soil (source: How to Grow More Vegetables, John Jeavons).
I brought the compost/dirt mixture inside, let it warm up and then asked my husband to add a healthy dose of worm compost. My husband has been feeding and nurturing his red wiggler worms in the basement all winter. It was pretty cool to not have so much food get thrown in the trash throughout the winter, instead we let the worms gobble it up and poop it out for some extremely nutrient dense compost.
Worm compost. Certainly not required but we are experimenting with some worm compost in the starter soil this year. Vermicomposting requires a specific type of worm, the red wiggler, they act like natures recyclers. They eat half their weight in food each day, producing castings as they go. Castings are a very nutrient dense organic matter and when used as a supplement in garden soil plants can more easily absorb those nutrients through their roots. There is a lot to say about the benefits and how-to’s of vermicomposting. I just invited my husband to do a guest post on the subject, so more to come on that later.
Seeds. Check out my last update to see where we bought our seeds. We are going to try learning more about how to save our seeds this year. We’ll see how that goes.
We start with a list of the vegetables we’re planting and their spacing needs to determine how many seeds we will start inside.
Then we use the diagram of our vegetable beds to plan how many plants will fit in which bed and where. We keep a Spring and Fall version and save them year-to-year so we can rotate the crops to optimize soil conditions and reduce the risks of diseases and pests. For example, it is best to plant tomatoes and other nightshades (peppers, eggplants, potatoes) where nightshades have not been grown in 3 or more years.
I labeled the rows in the seedling flat A-F and drew a little chart to match. Every time we put seeds in a row we marked it down on the chart.
Once we got all of the seeds in the containers, we sprayed them lightly with a 50/50 mixture of worm tea (think compost tea) and water, covered and let them sit by the window. All there is to do now is wait and keep the little guys evenly moist.
In our flat is Broccoli, Rainbow Chard, Kale, Leeks, Yellow Onion, Red Onion and Sunflowers.
Transplanting seedlings makes better use of garden bed space. Some seeds take 4-6 (or more) weeks to reach transplanting size, so if you do some of that growing in a flat, something else can be growing outside at the same time. Once we transplant this group outside, we can start more in their place. It’s a win-win!