We’ve done it again! We have officially entered the sunny, beautiful, refreshing, warming greenhouse season! The 2018 season at Raleigh’s Hillside Farm has begun!
We cleaned out all (okay, most) of the row cover, crates and landscape fabric that lived in our greenhouse over winter, sanitized every surface, cranked up the heater for the first time, and have began seeding. Teeny tiny little seeds sit inside trays filled with soil just waiting to become onions, shallots, scallions, fennel and parsley. I can almost smell it. Once the first seeds of spring pop, it all starts to feel real. You walk into the greenhouse and can just feel the life in there. It’s magical.
That’s not to say that this past week has come without its share of difficulties. My hard-working husband continues to spend his daytime hours in February and March at a local greenhouse that sells flowers. This full-time schedule is definitely starting to be too much– not leaving enough time to build, create and grow all the things he desires. He’s working around the clock on all our big upcoming projects and I do my best to support him, seeding efficiently after work, cleaning and organizing, scribbling notes of things we need to mark down in our records, and listening captivated as he problem solves aloud.
There have also been some larger than usual hiccups to the start out our greenhouse season (mainly related to heating elements and thermostats both of which I can tell you next to nothing about because I don’t really understand how the things work or how they wind up not working), but my Carrot is on it.
He bought a bunch of thermometers and has them set up all over the place to try and figure out why things aren’t doing as they should. He whipped up a germination chamber in all of two hours on Saturday to balance out the limiting space of our heating mats (two of which are brand new and not working). He’ll switch out the thermostat that connects to our heater if need be. We might have to reseed some things.
It was a tense week transitioning back into active farming (as opposed to spreadsheet and planful farming that is very easy to control and runs on our own schedule), but all-in-all things are moving along beautifully. And after two full days at the farm this weekend, tinkering and adjusting, seeding and building, I feel confident leaving for four days to take a trip to New Orleans with my momma. (Much more on that later, but if you have recommendations please please leave them in the comments below!).
And I hope after this warm, sunny weekend, you all are getting excited for your own gardens. Below are some tips and tools to help you begin planning and start your own seeds indoors.
In seeds and sunshine,
Planning out a garden (or 19 farm fields) is one of my favorite parts of late winter/early spring. You can being playing around with your space and figuring out how much room you have for different crops and piecing out how they will all fit together. It’s like a game of tetris, but one that literally makes me feel warm as I dream of the growing plants and the sunshine pouring down on them during summer days. These are some great tools to help you get planning.
- We are super old school when it comes to field planning scribbling and drawing on graph paper with a pencil. This is surely the simplest way to go.
- But there are also all kinds of different garden planning programs out there. If you are more of a visual person and straight lines on graph paper don’t work well for you, check out these awesome free garden planning tools.
- For maximizing limited space, Square Foot Gardening by Mel Bartholomew is not to be missed. When we were gardening in Madison with a couple tiny raised beds we swore by this genius guide. It also helps you understand spacing and how much vegetables really need to grow well. Bonus: there is now a newer, updated version of this classic with better visuals then when we were backyard gardening seven years ago.
- Another absolute classic guide for slightly more advanced gardeners who want to maximize the benefits of where plants are situated in proximity to each other is Louise Riotte’s Carrots Love Tomatoes: Secrets of Companion Planting for Successful Gardening. It teaches you all the basics of turning your garden paradise into a thriving natural ecosystem to keep pests and disease at a minimum.
SEEDS VS SEEDLINGS?
In Wisconsin, the growing season is not long enough to start things like tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, onions and brassicas from seed outdoors once the ground thaws. It is therefore essential to start these (and a lot of other longer season crops) from seed indoors for optimal success. This is a beautiful process allowing you to experience the magic we watch every year as tiny seeds turn into thriving plants, but it is not without challenges.
Think long and hard about whether or not you have the time and energy (and are around the house often enough) to water your delicate plants morning and night until the soil is warm enough to get planting. I certainly wouldn’t. That’s just one of the billion reasons I am grateful for my nurturing, dedicated partner who knows how to show up and care for things daily.
- If you want to try starting seeds yourself, there is no shortage of incredible seed companies out there for you. Our favorites are Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds for interesting and beautiful varieties you can’t find anywhere else (get your tomatoes, peppers, watermelon, squash and herb seeds here), Seed Savers Exchange for heirloom varieties grown by folks who have been dedicated to preserving biodiveristy for over 40 years (get your greens, beans, corn and flower seeds here), and High Mowing Seed Company for high quality seeds of your classic, staple crops (get your onions, kale, cabbage, broccoli, and root crop seeds here).
- If you don’t want to start your own plants from seed indoors but still want to have some fun with these incredible seed companies, root crops, peas and beans, sweet corn, popcorn, watermelon and many squashes do just fine planted outdoors once the soil warms.
- If you would prefer to purchase seedlings that are healthy and strong and ready to go straight into the ground, there is no shame in that! And there are tons of growers and farmers who love growing seedlings for home gardeners. We happen to be two of them. Check out our farm’s Spring Seedling Sales if you are in the Madison an area or head to area garden center if you’re not.
If you have decided to go the starting from seed route, there are some tools of the trade that will bring you optimal success.
- First, you will need something to plant your seeds into. We love the locally produced (and organic!) Purple Cow Seed Starting Mix. If you aren’t in the area, just head to your local garden store and see what they recommend.
- Then you are going to need something to put that soil (and your seeds) into. We use seeding trays in varying sizes based on the crops we are growing but the home gardener likely won’t be able to do this. Getting a couple standard-sized trays, a couple flats to put them into (which will help hold in the water) and a couple dome lids (to also help keep the soil moist and create a warm incubation space for your plants) is your best bet. This awesome kit from Bootstrap Farmer provides you with all the essentials.
- For germination, you will want to keep your flats somewhere with a bit of natural light but out of direct sunlight. Plant crops with similar germination temperatures together and keep the flat on a heating mat with a thermostat set to the lowest temperature of the planting group. Germination temperatures can be found on your seed packet or the website where you purchased your seeds.
- For keeping my plants well-watered, I love to have both a spritz bottle (for keeping newly seeded flats moist without flooding the tray or damaging young sprouting plants) and a gentle watering can on hand.
- Once your seeds have begun to sprout, it’s important to get them under light immediately. A lot of people just throw their seedling trays in front of a south-facing window. This is not ideal unless you have a greenhouse style room in your home with the correct type of glass. Just putting the plants in front of any old window will cause them to stretch and get spindly. The best way to grow strong seedlings is to hang a full spectrum grow light above the flat and keep it really close (like an inch from the top of the plants). Keep lifting it as the plants keep growing. This gal really has an ideal set up that could be easily replicated on a much smaller shelving unit. She also has great recommendations for the kinds of lights and light bulbs you should use.
Good luck everyone! Happy (it’s almost) Spring!