March 22, 2009

Starting Seeds, Indoors and Out

Nothing says spring, better than getting into the soil and working it. In New England, the old 'yankee's' followed the rule that peas should be planted on St. Patricks day. Well, at least I planted them in the same week. Most years, it is always a surprise how fast things can change in a week or two. Two weeks ago, we had 14 inches of snow, and 5 days ago, it was 12 deg. F. Now, these raised beds are thawed, drained and the soil is friable. ( not so much, the ground not in raised beds, however!). We still have snow, where there is shade, and the frost is still deep in many places. But where there is sunshine, the ephemeral wild flowers are beginning to emerge, as are perennials like Hellebores and Primula, which only a few days ago, we're invisible.

It seems like everyone is growing a 'victory garden' this year'. A search on Amazon.com shows that vegetable gardening books are leading the pack in best sellers. At our place, the greenhouse construction ruined much of our large family vegetable garden, which my grandfather started in the early 1900's. But the soil, which was trampled and lost composition from the tractors and rock, begins to repair itself over the past ten years, I decided last year to start a small attempt at vegetable gardening with the addition of a few raised beds, which would be more manageable than the massive attempts at vegetable gardening that I had made ten years ago. Keeping a large garden and a full time job proved to be too much, but I really missed the fresh veggies, and the cost at the farm stand for tomatoes alone, even in August, has forced me to reconsider,, but at a different scale.

This past weekend I was able to turn over two beds, which I had covered with hay and manure from the duck house in the fall. The soil looks so much better with the addition of the new organic material, and what hay has not broken down over the winter under the snow, will do so quickly at the soil temperatures rise.

I was able to plant snap peas, three rows only 9 feet long, hardly the 60 foot long rows I used to plant!, as well as a few short rows of fast crops in between the rows of peas, to maximize square footage. Often referred to as French Intensive gardening, or Square Foot Gardening, the relatively small space occupied by my new raised beds will still offer enough space to grow enough fresh vegetables for our kitchen, but perhaps not enough to 'put-up' or preserve, as I would like. Still, it's a more realistic attempt.

Last year I grew tomatoes, a few Zuchini and some cucumbers and Basil. Not even close to the garden I had in 1996 with 0ver 30 varieties of Tomatoes and nearly 100 varieties of veggies ( four types of Fennel, and even one for fennel pollen!). I was a little obsessed then! BUt since I love to cook, I have moved toward growing more this year from last, with plans for growing either those veggies that I cannot buy at out local stores ( unusual chili peppers, heirloom tomatoes, unusual herbs) or those veggies that are so awesome when picked fresh, that even farm-stand varieties can't come close ( tomatoes, peas, lettuce, early cabbage). There are so many vegetables that are rarely grown by small farms, since they are too tender, don't ship well, wilt quickly or are too unfamiliar to the consumer, that they must be grown by home gardeners. Like early cabbage varieties, some of the pointed head varieties like Arrowhead, a favorite fast growing, sweet and crispy early cone headed variety of cabbage that will convert any cabbage hater.

Some unusual perennial seeds like these Primula waltonii seedlings are beginning to emerge, after being stratified all winter ( left outside, under the snow, to stimulate the seeds to grow).

Onions are best when grown from seed, and once you try them this way, you will never ever try onion sets again. This hard storage variety is called Copra, and the seed was started in the greenhouse in January, which is when you need to start onions from seed in New England. Seedlings can be ordered from suppliers like Johnny's but starting your own, allows you to try different varieties, a fact that also frustrates me with supermarkets and farm stands. WHy do they only grow one or three types of onions, when there are dozens and dozens of varieties available? And don't even get me started with sweet corn! What the hell is "Sugar and Butter" anyway? do you know how many varieties of BiColor corn there are registered? When I buy corn at farm stands, I always ask them what variety are they growing? ( There is not actual variety called Sugar and Butter BTW). Each tastes differently, buy I am always impressed with the one or two people who can answer that question. I love yellow corn, especially the vintage varieties as well as white corn, if only I had more space. I have this dream, a vision, about opening a farmstand that grew it's own veggies, and offered multiple choices on such things as corn. Image, choosing between 15 corn varieties, or 30 pepper varieties.......

The seedling of perennials and annuals are coming up fast.

Delphiniums, expecially the choicer varieties are only available if grown from seed. These are some Blackmore and Langdon white and grey forms, which won't bloom for another year or so, but will be nearly 8 feet tall. You would never find these at a garden center.

Cabbage seedlings will grow fast in the warm greenhouse, and this early variety even faster. So the trays are brought outside on days that are above freezing, to strengthen them, and the strong seedlings will be planted out in about three weeks.


  1. What a wonderful time of year this is. I like those Primula seedlings - well done.

  2. Matt, you are a complete freak...in a very good way,but a freak :)I get it, and I'm there-is it a Capricorn thing??! My potatoes are in, peas in,sweet peas in the greenhouse and out...spring lettuces out..the joy is in the doing(and eating)You make it look easy-The Denver snow storm is heading this way-could be 10 inches,GRRRR. Brian

  3. Hey this is a very interesting article! Thanks! Just check the detailed info there Indoor seed planting


It's always a good thing to leave a comment!