What kind of pot?

Now that you’ve picked the mix you want to try, what kind of container should you use?

Endless choices exist from containers made of peat, newspaper, plastic to no container at all.

Peat pots and newspaper pots are biodegradable options. The soil goes into the pots, the plants grow there for said length up time or until the weather warms up enough to plant them in your garden, and you plant them outside, pot and all. These options are great if you want something that will break down in your garden soil.

You can buy molds to make newspaper pots, but when I make them, I wrap them around a small spice jar and “glue” the bottom and open side with a mixture of flour and water. Once they dry, they last without problems until I plant my baby veggies.

The downsides? In my opinion, peat pots dry out quickly, making them harder to pull apart at planting time. Homemade newspaper pots are a little awkward (because they are round and unattached, they may not always stand up straight), and they take time to make.

Plastic pots(see the picture above) are easy to find and can be reused if you’re careful as you handle them. But they aren’t biodegradable, and if you reuse them, they need to be sanitized so as not to spread soil diseases lingering there. Still, I like to use them, especially if I am growing plants to give to friends.

Last year, I discovered another great alternative. I use it when I’m growing my own plants or plants that will be transplanted later into bigger pots. This method doesn’t use pots.

I use a handy little gadget called a soil block maker, a mold that forms freestanding blocks of soil. In the picture above, you can see the blocks after they’ve been planted. Even when watered, they hold their shape well.

There are several sizes of molds. I like the soil block maker that makes 2” square soil blocks. Most of my veggies grow well in this size, and they can still be planted in a larger container if they outgrow their home before planting time.

What are your favorite seed starting containers? Please share in the comments below.

Indoor Soil. Mix or Buy

But first…stand by for this weather update…

snowstorm on gh15
One week, it’s balmy and we’re dreaming of spring. The next, there’s a big snow dump, about 15 inches.

Now, back to our regularly scheduled program…

Seeds need moisture, light, and a growing medium (can be soil or soilless) to stretch their roots into as they grow. Any store with a garden department will have a variety of growing mixes to choose from. I’m not here to rate and compare each mix out there, but I can tell you about my experience with some of them.

Pellets, loose mixes with fertilizer, and my own homemade mix have all graced my garden, cold frame, and shelves under lights indoors.

Pellets are compressed discs of a seed starting medium. I’ve seen them made of coir fiber (from coconut husks) and peat moss. I haven’t had much luck with pellets. When I first saw them, I thought they looked fun. And they are fun. I love adding water to them and watching them swell to many times their original size. I wanted them to work. Talk about convenient and mess free. My seeds just didn’t do well in them. So, fun or not, they had to go.

Loose mixes with fertilizer work well. I like organic growing, so I tend to go that direction when choosing something from a bag. I don’t mind using fertilizer occasionally as opposed to compost, but I tend to see it as taking a vitamin instead of eating vegetables. I just wonder what’s missing that the plants might need. These mixes grow strong plants, though, so I won’t complain too much when I’m in a pinch.

I like to mix my own soil for my growing and potting needs. It’s much less expensive, it’s filled with identifiable ingredients, it feeds the seedlings with compost, and it produces strong plants. And, added bonus, I can mix it with my hands. Who doesn’t love to play with dirt?!

I don’t sterilize my homemade mix. Many people have opinions about sterilizing soil, but I lean toward the fact that my garden isn’t sterile. My seeds germinate there. And I’ve had success using non-sterile soil with my indoor growing, as well.

I usually keep a bagged mix at home, even though I mix my own. I like to compare my soil with other growing mediums to see if mine is holding up to the test. Right now, my bagged mix of choice is Johnny’s 512 Mix, a compost based soil, from Johnny’s select seeds

What is most important to you? Cost? Time? Contents?

Don’t be afraid to try a few different things. Maybe you’ll have enough success with pellets that their convenience will be worth it. Record your observations, so you don’t forget what you learn. I’d love to hear what find out. Please share your experience in the comments below.

If you want to try your hand at mixing your own, here is my recipe:

3 parts compost + 3 parts peat moss +1 part perlite

Mix together and moisten. Store in a container with a lid. I use a garbage can in my garage because it’s accessible and won’t freeze there. You can’t use your own mix if it’s covered with snow and frozen into a solid mass that even your best shovel can’t chip.

Why I grow indoors

 For several years, I have started all or most of my garden plants myself. There has been the occasional exception of a variety that I wanted to try before purchasing seeds and feeling obligated to use them all, even if I don’t like the vegetable just because I paid for them.

I have several reasons I like starting my own seeds:

1.       Through the winter months, here in zone 6, starting seeds indoors keeps me looking through the darkness of winter toward the spring that is coming. Growing something helps me feel less cooped up.

        “To plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow.” ~Audrey Hepburn

2.       There are so many varieties of vegetables available in seed catalogs that are not available anywhere else. I just counted 98 varieties of tomatoes in a rainbow of colors inside my Baker Creek catalogue, and I have some favorite tomatoes that I can’t buy there. When I walk into a greenhouse to buy plants, I’m lucky if I find 15 different varieties of tomatoes.

favseedcatalogs

3.       It’s easy, and it saves money.

4.       When I grow indoors, I can watch every step of the process. The seeds touching the soil, the little first leaves pushing through, the true leaves showing off, and each additional inch of growth. It’s like waiting for Christmas. Presents are on the way!

chammomile and daisy starts
just look at all the possibility here, chamomile and golden daisies

Everyone who starts seeds has their own way of doing things. Over the years, I’ve tried a number of methods, and I finally feel like I’m slowly settling on a few. Here are some I’ve tried (I’ve marked the ones I prefer):

·         Growing on a windowsill

·         Using a fluorescent shop lights*

·         Starting in a cold frame and greenhouse*

·         Planting in handmade newspaper pots

·         Planting in peat pots

·         Planting in plastic pots and trays*

·         Planting in soil blocks*

·         Using store bought soil mix

·         Using my own mix*

Oh, my. This list is starting to look like several blog posts: mix it or buy it, what kind of pot, lights and growing.

Now that I have you convinced to try starting some of your own transplants, we’ll start with the basics next time. What to do about soil…

 

If you could start one plant inside, what would it be?

 

 

 

Something new

The last week and its weather plays with us, trying to convince us that spring is here early. Unseasonably warm temperatures have swooped in. I see people walking around with wistful looks on their faces, hoping it has come to stay. It’s even fooled the soil in my greenhouse. Lettuces have been growing like crazy and begging for water more often.

A couple of weeks ago, I planted new beds of lettuce, carrots, and mache. They are just pushing through, and the seeds (spinach, radishes, and beets) I started a couple of weeks before that are over an inch tall now. I may never get over the wonder of seeds sprouting in the dead of winter. And that happened before this warm spurt. Amazing what a little shield from the wind and weather can do!

 

 

The time of seed-starting has begun inside, too. Onions, shallots, leeks, and scallions grow over three inches high already, and I just started my fall celeriac.

Each year, I like to try something new. This year, one of my newbies comes in the form of strawberries. Yum! I ordered ten roots of pineberries, a white strawberry with red seeds.

pineberry
Is it possible? Will I see berries INSIDE?!

They are said to taste like pineapple. I already grow a white alpine strawberry, and they are one of our family’s favorite fruits. We love to hunt for the plump yellow-white berries, and see how many we can eat before the others discover that we aren’t sharing. They almost never make it into the house.

white-alpine
white alpine strawberries

 

How does March find you with your garden planning? What is something new that you would like to try?

For the Love of Dirt

I love to read a good book before going to bed. Normally, I’ll choose a fiction I’m previewing for my kids or a series I got sucked into (usually from previewing for my kids…there are fantastic middle grade and young adult authors out there!)

 

Recently, though, my book of choice has been about dirt. Yes, I read about dirt. If you’re a gardener, you already have an intimate relationship with dirt. It’s another world, teaming with life and growing possibilities. My dirt of choice comes in the form of compost.

 

I used to slather my garden with horse manure only. Fresh horse manure. I know. Considered a no, no, but you know what? My garden grew and did well. Do you know what that tells me? I can mess up, and still end up with rewards. Maybe I don’t have to get it perfect for it to benefit my plants and soil. Knowing that makes me relax, and when I relax, I do a better job.

 

Normally, I just pile my compost, made up mostly of pulled garden plants and kitchen scraps. I know, again, wrong way. I’m supposed to layer green (like those ingredients in my pile) with brown like straw, leaves, or shredded cardboard.

compost-piles2
You can see that the left has been composting longer than the right. Look! I even managed layers! Guess I learned a little.

 

 

I make compost like I cook. I just throw a bunch of yummy ingredients into a pot, and voila! Soup. And I guess, making compost is like cooking, except it’s outside…with a big mixing fork…and the taste testers are the plants. Okay, so only the ingredients and the mixing are like cooking. And…I guess if I’m honest, I do have a pretty good idea of what I’m cooking before I just throw. I’ve been cooking for a long time. For a newbie, I would recommend a recipe.

 

So, to that end, I guess I need to go back to the recipe so you don’t end up with slime. The book I’m reading, The Complete Compost Gardening Guide, is a great resource that goes over multiple ways to compost and several recipes that are sure to get some good dirt to your garden.

 

I like slow compost. It’s easy and takes less active time from me. Layer it. Green, brown, green, brown. Turn it once or twice, water it if it’s dry, and let it sit. Amazingly, that bit I mentioned earlier about soil teaming with life does the rest. I don’t expect compost sooner than six months or a year, though. And, it won’t kill seeds or disease, so be careful what you put into it. Hot compost does get rid of seeds and disease, but it’s a little more of a hands-on method with more rules to follow and a careful eye.

 

Compost is the best thing to feed your garden. Fertilizers might seem great, but I think they are more like taking a multivitamin instead of eating your veggies. Something’s missing.

hands-with-dirt

 

What do you use to make your garden grow? Do you make compost? Buy it?

 

Quack, Quack, Cluck

This winter, I had to buy eggs a couple of times. The horror! But, thankfully, the little ladies are laying again. It’s not unusual for them to take a break during cold weather.

Not only that, but our ducks have reached laying age. I’ve read they are more consistent layers than chickens, which will carry us through the winter better next year. We have a drake and two hens. Who knows, maybe we’ll get brave and try to hatch some little ones. Ducklings are adorable.  duckling

I grew up with ducks waddling here and there, swimming on our pond, hiding their nests, and marching in front of lines of little quackers. We didn’t have layer ducks, but we occasionally found one dropped at the edge of the pond. We baked with them, so I’d never actually tasted one. The guys in our house had never eaten a duck egg at all, so we were excited to compare them with our chicken eggs. We’d been told that duck eggs are richer with bigger yokes.

Look for yourself.

 

duckchickeneggs-1
duck on the left, chicken on the right

 

As far as the taste? I didn’t taste much of a difference, but my boys claim they like the duck eggs better.

Oh, guess what?! Last week, we had a real snow…ghinsnow217

and I started some onions under lights in the house. You know what that means?

Spring is coming.

Winter sweets

A couple of days ago, I needed a few veggies. I didn’t feel like running to town to pick some up at the grocery store. Then, I remembered that I’d planted some carrots in the fall because I’d read that they got sweeter through the winter. Well, look at that. It’s winter. Time for a test.

Several minutes later, armed with my trusty garden fork and a bowl, I headed out to the garden. I pushed away the couple of inches of straw that I’d scattered over them when the weather turned cold. I could see several carrot tops and some orange shoulders peeking out. I could also see that something else had discovered my treasure. Luckily, only a few tops were munched off. The part I wanted still lay hidden in the earth.

I loosened the soil with my fork and went hunting. I must have planted seeds at several different times and forgot about it because some of these carrots were tiny, a few were microgreen stage (I left them to grow), and several of them were bigger carrots than I’ve ever grown.

winter-carrotsfeb-6-17

I pulled out a few pounds of carrots, and happy with my collection, returned tools and self to the house.

After washing them, I handed tastes all around. Wow! Talk about sweet carrots! Maybe the sweetest I’ve ever eaten. Next year, we will definitely have more of these. I would love if I didn’t have to add them to my shopping list next winter!

GREENHOUSE UPDATE:

The lettuce keeps growing. So far, I’ve only been able to take small bowls of cuttings. Things grow slowly in the winter. But each day has more daylight, and my cold frames are filled with little plants too. I anticipate having more greens than I know what to do with in a few weeks.

Today, I planted spinach, beets, radishes, and mache where I pulled some lettuce last week. How will they sprout in February?

 

beesdrinkingincoldfr
Can you see the little honeys taking a sip?

 

BEES:

Our little honeys were out for a fly on this beautiful day. They love my cold frames and greenhouse because they can get a sip of the moisture that collects on them without fear of drowning. (BTW…last week, we ordered bee packages for two more hives. The hubs has been reading and planning construction of a new type of hive. I wonder how it will compare to the standard hives used in the area. Will the little honeys like it better? )