Seed Starting 2019

Spring is officially here, even though we still have a lot of snow outside. It’s melting though and our temperatures are getting warmer. The trees are producing sap and getting ready to bud. I did see a couple of daffodil leaves emerging near a tree the other day, so things are coming along nicely. I have been garden planning, ordering and starting more seeds, and getting ready for this year’s garden.

Here are some of the new seeds from this year.

I had some seeds from last year but I had run out of a few things, and wanted to try some new vegetables and new varieties of old favorites.  I had run out of peas, so I got a new variety of those. I’m growing some dry beans this year – a variety of chickpeas and a Jade bean variety. I am going to try growing some quinoa. I also am attempting peanuts – I had given up hope of ever growing them since they are traditionally a southern heat-loving crop, but I read an article (I think in Grit magazine) by a lady who owns Fruition Seeds in New York State – she has peanuts (for sale) that she received from a person who developed them to grow right here in the U.P!  So I immediately went to their website and ordered some. Fruition has a lot of seeds for this type of climate  – the U.P. has similar climate to a lot of the rest of the northeastern U.S.  The original article I read was actually about growing things for your specific climate, and about finding seed sources for your specific climate.

seed tapes
Seed tapes with carrot seeds. I have 4 varieties of carrots. One is actually a “rainbow mix,” though. I’m giving them their own spot this year in the double-dug bed garden. Last year they shared a bed with the beets, who are also getting their own spot this year.

I’ve been starting a few things – if you read my last post I had started onions in February. This past weekend I started my “April start” crops: Tomatoes and peppers, along with a few others. I also started some shallots – I was originally going to order starts for those but ended up ordering some seeds from Baker Creek seeds. I got a lot of really good seeds from them this year. They seemed a little pricey (which is why I hadn’t ordered from them in past years) but they have a lot of varieties of different things, and they are all Heirloom seeds. So far my sprout rate is awesome from their seeds. I ordered from Seeds N Such last year, because they had great prices, but I had a lower seed sprout rate, and a few things didn’t grow true to what they said they were (for one example, I had a cantaloupe that was more of a honeydew). Plus their seed packets were too general – for example, they’d have a name for the specific type, but the directions would be for “tomatoes, peppers and other nightshades…” on the back, not for that specific type of tomato, or pepper, or whatever.  I did a small order of seeds from Baker Creek this year at first – they came within a week, and the onions and gogi berries all sprouted within a few days. Their seed packets are really big and colorful, have directions/info for the specific thing you are growing, and they actually send you free seeds as well with each order. I got a free pack of free tomato seeds when I ordered my first 3 packets. I placed two more orders (I broke my seed order into two from them, since I ordered a lot this year) and I got some free carrots and other tomatoes, and basil as well.  That’s a nice bonus.

new seed starts
Here are the newly planted seeds for tomatoes and peppers on the left, shallots (in the blue containers), green onions (in the bottom right), and cauliflower (top right). I used toilet paper tubes this year as little seed pots. So far that is working well. This picture is from right after I planted them on Sunday or Monday.
seeds start 2
Here they are today – this is almost a week later.

As you can see, I’m growing a lot of different onions this year. I have pretty much two whole spots in my double-dug garden set aside for them on my garden plan – there is still a foot or so of snow on the actual garden, so I’m waiting for it to melt before I can assess everything and clean stuff up.

Here you can see the onions from before are doing well. just waiting for their spot in the garden. Right now it still has about a foot or so of snow on it. These seem crowded but they are doing well so I will leave them as is. If they seem stressed I’ll start pulling some or repot them in a bigger container to spread out before transplanting outside.

I am going to try some perennial vegetables – sunchokes (Jerusalem artichokes) and crosnes (also called Chinese artichokes) – these are both root crops that are supposed to be relatively easy to grow and/or become a little invasive. I picked a spot near the garage that gets a lot of sun, good drainage, and just has been tall grass for these. They both are supposed to have nice flowers, and they will have plenty of space in case they do become invasive.  I ordered tubers for these from a company called Norton Naturals out of Canada – they don’t ship till sometime in later April.  In researching perennial vegetables I came across Walking Onions, which supposedly “walk” around your garden (their shoots touch the ground and grow roots) – you shouldn’t need to replant them to get onions. I think I’m going to wait until next year to get some of these though, but it’s an idea for later.  I started looking into Perennial vegetables because it would be nice to have a bed or two of things we don’t have to replant each year.

Here are some of the Gogi berry bushes re-potted. I ended up with about 12 plants. They are still very small.
Here I am attempting to sprout Ginger. Fruition Seeds had a bunch of good info and they are selling rhizomes and fertilizer for these. I have 4 rhizomes in this tray. (It looks really dry here, I think I had just put them in).

I am going to attempt to grow Ginger as well – as you can see in the pic above I have some in a tray over a heat mat set to sprout soon; I think I’m going to grow them in bags like we do potatoes, only sideways. Ginger spreads outward instead of up – so you hill it like potatoes but very lightly (like an inch of soil or so at a time) and it will spread its rhizomes outward.  I have a good spot in our back yard that I think will give them the heat and sun they want.

I’m planning on doing potatoes in bags again this year – we had an excellent crop last year (as long as the bags are protected from the chickens, they do fantastic in them).

Here is a little bird, I’m not sure what kind. He (she?) was visiting our feeder and flew into the window. I heard the thud, went outside and found him knocked out on the porch. He sat in my hand for a few minutes and then flew off.

Spring seems to be finally in full swing. We are tapping trees for sap and planning for new chicks soon, along with all the garden plans.  Now that more is going on farm-wise, I am planning on giving you readers updates more often.

The garden in Mid July

We had a very rainy June – most of the things I had direct sowed into the garden must have drowned. They did not sprout. So I had to replant a lot of seeds – beans, carrots, beets. Since the beginning of July we’ve dried up a little bit – we are getting more sun than rain anyway, so that is helping. The garden is finally taking off.  Here are some pictures:

Here is a nasturtium – it’s been flowering already and is starting to try to climb the fence.
Here are my pea seedlings. I hadn’t planted peas originally, but my 4 rows of beans didn’t sprout in June, so when I replanted I put in some peas as well.
Here are the new bean seedlings. I had originally planted yellow, green and purple. I ran out of purple at the original seeding, so these are just green and yellow. They’ll do.
beets and carrot
Here are the two beets and one carrot that managed to sprout out of all the rows I put in in June. I replanted seeds today. At least these three plants helped me figure out where some of the rows should be. Now I’ll have to thin everything when it sprouts.
garden long view
Here is the long view down the center of the garden. I have various flowers along the path – zinnias, calendula, and a marigold or two.
My artichoke! I only had one come back this year, and it already has an artichoke. I haven’t decided if I’ll pick it – it’s not very big. Artichokes grow here but I haven’t had luck with them being very large. I only had one plant make it through the winter this year. (I had 3 last year).
lemon balm
My giant lemon balm plant. I actually split it, so this is half of the original plant. The other half is in my front yard. This half is about 2.5-3 feet wide. I keep finding babies in the garden where I had moved it from. I absolutely love it. It smells so good and makes really good tea.
tomato weeds
I have tomato “weeds” sprouting all over – they must have reseeded from last year – I don’t know what variety they’ll be. I did pick out some but there were a lot. I’m guessing they’ll be cherry – those were hard to get to (in the corn/sunflower jungle) and I lost a lot of them into the garden last year. So they are the most likely candidate.
purslane patch
My melon-turned-purslane patch. I have cantaloupes and watermelons in the middle of the bags, and then purslane have exploded between the bags. I found a recipe for purslane pickles, so I’m going to eat them. This is the part of the garden I reclaimed from the yard, so that is my guess as to why I have so much purslane. I have not had an issue with it in this garden before. Luckily it’s edible and tasty.
I have a re-seeded sunflower (or two) growing in my onion patch. I have sunflowers all over the place! Very exciting! To the left you can see my potato bags. They are doing pretty well.
Here are the ducks. We recently sold three of them, so we only have three left. We were overrun with duck eggs. We are planning on cutting down on our chicken flock as well, to help with food costs through the winter.
Here are the chickens. We’ve let them run around the back yard a lot this year. Their run is still really muddy in spots from the rain, and they have been keeping the grass down but not completely killing the lawn, so it’s been ok. They enjoy foraging a lot.



Some various flower seedlings
Some various flower seedlings

My seeds are sprouting! Its exciting.  I have them in the seed trays and keep the domes on most of the day, taking them off for a couple hours, just to keep the moisture from being too much – I don’t want any mold to form. They are in a sunny window and also have a grow light.

My tomato seedlings
My tomato seedlings

I’ve got charts for each seed tray, so that I know which plants are which.  I have noticed that the strong sunlight coming through the window attracts them a little more than the grow light above, so the tomatoes have been “reaching” for the sun.  I have been turning the peat pellets instead of the trays, just so I don’t get lost in my grid of seedlings, and forget what is where.   I also decided to try to keep track of germination, or at least how long each kind of plant takes to germinate.  Here’s my chart for this round of seedlings:

seed germination chart
My germination chart

I just marked down the date I planted the seeds, and the first date I saw sprouts.  It will be helpful in later years in case I come across a batch of bad or old seeds or something.

Most of our snow is now gone also, so I’ve been thinking about how best to start the new garden beds.  I’m going to need some cardboard so I can do a lasagna-style garden.  It’s a lot easier than digging up grass.  Lasagna-style gardening is where you first layer paper (cardboard, newspaper, or paper bags) over the grass, and then layer compost, leaves, and soil to make a garden bed.  The compost-type things break down under the growing plants, and the first layer of cardboard/paper keeps the grass and other weeds from growing up into the bed. You end up with a really nice rich soil.

Here is part of my yard, almost completely snow free as of today!

Our snowless (mostly) side yard
Our snowless (mostly) side yard

I took this picture out our upstairs window.  In the foreground, the fenced bit is our dog run. There is a bit of snow still in the dog run area, and a tiny bit near the woods.  My new main garden will be adjoined to the long edge of the dog fence in this picture.

Starting Seeds!

It’s that time of year again! Yay!

My "Start in April" seed packets
My “Start in April” seed packets

I planned out my garden a while back, and I’ve been waiting to start planting.  I have a pretty elaborate garden planned for this year, so I have a ton of seeds that I’ll need to start.  I’m hoping to get everything into the ground at the very end of May. Two weeks ago, I figured out what needs to get started when, and separated them out into 4 groups – Start in April, Start in May (beginning), Start in Mid-May, and Direct-Sow.  These are based on how quickly the seeds will germinate/grow large enough for outside. These groups were put into quart size plastic bags, since each group had quite a few seed packets in it.  The day I sorted everything, I realized there were some seeds that needed to be put in the fridge for awhile, which meant they should go into the fridge THAT day.  So that day I started some Comfrey and Datura and some other things.  The cold of the fridge isn’t completely necessary but can help the seeds germinate. Those will come out of the fridge on April 12th and get put into their window spot.

I have a south facing large window that I start seeds in, and I also have a grow light that I used last year, which was a big help and I will use again this year.  I like to start a few more seeds for each kind of plant than I actually want, in case they don’t germinate correctly – it usually works out ok, and if I end up with some extra plants that is fine.  I started 15 things today, 135 seeds total.  I like using the peat pellets, that you “grow” with water and then press the seed into.  They usually work pretty well.  With my extensive garden plan, I figured I need to plant around 700 seeds this year – I ended up ordering 10 seed trays and a box of 1000 peat pellets.  Today I used two full trays and part of a third one – the rest of that third tray will house my refrigerated seeds too, once they are ready to come out of the fridge.

My seed trays.
My seed trays.

The table where the seeds are germinating used to be my cat’s window seat, and this is his first spring with us.  Hopefully he won’t jump up and knock them off – I put things up to block his access for now.

I love seed-starting time.  We still have snow outside but when it’s time to plant seeds it makes me feel like spring is really here.

Waiting (and getting ready for) spring

A crocus in our yard from last spring
A crocus in our yard from last spring

Winter has seemed pretty long, even though we are having a relatively mild winter this year, here in the U.P.   We have a lot of snow, although definitely not as much as last year, and it doesn’t seem like we have as much as I remember us getting when growing up here.  The temps are still pretty harsh, but at least we get breaks in between the REALLY cold days  (if you can call 15-20 degrees above zero a break – I do).  This is always the time of year that everyone is tired of winter and just ready for it to be over.  Just like most gardeners, I have been busy planning my garden for this spring.

I went all out with my planning for this year.  In the past I usually have not been as organized – I usually plan some,  but get a lot of stuff spontaneously later in the spring.  I’m mostly used to gardening down in lower Michigan, but the Upper Peninsula has a shorter growing season.  Our winters can be 6-8 months long (I have actually heard of snow in July here, although I don’t remember ever seeing it).  I have grand plans of canning a lot of food for next winter, so I want to have everything ready, and make sure I have enough time to harvest everything – and have it all grow in time to be harvested.  I learned a few things about this the hard way last year – I put in Tomatillos in July (they were just over pea sized by the time everything else was dying for the fall).  I had a pumpkin plant that only produced one very small pumpkin, because they need 110 days – I just don’t have that long here.   My tomatoes would not ripen on the vine – I ended up bringing them in and ripening them in a sunny window. (My mom said something about cutting the suckers off the plants to ripen them, which I’ve never had to do – the tomatoes I was growing didn’t seem to have these “suckers” that I could find).

I went through my box of seed packets that I already had – some were leftover from previous years, and some were new “on sale” seeds I bought last fall. I figured out what I wanted to grow from those, and I looked online to see how long different kinds of seeds can last.  Depending on the plant, seeds can be viable anywhere from 2 to 5 years.  I actually had some really old packets from 2007/2008 – those got tossed.    I ended up with a decent assortment of vegetables and flowers, but there were things I wanted to try this year that I needed new seeds for.  So I got to ordering.

Last summer I got a nice catalog from a company called Horizon Herbs, and their catalog had lots of really good information about their seeds and a good variety of vegetables, herbs and flowers.  So that is where I ordered my new seeds.  They had some different “Ancient Grains” seeds, so I am going to try to grow Amaranth this year – it’s supposed to be good cooked up as an oatmeal kind of thing, and for bread.  And I figure if we don’t end up liking it, the chickens probably will.   I also found out that artichokes can grow as an annual, so I’m going to try to grow some – I don’t know how big the artichokes will actually be, but it’s worth a try.

I was careful when picking seeds out, from both my old supply and the new order, to make sure they are shorter maturing varieties.  I have some white corn seeds that are 90 days, and I found one (yellow corn) from Horizon that needs  70 days (called Fisher’s Earliest).

I had made a rudimentary drawing before my order, but then because of some things not being available, and some changes to what I decided to grow, I redrew it. The new drawing actually plans for how big everything will get, and also has space so that we can actually walk between plants.  (My son got mad at me last year trying to get around in our garden because it was a jungle without actual pathways between plants. He’d get trapped behind tomatoes trying to get to the zucchini).

garden plan
Here is my main garden plan for this year.

The plan above is actually only one bed – a new one I’m planning.  We built a fenced-in area for our dogs last year, and this will go next to it, utilizing one wall of fencing from the dogs’ area. I didn’t have space to draw it as one big 10×30 grid, so the drawing is split in half, side by side. I drew it on graph paper, making each square foot of the garden = 4 graph paper squares (so I could actually write names of plants in).   I have another bed that will have acorn squash and watermelon, and onions, and some other stuff.

I also ended up ordering a few fruit plants for this year – raspberries and strawberries and elderberries – I’d like to try to make elderberry wine.

One other thing about gardening where I live is that I definitely need to fence it in.  We have deer that will hop anything less than an 8 foot fence, I’ve been told.  My garden last year was left alone by animals though, even though my fencing was pretty crude –  I only had a 4 foot fence and it was made of old fence scraps I found around the yard (we didn’t have money at the time to buy new fencing).  I found some snakes and toads in there (they helped me with bugs), but I never saw evidence of rabbits or deer. For this year we have some leftover 5 foot fencing (from making the dog fence in the fall) that I believe will be enough to close in the new garden bed – I’m hoping the fact that my dogs run around a lot in their enclosure, actually next to both gardens, will help to deter deer from jumping in.

Now I just have to wait for all my new seeds, and spring to get here!