Seeds

Scratch that Gardening Itch. Start Seeds Indoors

Do you have a serious need to get gardening in spite of cold winter wind and snow blowing outside your windows? Then scratch that gardening itch,  start seeds indoors.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA If you are new to indoor seed starting, start with something really easy. Stop by your favorite local garden center and, while enjoying the warmth of their greenhouse, look through their seed selection for a packet of micro greens. If they don’t have micro greens substitute a couple different types of lettuce or a blend of salad greens.

Micro greens seeds sprout in 5 to 10 days and are ready for cutting in another 5 to 10 days. There’s no need to thin micro green seedlings since harvesting involves cutting greens off just above the soil level. Return the harvested flat to it’s light source and continue watering to get a second, albeit less robust, harvest from the re-growth.

One small flat of micro greens will not provide much food – you’ll need to plant quite a few flats to get enough for a salad – but the process of sowing and watering, finding adequate light, and observing growth will give new seed-sowers valuable experience.

If your first attempt does not work, try again. If your seedlings did not sprout, or wilted after sprouting, you probably kept the flats too wet or too dry. Soil should be just moist to the touch.

Seeds have basic needs: soil and water. Light comes into play once seeds sprout and new leaves show.  Each gardener develops their own routine for seed starting. My method is outlined below. It works for any seeds, not just salad greens.

  • The container: black plastic flats saved from prior nursery purchases. Paper cups, repurposed rectangular plastic vegetable containers, small pots, and just about any container that will hold a couple of inches of soil, has drainage, and will not leach toxic chemicals into the soil will work.

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  • The prep: fill containers with light weight potting mix, gently packed down so the soil  gives a little … like a sponge. Small, cut-to-size newsprint will keep soil from escaping through drainage holes.

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  • The planting: I plant seeds into dry potting mix. Scatter small seeds, such as lettuce and radish, in rows or over the entire flat, then sprinkle with a light coating of soil. Larger seeds are inserted a bit deeper into the soil. Plant according to the directions on the seed packet but the general sowing depth rule is to cover seeds to a depth equal to the seed diameter.

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  • The watering: place flats into a larger, leak-proof tray containing about an inch of water. The soil absorbs water through the drainage holes in the bottom of each flat. Moisten the top of the soil with a gentle spray from a sink sprayer or a clean spray bottle. Thoroughly moisten the soil initially, then keep the soil moist – not soggy. Cover the flats with clear plastic to maintain even moisture until seeds sprout. Once sprouted, water from the bottom if possible, once the top half of the soil is dry, but do not let flats sit in standing water for days on end. Too much water will drown your plants.

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  • The lighting: Most seeds don’t need light until after they sprout – there are some exceptions but the seed packets should explain this. Once sprouted, provide indoor seedlings with as much sunlight or artificial light as possible. Grow lights are preferred in northern climates. To prevent seedlings from becoming leggy, either the lights or the seedlings must be adjusted so the leaves and the lights are within one or two inches of each other. If grown on a window sill, rotate flats daily to encourage even growth (seedlings will lean toward the sunlight each day), and expect seedlings to become leggy, which is not a serious problem when growing micro greens.

Here’s a few additional tips:

  • Label all flats/pots. I save plant markers from nursery purchases for reuse, or cut plant marker strips from clean plastic milk jugs. Mark labels with permanent markers or an old-fashioned grease pencil.
  • Keep track of the sowing date – I mark the date and number of flats sowed on each seed packet. Use a calendar, journal or plant diary to record your methods, planting dates, successes and failures. Journals can be a valuable resource for future plantings.

 

Much of this content and the photos were originally posted January 4, 2013, but good information bears repeating. Here’s how micro greens grow.

Digiprove sealCopyright secured by Digiprove © 2014 Joene Hendry

Love Cilantro? You Can Grow That!

I’ve yet to meet anyone indifferent to the flavor of the herb cilantro. You either love it or dislike it. If, like me, you fall into the former category I have good news … You Can Grow That! Cilantro is one of the easiest herbs to grow. In fact, growing it can provide you with two herbs for the price of one. Cilantro (the leaves of the plant) and coriander (the seeds) are both products of the Coriandrum sativum plant.

Cilantro is best grown from seed. It has a long tap root and is not particularly fond of being transplanted except when very young. For best results give it well drained soil and full sun. In my zone 6 area of Connecticut, I have sown cilantro seed from early through late spring. I sow again in late summer for a fall crop. The plant is quick to go to flower so to insure an ample supply of fresh leaves it is best to sow new seeds in two week successions.  But cilantro is useful even warm weather induces it to flower and set seed. The flowers can be used in food dishes, though they have a slightly different flavor than cilantro leaves. The mature and dried seeds are coriander, also used in cooking and baking.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA My favorite method of growing cilantro is a year-round process. Sow seed in planting beds in early spring. Keep a frost protection covering at hand to protect the plants from frosty nighttime temperatures. Use as many young leaves as possible and try to delay flowering by snipping off the top parts of each plant. Eventually, though the flowers win out and leaf production slows. Let the healthiest plants set seed. When the seeds are dry and turn a light brown they drop to the ground. Encourage them to drop in optimal areas, cover them with a bit of soil, and make sure they are watered regularly. Soon young cilantro plants emerge and mature in time for late summer early fall harvest. Use floating row covers or a cold frame to protect any young plants when cold autumn temperatures arrive. When in the protection of a cold frame, cilantro will continue to grow until real cold moves in, then it goes dormant. It usually survives under cover through winter when given occasional supplemental water during bouts of warmer weather. During warmer winters you may be able to harvest fresh cilantro from the cold frame. During colder winters the plants remain dormant until warmer temperatures return. Water regularly when overwintered plants begin showing signs of growth and open the cold frame when temperatures permit. Once freezing temperatures stop, remove the cold frame.

Right now, my planting beds are in a state of alteration so my early cilantro sowing (see the photo) was in pots. But as soon as my planting beds are reestablished, I’m returning to the cilantro growing method mentioned above. I adore the particularly strong flavor of cilantro that overwintered inside a cold frame. I use chopped cilantro in tomato-, cucumber- or fruit-based salsa, in egg and potato salads, as a garnish for grilled or baked fish – it’s especially good with salmon and swordfish – and, of course, in guacamole.

Like so many herbs, once you experience the fresh taste of home-grown cilantro, you’ll hesitate to reach for grocery store versions. Fortunately, cilantro is an easy, You Can Grow That! herb.

You Can Grow That! is a blog meme occurring on the fourth of each month. It was started by C.L. Fornari at Whole Life Gardening to remind everyone that gardening is good for people. Gardening enriches our senses, our food, and our health. Gardening fosters friendship and increases ones appreciation of nature. Read more You Can Grow That! posts by visiting Whole Life Gardening.

Garden thoughtfully and remember,

 

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Digiprove sealCopyright secured by Digiprove © 2012 Joene Hendry

Seedy ideas for Connecticut edible gardens

Choosing which variety of tomato or other edible to grow from seed can be overwhelming, particularly for gardeners new to seed starting. If, after following my earlier recommendations, your head is  still spinning here’s some of my favorite edible varieties.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Tomatoes: I grow standard, paste and cherry varieties. My absolute favorite for flavor and color is one I tried for the first time last season, the heirloom Cherokee Purple. The vines were prolific, produced solid, heavy, meaty fruit of a wonderful purplish red color and the sweetest ever flavor. Until Cherokee Purple took the top  spot on my favorite tomato list, Pruden’s Purple, also an heirloom with large fruit and a sweet taste, was number one.  I will continue to grow both of these full-size tomatoes plus the yellow heirloom, Manyel (smaller fruit, later maturity). These varieties are available from many seed suppliers, mine came from Pinetree Garden Seeds.

For paste tomatoes I like Roma (Pinetree Garden Seeds) and Milano Plum (Kitchen Garden Seeds). For cherry tomatoes I choose Sweet Million – it lives up to its name. Last season I grew an additional tomato, Super Bush, from Renee’s Garden bred specifically for container growth. It produced late, two- to three-inch sized fruit, but lacked the intense, sweet flavor I expect from homegrown tomatoes. Try it if you have limited space for a tomato that remains about three feet tall, but don’t expect the flavor of an heirloom.

Note: I grew standard, plum and cherry tomatoes in large pots filled with rich compost-based potting soil. All did remarkably well and produced lots of fruit with monthly fertilizer applications of liquid fish emulsion to the soil and as a foliar spray.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Peppers: Most of my peppers are the hot variety, Early Jalapeno, Hot Hungarian Wax, Italian Pepperoncini (all from Pinetree Garden Seeds). Last year I tried a mild habanero chili pepper from Renee’s Garden called Orange & Red Suave. It did not germinate as well as some of my other hot pepper varieties and the cool, wet spring set it back a bit, but the plant was s a lovely addition to a perennial bed and it eventually produced attractive orange fruit. Habanero peppers are normally very hot. I’d rate these as milder than normal but still packing serious heat, not for the faint of tongue.

For sweet peppers I’ve had good luck with Sweet Banana (Pinetree Garden Seeds) and Romeo Bell (Kitchen Garden Seeds).

Eggplant: I often transplant eggplant seedlings directly into perennial beds. The plants alone add structural interest, as to the fruit.  My favorites for full size fruit include Ichiban and Lavender Touch (both from Pinetree Garden Seeds). Last season I tried the container-sized variety, Little Prince (Renee’s Garden). The container-grown plants produced abundant and adorable single-serving, tasty fruit under less than ideal conditions – lots and lots of rain – so Little Prince gets another shot this year.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALettuce: I’ve grown multiple varieties over the years – Green Ice, Red Deer’s Tongue, Oakleaf, Red Fire, Buttercrunch, Winter Density, Rouge d’Hiver Romaine, Rouge Grenobloise Batavian, Tom Thumb, and I’m sure there’s more. Of all, my absolute favorite is Merveille de Quatre Saisons, a French heirloom available from many suppliers (mine came from Kitchen Garden Seeds and Renee’s Garden). The other lettuce types are all good and perform well, I’m just enamored by the looks and taste of Merveille. Beyond this beautiful looking and tasty bibb lettuce, I am also quite impressed with the adorable small crispy heads of Tom Thumb.

Beans: My favorite bush beans are Sequoia and Purple Queen – both grow delicious purple pods that turn green when cooked (Kitchen Garden Seeds) – and Pencil Pod, a yellow Heirloom (Pinetree Garden Seeds).

Peas: I’ve struggled to get a good supply of snow peas from each spring sowing. The voles love the tender plants as much as I love the tender pods and, so far, attempts to grow a bumper snow pea crop in pots have not been highly successful. Still, I would not want to go a year without trying. You simply cannot match the sweetness and tenderness of freshly picked snow peas so, even if my yield is small, I’ll always plant edible podded peas. My current favorites are Snowflake Pea Pods, a self supporting upright bush-type growing about two feet tall, and Golden India Edible Pea Pod, with six foot tall vines of flat pods (both from Kitchen Garden Seeds). In a previous garden with more space and fewer voles I had great success with sugar snap peas. These should be on every new gardener’s planting list. They are prolific producers that bring early success.

This is not a comprehensive list of the edibles I grow. It’s just a good place to start. Here are links to the seed suppliers mentioned above: Pinetree Garden Seeds, Renee’s Garden, Kitchen Garden Seeds.

Garden thoughtfully … and please share the vegetable varieties growing well in your Connecticut garden.

Digiprove sealCopyright secured by Digiprove © 2012 Joene Hendry
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