Sorting the Sowing Schedule

The leeks are reaching up and ready for their first haircut—right on schedule!

Photo Mar 04, 6 08 07 AM

I’m trying something different this year with my garden planning. In the past I’ve used different schedules for starting seeds, transplanting, and sowing in sort of a mishmash blend. These are spread out on different calendars and tables from a variety of sources ranging from completely local to vaguely regional to purely theoretical. Recently I sat down with all this information and attempted to wrestle it into a simpler, more usable schedule specific to what I actually grow. The biggest source of inspiration is a chart I got from a local market farmer at a workshop on making a garden produce like a farm.

The most helpful thing I got from this chart is the scheduling of succession plantings. I’ve got a track record of planting an entire crop all at once, then having, for example, more lettuce than we can eat followed later by the dreaded lettuce lack. The farm’s chart shows numbered, regularly-timed sowings of crops in an easy to understand system. I used that system to transcribe all my different sources into one chart of my own that I’ll test out this year. Each week has a separate section for seed starting, transplanting and sowing. My intention is to make notes and adjust as I go along, if necessary. I might even make some notes of harvests just for reference. Next winter I can look it over for what worked and what didn’t, make the adjustments I need and apply it again the following growing season. For now, I’ve got thirty weeks of the year all planned out. Consulting the schedule it says it’s week 4 and time to sow the peppers!

Enlightenment of a Sort

As I write this the wind is howling and freezing rain is pelting the windowsills. Still, there has been enough decent weather recently that I’ve officially emerged from the “do nothing” months of winter and started tackling the larger projects I’ve been contemplating for months. So far this year I’ve managed to arrange a contractor to fix the front sidewalk, get married, make a dent in some of the junk purging, and start picking out the materials for a kitchen update. I’m anxious to get gardening now that I’ve got some forward momentum.

With a few dozen pots of plants to observe growing away under one of my new fluorescent fixtures something has occurred to me.

Under the Lights

I noticed the plants at the edges of the tray were leaning in toward the bulbs more than I’ve seen in past years. You can kind of see it in that pot of tomatoes to the right of the orangeish label. (Ignore the horribly leggy cilantro in the back, there. I started it on the windowsill and didn’t get it under lights soon enough.) It occurred to me that my previous light fixtures were quite a bit wider and the bulbs were spaced farther apart than in these new ones.

Light from Above

From above I can see they don’t even provide full coverage for the width of one flat when they’re low over it. I have another hanging parallel to this one and I was planning on placing flats perpendicular to them to get four under each pair of fixtures. Not sure what to do at this point. I wish I’d thought of that when I bought them. For now I’m just going to rotate the rows of pots within the tray. This is going to be a pain when the plants get larger and go into larger pots.

Indigo Apple and Amish Paste

In better news, the tomato plants are growing well enough that they may be getting potted up by next weekend. Here’s a fun comparison. On the left is ‘Indigo Apple’ and on the right is good old ‘Amish Paste.’ Indigo Apple has been bred to have high levels of anthocyanins and even the leaves are dark with a purplish tinge. The reviews of their performance and flavor are mixed but I thought they’d be something interesting to try this year.

Spinach

The official opening day of the community gardens was yesterday but I was up there a little over a week ago to check on things. Under the leaf mulch the overwintered spinach was looking excellent if a little muddy. I covered it up again because I knew this temporary return to wintry weather was coming.

Artsly Garlic

This week I visited again and found garlic poking up through the mulch. My favorite spring bulb! I couldn’t see what I was doing and the photo turned out blurry so I ran an artsy Photoshop filter on it. Edgy, huh? OK, I’m not an artist or a photographer but, hey, I was excited.

Seed Starting for the Poorly Prepared

I can’t believe it’s been nearly a month since I shared any of my fascinating goings-on here. Believe me, I haven’t been just sitting around–much, at least. March is the month when I seem to emerge from the winter inertia along with the plants and critters outdoors.

American Flag Leek

Seed starting actually commenced weeks ago with the onions, shallots and leeks. Here are the American Flag leeks waving their seed coats up toward the shop lights. Today they got their first haircut.

In the time since the leeks and their ilk were sown I started a few other things as well. Then last weekend I got started on my favorites, the tomatoes and peppers. In the past my system was to sow a couple of seeds together in a tall, 2” pot. I have tons of these around from back when I grew Paphiopedilum orchids. If both of the seeds germinated I would just snip off the weaker one. If neither germinated I’d have wasted the space that barren pot was taking. This year I decided to sow multiple seeds in 4” pots and since they shouldn’t be in there too long and need a lot of root room, I cut the pots shorter for easy access. Or, at least I started doing that after I realized what a pain it is to get to seedlings in a pot as tall as they are. (See left-hand pot of leeks above.)

Early Jalapeno

Anyway, after potting up a few kinds of peppers as seen above, I realized I didn’t have nearly enough pots. Either I hid them very well from myself or I purged a little too aggressively last fall. As I was contemplating driving out to the garden center yet again, I was hit with a brainstorm…

Paper Pot

Paper pots! I quickly rolled and folded up a bunch and I was back in business.

2015-03-15 11.42.17

See how meticulously I placed the seeds in the potting mix? I also labeled the tags with the number planted in each pot.

Paper Pots in Use

Once the plants have reached the size where they can be transplanted I’ll move them up to individual 4” pots. Those will be plastic pots because they will be more durable for moving around under the lights and transporting out to the garden when they are ready. I’ll have plenty of time to get out to the garden center before then. I’d better start making a list.

Shooting Toward Spring

A few weeks ago I started testing dozens of packets of seeds and was pleasantly surprised at the results. Most had high rates of germination including the ones most near and dear to me, the tomatoes. Another survivor, which came as no surprise, was the snap peas. Once the testing was over, I just couldn’t bring myself to discard the sprouted seeds so I potted them up. They’re a nice little bit of early gardening and when they’re a little larger I’ll enjoy adding their tender shoots to a salad.

Pea Shoots

Truth in Labeling

You pay your money and you take your chances.

Not Amish Paste

I was so excited to pick my first reddening-up “big” tomato yesterday. I’ve gotten a few little cherry types so far and most of the plants are setting fruit but this is the first of the non-cherries to show color. It stood out among the  others in the bed like a beacon. Stood out a little too much, in fact. It was in the Amish Paste bed. Well, I thought, maybe I mixed some other tomatoes in for variety. Nope. I checked my plan and it’s supposed to be Amish Paste but there’s no way it is.

Amish Paste

These are real Amish Paste from a few years ago, back when I was growing them from seed. That’s the key, I guess. This year all my seed-started tomatoes and peppers were a failure so I had to resort to buying plants. I can’t recall where I got this mislabeled one. It could have been mixed up by the grower or a careless shopper could have accidentally swapped the label. In any case, it’s renewed my determination to start my own plants next year from reliable seed sources. Now I just hope my Mystery ‘Mater tastes good because it looks like it’s going to be productive.

Dear Peat, We’re Through

Dear Peat,

We’ve gardened together for years, and I appreciate all you brought to our joint endeavors, but I think it’s time we parted. I can’t kid myself that our relationship is sustainable any more so I’m moving on. I know we’ll be crossing paths if I buy some started plants at the farmers market or garden center, but I believe we can be adult about it and not make a scene.

Also, I feel I owe it to you to be up front about this. I’ve found someone else and we’re going to give it a try and see how it works out. You may have heard of Coco Coir. I picked her up at the garden center. We started some seeds together the same day. Yeah, I know that sounds kind of fast, but despite what’s going on outside, spring is going to come eventually and there’s no time to waste.

Take care of yourself and don’t feel bad. The world’s changing and you just don’t fit in my vision of it any more.


In other words, I’m just not comfortable buying peat-based mixes any more. So, in search of an alternative I’m giving coco coir a try. The coir came densely compressed in a brick wrapped in plastic. I broke it in half to fit it in the tub for soaking. It took up quite a bit of water. Wish I’d measured the volume difference before and after.

1 Soaking

Once it was thoroughly soaked I broke it up and fluffed it some. It nearly filled the container.

2 Fluffed

Just for the heck of it, I worked in some perlite I had laying around. The coir seemed kind of heavy and I thought the perlite might lighten it and improve drainage.

3 with Perlite

The final test was to sow some seeds. I picked out a few things to grow some microgreens and sowed them thickly on the coir. Step one, germination , was successful!

4 Seedlings

A month later I’ve got some nice lettuce…

5 Lettuce

…and some spinach. The seed coats stuck to the tips of a good number of the seed leaves. Any idea how to prevent this? I’m going to just have to pinch them off before harvesting.

7 Spinach

There are beets, too! Mostly golden but there’s obviously a red one in the mix. They suffer from the same persistent seed coat problem.

6 Beets

The biggest disappointment so far is the arugula. It’s small and chlorotic looking. I have fertilized it lightly but that doesn’t seem to have helped.

8 Arugula

I can’t blame the medium since the other greens are doing just fine. Besides, I can’t go back to peat. Not after all the things I said.