5 Steps to Healthy Seed Starting

I’ll be honest, I started this post in February.  My excitement was high and seeds were calling my name as they waited for those vital components to grow: warmth, moisture & air.  I got everything kicked off, photos taken and when my post disappeared before my eyes in a flash of technical mayhem and lack of content saving I chose to forego the redo for a bit and invest my time in more seed starting.  The moral of the story here: “Jesus saves, so should you!”  For my friends in the north, you’re still in great shape; for my neighbors down south, it’s time to get a move on people! 

Before we begin there are a few items you will want to gather or purchase to kick off this project:

Seed trays – the ones I’ve used here were purchased at Lowe’s for $5 a piece. There are 72 cells in each and I’ll only get a couple of uses out of them but for the price – not bad. You don’t have to buy anything special though. I have used plastic berry containers with great success. You simply want to make sure there are holes for drainage in the bottom of your container.

Seed starting mix – I look for an organic, sterilized mix like Burpee Organic Premium Potting Mix

Large bowl & spoon

Water (preferably filtered or boiled and cooled before use). I fill my tea kettle with water and boil it and then let it cool to room temperature several hours before I work with seeds. This purifies the water of chlorine that can inhibit or stunt seed and plant growth.

Seeds – Oh the choices! My priorities are organic & non-GMO. After that I pick what my family will eat and flowers we’d like to pick. I ALWAYS try at least one new variety each year. It keeps it fun. This year we’re trying several new flowers for the cutting garden as well as San Marzano tomatoes, green round zucchini and Rainbow Fiesta okra. I can’t wait!

Plastic wrap IF you are using a container that does not have a plastic lid.

Label Maker or Masking tape & Sharpie

Let’s go!

  1. Fill your trays: Pour several cups of seed starting mix into the large bowl and add enough water to moisten the starter throughout. Make sure you mix thoroughly so the starter mix is evenly moist. It should stick together when squeezed but fall apart easily. I take loose handful of the mix and place them on the trays and draw the mix across to fill the cells to the top. Don’t press the mix into the trays as you want to keep air pockets throughout.

2. Plant your seeds: Plan seed placement as if all of your seeds are going to germinate. I like to do two seeds per cell. If they both germinate they will do fine until it’s time to transplant or bump them up to a larger container. If only one germinates you have plenty of space for root growth. More than that tends to get crowded unless you’re going to prick out multi-seeds but we’ll save that for another lesson.

Now, tuck your seeds into the soil. You’re going to want to plant them about a seed depth into the soil. Watermelon or pea seeds will be planted quite deep compared to tomato or lettuce seed. These tiny seeds will only get nestled just under the surface of the soil. The little blue dauber I used in the photo below was great but I’ve been known to grab a sharpened pencil to accomplish this task.

3. Label your seeds: I mean it. LABEL THEM! Use a popsicle stick, label maker or masking tape with a Sharpie but somehow, some way label your seeds unless you want to discover mid-June that the 5 thriving tomato plants you gave pride of place in your limited garden space are NOT the amazing Roma variety you thought you were planting for the quarts of sauce in your dreams but rather the tiny cherry tomatoes that you ended up giving away by the bucketful because there is only so much you can do with kajillions of cherry tomatoes. Nuf said.

Label People!

4. Cover and warm: Cover your seeds with the clear plastic top that came with your starter or a simple piece of plastic wrap if you’re using a different container. You’ve already provided the moisture your seeds need in the seedling mix so simply cover and place in a warm spot. One of my favorites is the top of the refrigerator but I invested in a couple of warming pads this year for the shelves in the garage that keep the trays at a perfect 76 degrees.

5. Watch & wait: Check on your seeds every day after 2-3 days. Once your seeds have sprouted THEN they need sunlight. Remove the plastic and continue to keep your seedlings moist until it’s time to move out to your garden or container. Southern exposure is the best and I’m fortunate my garage has south facing windows. I always thought this was an old wives’ tale but my tiny garage windows that face South do better than my picture windows that face East and West.

A final note: Your seedlings may get leggy as they reach for the sun. When you transplant these into larger containers or into your garden don’t be afraid to plant the whole leggy part into the soil. This portion will produce roots quite quickly and simply make your plant stronger.

Next up: “Bumping Up” your seedlings into larger containers

Grandmum Burgess’ Carrot Cake

I don’t want to start a fight here or anything but my Grandmum’s carrot cake is the very best carrot cake, hands down.

2/5/21 carrot haul

Yep, I said it. You might think you’ve had the best but unless you’ve had this recipe – step back. Fact is, my Grandmum couldn’t have cared less who had the best recipe. She just kept herself very busy, working with my Grandpa to take care of their family and anyone God led into their lives. Waldo and Lenna lived on a massive 1/4 acre in downtown Quincy, Massachusetts and through thick or thin (including the Depression, wars and rationing) my grandparents home was open and tea was on the table.

I remember summers when they would visit us and settle in to enjoy “farm life” on our 5 acres in Upstate New York. Grandpa Burgess would help my mom in the garden while Grandmum would shell peas or grate carrots for her famous cake. I loved the cake but hated the raisins that my mom would ask her to include. Carrot cake doesn’t need the extra sweet, in my opinion, so I give you the real, the original, BCCE (best carrot cake ever).

For those of you who know my family and the way we eat, this is a very Saturday treat!

Best Carrot Cake Ever

  • Combine oil & sugar in a medium bowl and beat in one egg at a time. The mix will become fluffy.
  • 1 1/2 Cups Oil (I use coconut oil)
  • 2 Cups sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • Mix together:
  • 3 cups grated carrots
  • 1 grated apple
  • 1/2 C. crushed pineapple
  • 1 C. chopped nuts
  • Add in:
  • 2 C flour
  • 2 tsp baking soda
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp salt

Combine all ingredients and pour into a greased 9″ x 13″ pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes or until firm and caramel brown on top. Frost with this simple, delicious, not-too-sweet cream cheese frosting.

Cream Cheese Frosting

  • 1 stick butter (4oz, softened)
  • 1 block cream cheese (softened)
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 2 cups powdered sugar

Beat all ingredients till smooth and frost your completely cooled cake.

Kale… It’s what’s for breakfast

My mom was amazing at a lot of things but one of the things I remember most about her gardening was that she found a way to use everything she planted. What wasn’t fed to us, or friends, was given to the horses or compost bin. Nothing went to waste. Instead of horses I have chickens but the challenge is still alive. It is mid-winter here in the mid-south and while picking is slim we are blessed with plenty of kale, carrots and crimson mustard greens. The carrots are a yummy addition to any meal and while the mustard greens are pretty and abundant, my family has deemed them best as fodder for the chickens. It’s time to put the kale to good use.

Stir Fry Kale

  • 4 cups fresh kale (torn into bite sized pieces)
  • 1/2 T Butter
  • 1 T Nutritional Yeast
  • 1/2 t Apple Cider Vinegar
  • 1/4 t onion salt (Trader Joe’s is my go-to)

Heat your pan on medium high and melt the butter. Add your kale and top with the dry ingredients. Sprinkle the ACV over the whole lot and stir fairly often for 4-5 minutes so your seasoning mixes throughout and your kale doesn’t burn.

Serve with eggs or eat alone. This recipe makes two portions packed with vitamins A, K, B6, C, calcium, potassium, copper and manganese, fiber, thiamine, riboflavin, antioxidants, amino acids and B-12. Whew! You just thought you were having breakfast!

Dreamy (Almost) No-Dig Vegetable Garden Project

This past year has been a wild one but afforded our family the time to start our first serious garden project at this house. I started the plans in November when my boys were out of the country with no idea that we would have ALL THE TIME WE COULD WANT to get it off the ground (or is that “in the ground”?)

We’ve completed SO many indoor projects in the past four years (I promise that one of these days I will post about our hall bathroom, game room and basement bathroom remodels), but it’s time to head outdoors. Our goal was to have a big enough vegetable garden to provide for our family with dreams of having plenty to share with friends and neighbors. Honestly, I also wanted a project big enough for my three children to be able to pitch in as well! Hard work is a great teacher and so much fun.

We planned for 32′ x 18′ of fenced space for annuals (I’m not interested in sharing with my wild neighbors) with an additional 3′ on each side for perennials. We’re starting this experiment with Charles Dowding’s no-dig approach. (As a side-note: if you need a way to escape the craziness of life, Charles Dowding’s YouTube videos are inspiring and really restful.) Now, let the digging begin. No, no digging. Well, we did dig the holes for posts but I think our garden still qualifies. My oldest daughter, Annika, and I got the holes dug for the posts in about a week. Not bad! We chose 6′ cow fencing for our sides and left a 4′ space on the east end for an entry gate.

Next we posted on NextDoor for cardboard boxes and were able to collect plenty to cover the entire garden area. Our walkways and entry area needed a solid mulching so we sent a request to ChipDrop and got a beautiful FREE load of wood chips from a local arborist. We found a local landscape company that had a February special that would deliver garden soil if we purchased 5 yards so $150 later, we were set. We spent a few days with the wheelbarrow and placed the materials in a pattern of rows that I planned out with the help of the Farmer’s Almanac online Garden Planner tool. We were ready to… wait. It was only the end of February. Our last frost date isn’t until April 27th dang it! Patience is a virtue and indoor seed starting is about to become a new skill.

My husband thought I needed a little shed-type entry area to hang tools and provide some shade for our house critters that like to visit the garden with me. He built a 4′ x 6′ garden hut that is perfect for all of us. That’s Misty the dog and Winter the bunny taking advantage of the shade – getting a break from their hard work.

Overall we have been extremely pleased with the results of the project. We were amazed at the amount of vegetables we have harvested and the fun it has been to cultivate. If I were to start this again there are a few things I would change. First, I would have made sure there were NO exposed seams in the cardboard. The weeds we had in the garden (namely: Bermuda grass, wild chive and dandelion) all came up through the spots that we did not layer the cardboard at the seams. We continue to weed those spots but hope with diligence that they will clear out eventually. Second, we would have dug a trench round the whole project. Because Bermuda grass spread with runners as well as by roots and seed, we are now digging a trench that will be maintained to spot those stragglers. All in all, it has been SO worth it.

Getting Dirty

Its time to face facts.  Gardening and landscaping in my new yard is not going well.  My plants are lackluster (unless it’s a violet), puny (unless it’s a violet), and unimpressive (unless it’s a violet).  I am discouraged but not beaten and I think it’s time to stop adding, amending and irrigating and start getting some answers.  I am turning to the wise minds of the UT Extension Institute of Agriculture for help and answers.  It’s time to test some soil.

dirt

For $15 UT Ag Center will complete a Basic Test that covers Water pH, Buffer Value, M1P (Phosphorus), M1K (Potassium) ,M1Ca (Calcium),Analysis M1Mg (Magnesium), M1Zn (Zinc), M1Mn (Manganese), M1Fe (Iron), M1Cu (Copper), M1Na (Sodium), and M1B (Boron).  Additional testing available as well but for this first run I’m going to stay basic and see if I can get some answers – maybe even an understanding of why violets love my yard so much!

As per the instructions, I’m headed out to do a zig-zag collection of soil from my yard and beds.  I will be collecting about a cup of soil from approximately 6″ deep. I could pop on over to the Ag Center’s office but for my convenience, I’ll probably just mail this in.  If you do this make sure to follow the directions: “Do not place your check in the soil sample box.”  I’m sure that bank loved that!

Are you wondering how your are can produce better results?  Want to join me?  If you’re in Tennessee there are handy instructions, costs, and directions for collecting your soil at https://extension.tennessee.edu/Hamilton/Documents/Agriculture/Soil%20Testing/Soil%20Testing%20Packet.pdf if you are out of state, contact your local Agriculture Extension Office.

To be continued…

4 Steps to Test Your Old Seeds

January leaves me with time on my hands.  I was starting to crave a gardening project and ran across the idea of testing your old seeds to see if they are worth planting.  The fact is, I have a bag of seeds that I haven’t wanted to throw away because I remember the good stuff we grew. Some of these are looking mighty questionable though. I’m sure there are better ways to store seeds but I do well to stash them in the garden cupboard.

It’s a simple matter that only took 5 minutes to put together and a couple of days of patience – kinda like popping seeds in the soil in spring.  Only this yielded quicker results… to my decluttering efforts.

  1. Choose several of each variety of seed you want to test and arrange them on a damp paper towel.
    fullsizeoutput_1323
  2. Roll them gently to keep your seeds in individual rows and keep the moisture in,
  3. Put your roll of damp seeds in a Plastic bag to retain moisture. fullsizeoutput_131c
  4. Keep your seeds in a warm spot for a few days but keep in mind; seeds need moisture and warmth to germinate but not light – a closed cupboard is just fine.  Check them after 2-3 days for progress.  Mine took 5 days to show progress but it was in the single digits outside when I did this.

My results are below with the results in red to the right.  Way to go Asparagus pole beans!!!! Broccoli and  tomatoes brought up the rear but I’m not wasting precious garden square footage with a 50% chance of success.  Looks like it’s time to get out the seed catalog!  And I get to throw the rest away.  Ahhh! The satisfaction of decluttering.  Now, on to bleach those nasty tile counters! fullsizeoutput_132b

So much time…

2018 Calender…and so little to do in the garden.  I actually attempted to rid one of my future flower beds of weeds but realized the rediculosity of my endeavor when the plants just broke off in my hands.  Did I mention it was 22 degrees?  There is such a things as futility.

A friend of mine is plunging into the Master Gardeners course at our local extension and I crave the possibility of doing this someday but now is not the time.  Between homeschooling, work, home renovation, restarting my own gardens and a household to manage, this goal has to wait.  I am so looking forward to diving into my new dirt this year though!  The UT extension website has an incredible resource, free for the copying.  Check out your free 2018 gardening calendar here: https://extension.tennessee.edu/publications/Documents/W436.pdf

Not a Tennessee gardener?  Check out your local Agricultural Extension for fantastic resources.  I’m getting ready to use my local office to have my soil tested.  There’s no use fertilizing dirt that doesn’t need it or using the wrong materials.

Baby Gold Peaches

 A new discovery! We get our best fruit from Bulk Natural Foods, a co-op of organic and naturally grown produce.  if you’re in middle Tennessee check out bulknaturalfoods.com This month they had the first of the fall fruits available.  Beautiful Gala apples and Baby Gold Peaches.  These peaches are pretty different. You don’t want to eat these fresh but rather mid-winter after being jarred for a bit. Their firm flesh is perfect after being stored in a simple syrup.

I’m experimenting a bit. While eating a THM diet, sugar is off the table for me. Frankly, I’d like to get sugar out of my house completely but the rest of my family is a little slower on the bandwagon. I’m making a few jars of peaches with sugar syrup, a few with a blend of sugar and erythritol, and some with a syrup of stevia, erythritol and xylitol.

We’ll have to wait til Christmas to find out but these beauties look so pretty I have great expectations!

Update: Success!! These babies are worth the effort! Deemed “really yummy” by my youngest and ready to eat right away! 

 

What to do, what to do?

It’s heading into late summer and I’m debating wether to plant one more crop or not. We’ve had beautiful tomatoes, an abundance of peppers, onions with real flavor, and herbs galore.  The “volunteer state” has given us an extra season of tomatoes and cantelope that are taking over. Who needs a patio anyway? A late season, perfect tomato is worth losing some real estate for a couple months.

With the nights getting cooler and days not quite so blistering, I’m left wondering what more I can get from my little plots before I put them to bed for the winter.

Veggiegaeden.com offers a simple chart of ideas to get a bit more from your kitchen garden. I’m opting for beets, carrots, spinach and peas. It’s time to get planting!