Every once in awhile it’s fun to get a great surprise. This weekend I answered the call on our local NextDoor app to help pick blackberries at a local non-profit farm and got a sweet one! Tucked behind the local middle school here on the west side of Nashville is the coolest garden project I’ve seen in a long time.
The Bellevue Edible Learning Lab garden is an oasis of a garden that shows off the beautiful volunteer work, company sponsored structures and an explosion of color. As you walk up to a wisteria- covered, rough-wood gazebo you are greeted with piles of produce that are for sale to the public on Tuesdays and Saturdays. Baskets of garden gloves are ready for willing hands and Miss Deborah is happy to direct you to a task. Saturday’s conscription was to pick beautiful blackberries that lined the western edge of the 1 acre garden guarded by a flock of purple martins.
The garden provides opportunity for all to invest in something bigger than themselves. Whether you’re young or old, there are jobs to be done and lessons to be learned. The BELL Garden provides an opportunity to everyone in the community to come together and even encourages the students at the middle school to take part. My mom would have loved this! She was a pioneer in her day of teaching the value of the garden in her fourth grade classroom in Upstate New York. I remember her writing grant proposals for garden beds outside her classroom and using some of that money to purchase red wigglers to demonstrate composting with her students. Ellen was a garden trailblazer and she would have drooled over this opportunity.
If you’re local, stop by the market on Tuesdays from 4-6pm and Saturdays from 9am-noon or check out the BELL Garden website for information on volunteering! If you’re not in the Nashville area, check out your local agricultural extension for information on projects near you. You might be surprised by what’s around your corner!
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.
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 wrapIF you are using a container that does not have a plastic lid.
Label Maker or Masking tape & Sharpie
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.
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
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!