Monday, January 30, 2012

I'm Planting!

   You might remember that wonderful calendar I mentioned in the last blog, the one that tells the best times to plant according to the planets and such. It told me that Saturday and Sunday were leaf days. So, I began to plant our herbs and some cold leafy greens in the basement.
   The process is really simple. We have these nice shelves and grow lights set up downstairs. I use plastic “flats” with a plastic “top” underneath to catch the excess water, hold plastic packs of 36 cells to plant into, and have a nicer clear plastic top on the topside to hold the heat in and keep the mice out (farmhouses have a healthy supply of mice and they dearly love tasty little sprouts).

   I reuse the soil and the plastic cell packs from the years before for most of the new plantings. Some people say that the soil should be heated in the oven or microwaved or whatever to kill bacteria. We don’t own a microwave and I have no intention of killing my soil microbes before I need them to help grow my plants. But, I’ve also never had a problem with bacteria in my seedling trays. (You’ll have to make your own judgment if you want to do this method of bacteria killing or not.)
   So, I check my calendar, gather my seed, fill the cells with soil, pop in two seeds (I believe they need to have a friend to grow with), water (we include a sea mineral in our water to help boost the little guys), and put the top on. Then I place them under the lights, which are just shop lights with no special bulbs or anything. The basement is about 65 degrees right now so I’ve hooked up a heater to help warm it up. We also have three small, handmade heat trays for the tougher to sprout items. Some herbs and the peppers like the extra warmth.

   The lights are hooked up to a timer so the plants have a “night time” to rest. When the plants are about an inch or so high, I’ll take the lid off and turn on the oscillating fan. The fan blowing across them helps to make their little stems sturdy, keeps them from reaching so badly. Another method I use to keep them from becoming spindly is to keep the light close to them so they aren’t reaching for the light. I raise it as they get close to touching it, just a little at a time.
   Today was a “fruit” day so I worked on my peppers. This year we are sprouting them in bags that are placed on the warm radiators. This will help us to know we have full flats, no empty cells, saving on space which is becoming more scarce in the basement every year. I can fit about 50 flats down there right now, but we plant about three times that much to transplant in the fields later.
   My system…ziplock bags, a marker to write on the bags (don’t forget to write on them what is in them!), paper towels or napkins, seeds, my planting list, and water.

   Here’s what you do…Wet a piece of the paper towel and squeeze out the excess. Lay it out and sprinkle the seeds on half of it. Then fold it over the seeds, slip it into the ziplock, seal, and label. Put them in a warm place. Light doesn’t matter since they don’t have light to sprout in the ground anyway (only matters for those seeds that require light to germinate, read the packet if you aren’t sure). Check every couple of days. When they are sprouted, take some tweezers and place them into your soil, cover, water, lid on, under lights. Wha-la!
   Word of advice…learned the hard way…if you are planting peppers – DO NOT put your hands on your face, nose or especially eyes, after touching the seeds! Wash your hands extensively before doing anything like rubbing your face. Believe me…not fun!!

   I’ve planted my herbs and some cold crops such as kale, leeks, brussel sprouts, etc. in the basement flats. The cold crops will go out to the hoophouses fairly early, maybe by the end of the month. The herbs will get transferred to some shelves upstairs after they are up and going. Peppers will go into the flats downstairs, and the latter half of February I’ll start tomatoes. I might use the same radiator method for those.
   We move plants out as they get larger and sturdy, making room to start more flats of seedlings. They go into the greenhouse next to the garage. That way if we have a cold spell, we can hook up a heater. The plants that like the cold go out to the south hoophouse (plastic top) and the larger hoophouses until ready to transplant.

   We are mailing our seed orders this week! Quite a bit of seed we save ourselves, which saves a pile of money. The seed we save is stored in a special refrigerator in the basement until needed. Beans, peas, peppers, tomatoes, tomatillo, flowers, corn, etc. We also save our own wheat, rye, barley, and oat seed as much as we can. The crops that are biennial, such as beets, and some others such as carrots or radishes, we don’t bother to save. They are difficult to clean and the seed is cheap enough to buy every year.
   Well, that’s it for the planting for now…off to get ready for syrup season!


  1. That is quite a production you have going on there. I love the detailed explanation step-for-step of how you work through it all. Thanks for the post and best of luck on this year's crops!

  2. Oh, man! I'm pooped just from reading about all of this! Wake me when it's time to eat all those goodies. And I'm looking forward to reading about the syruping you're doing. I am always astounded at all the work only three people do! Amazing!