If you live in the eastern part of the US and the Midwest, you might feel that winter will never end. However, we are actually just a few weeks until spring officially starts and less than 8 weeks that most of us to be out of the danger of having frost! While you are waiting, make the most of your time by sowing some seeds to transplant for the spring. In the next few weeks, I will be sharing the time to start some of these seeds to grow some local produce and plant some in our little urban garden in West Asheville. I am starting my summer vegetables that need a little time to grow before its time to transplant them in mid-May. Tomatoes, peppers and eggplant are what we think about in the height of summer but it is winter when we think the cold and dark will never end that we bring them to life.
I purchased these seeds from our local Sow True Seed Store www.sowtrueseed.com which is in downtown Asheville. My tomato collection includes the Cherokee Purple, a native to WNC, Arkansas Traveler (in honor of my Ozark roots), and the Amish paste for a little sauce. I selected the Long Purple eggplant and the Big Red and Orange King sweet peppers. I will plant some basil even though I already have it coming from my spring garden. I do not start hot peppers but my husband will get lots and lots of bedding plants from the tailgate market. I do not do hot.
In years past, my tomatillos grow like weeds and reseeded themselves but past summer, we had a very sad crop so I am sowing a few of these also. I am planting both the purple and green varieties.
You may wonder, why do you need to start these inside, can’t you plant straight into the ground?
Tomatoes, peppers, eggplant and tomatillos cannot take the cold and frost and cannot go into the ground until around Mother’s Day (even longer depending on where you live). However, you cannot put these seeds directly into the garden in May because these seeds take a long time to grow into mature plants and before you would start bearing fruit, it would be cold and frost again.
To start your seeds, you will need a tray and some little peat pots or cell packs. The nice thing with the peat pots is that you can directly transplant into the garden. I have a lot of cell packs so that is what I am going to use. If you are re-using the cell packs, rinse them in warm water to clean any bacteria from these from the previous year to prevent disease. Fill your little containers with good seed starting soil.
For my choice, I walked across the street from Sow True Seeds to Fifth Season Gardening http://fifthseasongardening.com/ and picked up a bag, they also have the trays, seed packs and other things that you will need and they sell Sow True Seeds as well as Southern Exposure Seed Exchange http://www.southernexposure.com/which is also a great small company that focuses on heirloom, open pollinated varieties.
Baker’s Seeds http://www.rareseeds.com/ which started in the Ozarks where I grew up also has a lot of great varieties.
A new company that I just became acquainted with is Common Wealth Seed Growers http://commonwealthseeds.com/ .
They are saving some great varieties. Heirloom seeds are our heritage varieties, most vegetables that you get from the big box stores are a limited variety and for the most part are not heirloom or organic. So if you purchase plants instead of starting seeds, look for a local farmer or nursery that has heirloom varieties. Many of these heritage plants are at risk of becoming extinct and if we don’t eat them, we will lose them. Another important reason to eat heirloom seeds is that they provide more genetic and nutritional diversity in our diet. Many of the vegetables that we get at the grocery store are uniform and that is because the stores purchase the ones that have grown from from varieties that ship well and look just right not the ones that have the most nutrition or taste the best. You can find out more about the nutritional differences in my book, Farm Fresh Nutrition.
After you select your seeds, get your soil, cell pack and trays, it is time to find a sunny window to plant your little seeds. I always put a trash bag down, then an old cookie sheet and then my plastic tray, then my cell pack. I make a little layer. I have had a few accidents getting my wood floor damp and damaged it. Luckily, I have not ruined my great-grandma’s table!
Put a little dirt in each cell and get it wet. Then read how deep to plant each variety of seeds. Most of the vegetables that I planted today went in a 1/4 inch deep. Mark it well with some masking tape or plant tags so you will remember which plant is which. A small watering can can come in handy to wet the soil lightly.
Take a peek every day and use a spray bottle to make sure that each one of the seeds is slightly damp so it can sprout. Sometimes I do a little watering from the bottom and if you do water the top of the soil, be very careful not to totally drown your little seedlings. Each variety of plant will take a different time to pop up so don’t give up. If you use a good brand of seeds and soil along with making sure that they stay a little damp, they will come up so don’t give up!
Keep watering them and make sure that they have sun and make that the temperature in your house is above freezing! (Don’t leave town without the heat). You may have to rearrange the little packs of seedlings so they don’t get too leggy and if you don’t have enough sun, you may need a little grow light. These little seedlings will need to be “toughened” (exposed to the outdoors) before they can be transplanted. We will save that topic when we get to it in April. If you want to grow your own little sprouts:
1. Get some heirloom seeds.
2. Get some cell packs, trays, spray bottle, old cookie sheet and trash bag.
3. Get some good soil.
4. Get planting!
5. Keep up with them. If you neglect them, they will die. If you leave town, you need to see if someone can make sure that they stay damp but not soaked.
Happy Planting! Let me know what you planted and how it is going! Stay tuned in late April when we “toughen up” our plants. Better yet, stay tuned for more Great Beginnings here on the blog because I will be sharing some more tasty breakfast ideas and we will also start talking about root vegetables. I will also be planting some other vegetables in the next several weeks and digging up the garden. Please share this seed starting blog with your friends so they can start their edible plants too!