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Organic Gardening

Get dirty, have fun and grow more food with great gardening tips from real-life gardeners.

Seed-Starting, Part 1


Seed starting begins at Candlemas — also known as Groundhog’s Day or Imbolc, depending upon your belief structure — or February second. After dinner, we light a new candle and break out the seeds, potting soil, and planting trays. We plant all of the tomatoes and the early spring crops — some mustard, kale, broccoli, cauliflower, celery, and cabbage.

By Spring Equinox, the cold hardy crops will be ready to be planted out in the first bed and covered by our repurposed windows cold frame and the tomatoes will be bumped up to four inch pots and distributed to other homes. This year, I am trying an experiment.

Because we have a new greenhouse, I am playing around with when to start planting. Every week, starting in January, I set out a six-pack of lettuce and mustard seeds on the greenhouse shelf, just to see if they would sprout and grow. The answer was — no. They all came up within a week of each other at the end of January and are growing at the same slow rate. No real gains there!

However, I double planted all of the cold hardy crops on Candlemas. Half of them are in my classroom, under a light, warm and cozy, surrounded by talking adolescents. The other half are in the greenhouse, sitting quietly on the newly constructed shelf by the window. I also direct seeded several rows of lettuce, arugula, and mustard in the garden bed under the shelf.

I am hoping that the cold hardy plants will sprout and grow as well as the ones inside, although I will always sprout the tomatoes in class. I’ll let you all know how it goes in two weeks!

Click here to read Part 2.

Charlyn Ellis has been growing vegetables since she was five years old, when her mother bought her her first rake and pitchfork. She and her family are urban homesteaders and have a large organic vegetable garden, fruit trees, a beehive, four chickens, one rabbit, and two cats on a small urban lot in the center of town, surrounded by college students. Charlyn considers permaculture principles when she makes changes in her designs, especially the idea that the problem is the solution. Find her online at 21st Street Urban Homestead, and read all of Charlyn's MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here

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