Start Seeds This Weekend

April 15, 2011 § 1 Comment

What kind of crafty, homey, cooking, gardening type of person do I think I am if I can’t find somewhere in our condo to grow some seeds??

Yes, we live in the “garden level” unit (think Laverne and Shirley). Yes, we have zero natural light. Yes, we have your average city person’s complaint of lack of space. BUT! What Dainty has is a will to get things done and a complete hatred of whining that I can’t do something.

So, instead of letting another spring pass by during which I complain about not being able to start my own veggie seeds, I decided to create space somewhere, anywhere.

While we have your typical South End rowhouse-type one-floor apartment that has VERY little storage, we do have a 3-ft. wide by 18-ft long storage closet that is a GEM. It’s unbelievable. Storage like this is unheard of here. And, it’s one of the reasons we bought the place. It’s stuffed to the gills with pantry items, jackets, sporty-spice stuff, a small freezer, bins of guest sheets towels, and even our wine. There had to be some extra space in this room to start a bunch of veggie seeds. And I found it.

seed starting area

This is a small space about 18 inches wide and tall and about 2 ft deep. I had a bunch of duffel bags sitting on top of some towel-containing storage bins, in a Metro Shelving-type coat rack kinda space. Just to the right of the bins are hanging a bunch of jackets. If I remove the duffel I get a nice flat surface.

Next I bought an 18-in. long fluorescent light, some chain and some S-hooks. I hung the light from the top rack using the S-hooks. It’s important to have the lamp hanging like this so when the plants grow taller, you can move the light up. Having the light at the very top to start with will make the little seedlings “leggy”, that is, they’ll get thin and stretchy. Not good. You want the light close to the seeds when the germinate.

Okay, next I planted some seeds in some pots. Got an old plastic yogurt container? Old milk container? Old pots? You can use anything that can contain soil, so use it. I happen to have a bunch of Cow Pots—yes, they are made out of cow poo but they don’t smell, check out their web page—so I used those. Oh, and they are plantable, too. The seeds will germinate in them and when the plants are big enough you can plant the entire thing into the ground or into a patio container. Pretty cool.

I filled the Cow Pots—which are 6 connected little pots better known as “packs”—with a special soil for starting seeds. I happened to pick up something from MiracleGro. Any good quality potting mix should do the trick. Then I put the filled 6-packs onto an old baking tray and then filled the tray to the rim with water. The pot and soil sucks up the water. Capillary action, remember that from school? Anyway, give them about 30 minutes to absorb the water in the tray.

During that time, plant your seeds! All I do is make a little divet in the soil with my pinky. The larger the seed, the larger the divet. These little pots are about 3 inches square. I made three divets in each cell. And I put two seeds in each divet. Am I even spelling divet correctly? Hmmm … Be sure to label what’s in which cell. If you’re mind is going like mine is, you’ll forget what you did within the hour, so make a record of it.

Once the water was all absorbed, it was safe to move the trays and pots to their new home. Voila! A seed starting area set up and going in nowhere and in no time at all. Now, all I have to do is wait.

Seed starting area

What Did I Plant?

It’s still cold outside folks. Nights still get chilly here, and only some plants can take it. Chard, spinach, beets, carrots, lettuce, cabbage and such can be planted outside now. Seeds can be sown directly into the soil, too.

But, the big bonanza plants just can’t survive quite yet. Those would be veggies like tomatoes, squash, peppers, melons, zucchini, beans, pumpkins, corn. You can sow their seeds, but the chill isn’t going to do them any good. Better to start them inside now – or even a couple of weeks ago – so they’ll be a good size to plant out in the garden at the end of May. That’s right, I said end of May for most everyone here in the Northeast. It’s not that they’ll die at even the slightest chill. They just really really prefer to grow with some heat. Wouldn’t you? Anyway, the weekend before or during Memorial Day is a good time to plant these outside. You could and can do it a bit earlier, but I prefer to give them optimal growing conditions. May’s it for me.

I’ll post updates of my little babies as soon as they hatch!

The Really Slow Food Movement

March 18, 2011 § 1 Comment

Slow food – either in the home or in a restaurant – is something I believe in. It’s flavorful, aromatic, enjoyable and really hits all the senses. I get that – and I absolutely love it.

I am, however, a big big believer in the really sloooow food movement. In fact, I’m working on a spinach salad right now. Should be ready in about 40 days, if we get some good weather.

You guessed it – I’m growing the spinach myself.

Spinach is one of those cool-season crops that you can start as early as March. It’s a tough character and can take chilly weather. Think of it as a Patriots linesman at Gillette in January with short sleeves and lovin’ it. Yes, it’s mild outside today – what plant doesn’t love 65F? – but temps will drop, believe me. And spinach will be able to handle the temp fluctuations.

I have a garden plot in the Washington-Rutland Community Garden – aka the Gazebo Garden – right across the street from Flour Bakery in the South End. Our plot is one of about 40 in the fenced-in lot, former site of I believe three rowhouses from back in the day. At roughly 15 ft x 30 ft, it’s one of the largest plots in the garden. And, after more than three decades as a community garden, I’m still finding bits of broken glass and the occasional spark plug while digging around.

 

My garden plot is within the two railroad ties on the left and right, and ends right beyond that white bag.

I know I said spinach can handle coldish weather, but it certainly does respond when given a bit of warmth. I’m helping my spinach seeds along by creating some warmth with a coldframe. This is the concept: It’s an enclosed space topped with a clear material like glass or plastic. When I was a kid my parents made a coldframe by creating a rectangle with hay bales and then putting old glass windows on top. Sunlight comes in, heats up the space, and the plants grow while the air outside is still chilly.

Hay bales? Old window frames? I’m not down on the farm anymore – I needed to find another solution.

Last year I made a 2ft x 3ft x 2ft wooden box, filled it with organic soil and grew my carrots in it. Why I did that is a story for another time. But, there it was, sitting there in my garden, unused and topless. And I had one of those light-bulb-going-on-over-my-head moments: Put a piece of plexiglass on top and make a coldframe!

My awesome coldframe!

So, the plexiglass top has been in place since Sunday, covering newly sown rows of carrots and spinach. I checked on it today and the soil was nice and warm – something that seeds trying to germinate would really appreciate. I propped the lid open just a tad, too. More for the photo than to cool down the interior. And, because the top was on during Wednesday’s rain, I had to water it, too.

So, here it is propped open. In a perfect world, the plexiglass would be attached to the frame and there would be a device that would allow the top to be opened in varying increments. Actually, in a perfect world the top would open automatically in response to a solar and temperature sensor. But, this’ll do.

About those spinach seeds: I sowed just one row last Sunday. This weekend I’ll sow another, and so on until the end of April. That way I’m not stampeded by a crop of spinach all at once. I may let the first two batches mature in the box but eventually the box will fill up. At that time I’ll just transplant the seedlings out into the ground. If this year’s crop is anything like last year’s, I may have some to share with you.

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