For me, the growing season doesn’t start when the glossy catalogs start coming (before Christmas now instead of after the first of the year) or even when the seed packets full of promise arrive in the mail.
Sure, it’s exciting to leaf through and dream about what new tomatoes I’ll try, and to check back and forth between different companies’ offerings to get the right packet size and the best price for the vegetables and varieties I don’t save myself.
The real start of the season is when I mix that first batch of seed-starting medium–when I can plunge elbow-deep into a tubful of warm, peaty goodness and combine all the ingredients with my bare hands–even if I am wearing a ventilator mask at the same time, to avoid breathing peat and perlite dust into my lungs.
My glasses go foggy from the breath escaping around the edges of the protective gear, and the season begins.
In mid-February, I start the leeks, yellow storage onions, and parsley for my small CSA, farmers market sales, and for my own family living her in Southeastern South Dakota. They’re the first seeded crops of the season, and in the case of the leeks, the last to be harvested.
The heirloom Blue Solaise leek seed I planted today came from a crop I started back in February of 2008 and overwintered in the field to the 2009 season, when I carefully transplanted the nice-looking survivors into a bed specifically for flowering and seed production.
It took most of the year for those seeds to fully ripen in the garden, at which point I snipped off the heads and stored them in a paper bag in the basement, until I found time to clean the seed for planting (last weekend).
My operation is really small–5 members in my CSA this year–and the number of leeks I guess I’ll get at the end of the season is about 200 out of the 216 I started today. I should have about 250 yellow onions, and I’ll probably supplement my members’ onion deliveries through another local organic grower if I don’t have enough.
Before all this mixing and starting though, I spent a couple of days washing everything down with a sterilizing solution: the light shelf, the seedling trays, the flats and cell packs. You may wonder why I’m using so much plastic–and that’s a perfectly fair question.
Truth is, I’d love to be using those fancy soil blockers, but I’ve got all these supplies salvaged from greenhouse and garden center businesses, and I can’t stand to waste them. I guess the greenest materials are ones you already have–even if you have to go out back and dig them out of a 4-foot snowdrift to use them, as I did this morning.
I don’t have a ton of room for seed-starting–only enough room for about nine total flats on my basement light shelves. The trick is to have a constant and well-thought-out rotation for seed-starting to make the most of the space–by the time I’m ready to start my next crop, the ones I started today should be ready to start the process of acclimating to the outside elements.
So it goes through the leeks, onions, parsley, peppers, tomatoes, eggplant, head lettuces and cole crops–all the way to the basil–if I decide to start that inside this season. At about the time the tomatoes pop up, I’ll likely also be direct-seeding the first crops in the gardens themselves and moving the leeks and onions to their summer residence in the soil.
It’s probably time to think about putting up the high tunnel I’ve had in several pieces at the farm for the last couple of years in order to provide some extra space for seed starting.
Before I do that, I’ll need to think about which gardens to expand to accommodate the hundreds more plants I’d be capable of growing there–and whether all my other life obligations could go on hold for the time it’d take to care for them.