Potager 101 – Starting Seeds
Since I alluded to how I start my seeds I thought I would give a brief “how to”. Like I said before, despite what the books and websites say most of us develop our own technique after a few years of trial and error. Please remember any timing I refer to is focused on zone 5a.
First thing you need to be able to do is count backwards.
Sure thing. Learn the typical “last frost” date in your zone and count backwards about* 8 weeks. Mine happens to coicide with Mothers Day and Big Daddy’s birthday – easy enough to remember. Though it never fails that we end up running out there with sheets of plastic a few nights to protect our little veggies from the cold. I should just as well wait til the 3rd week of May – but I never can, I am too anxious to get started.
(I say “about” because things like peppers and tomatoes and most herbs need 8 weeks, broccoli and cauliflower need 6, and onions… well I blew it for onions seeds this year… they need a lot of time.)
Now, you can use dirt from your garden but you will need to bake it in the oven to kill bad microbes (or something like that) so I choose to start with a bag of Jiffy Organic Seed mix. There are many greenhouse type systems and supplies to choose from at your garden center… “green” products and the like but I am pretty content with the results from Jiffy brand.
The seed packet, your favorite gardening book or a simple Google search will give you details on planting each variety of seed. Some get placed on the top of the soil, barely covered, others planted 1/2 inch, others an inch.
This is where you can get the chickens involved. It is a wonderful time to teach them about seeds, food and where it comes from… the joys of growing your own food. Oh, how happy they will be to pat the dirt down and oh what a mess will be made 🙂 They will LOVE to check the seedlings progress day after day and will find great pride in eating food they have grown from a little seed… so will you!
After planting, lightly water and keep water according to the variety of seed you have planted.
And place in a sunny, warm location.
Midwest sun and warmth is not reliable, so you can see here we are using a heat lamp to keep this tray’s soil nice and warm… peppers need warm soil and I simply use a food thermometer to monitor the warmth of the soil. After four days our first jalapenos have sprouted! Seven more weeks to go!
Even though it’s just a card table and a table cloth I love looking out there and feeling like we have our very own greenhouse… it’s got such a botanical feel with the sunlight, the palms and terra cotta and baby wellies that I added for fun!
After your seeds have sprouted and grown a bit it’s time to take off the greenhouse lid as per your Jiffy instructions.
Different plants may have different directions (some, for example want you to pinch off certain leaves as they grow) but after your seeds have grown and before you plant them outside you will need to “harden them off”. This is the part I really don’t like.
It takes about a week and you begin by finding a shady, protected area for your seedlings to hang out for the day. No wind! BE SURE to bring them back in at the end of the day.
After a few days you can move them into a sunny location for part of the day, then move them back to the shade for the rest… told you it was a pain.
By the end of the week they should be strong enough to handle a full day of sun and they are ready to plant!
Our next class will be later this week on decorative planting. We will then be just about ready to wrap it up so if you have any questions please send them to me and I will do a post about the questions!