Spring is one of the busiest and most exciting times for gardeners. We're practically surrounded now by the seedlings destined to produce this year's crops. They're in the loft, on the sills of south-facing windows, protected by a cold frame and in the garden.
Four weeks ago, we planted onion and parsley seeds in flats filled with our best compost. They germinated in the warm darkness of our loft space. A piece of plastic kept the soil moist until my frequent checking discovered germination. Then, the flats went onto the window sills, where they were easy to keep watered, weeded and turned to balance the light. These more cold-tolerant plants were recently moved to a simple cold frame outside. There they'll get more light and slowly become accustomed to changeable outdoor conditions. We may still have to provide extra cover for the onions on freezing nights because these young seedlings aren't quite tough enough yet.
Last week, on the eve of the Equinox, we planted flats of tomatoes, peppers, celery, broccoli and several kinds of lettuce. They were ready to go on the window sill as soon as the onions and parsley were out of the way.
The four large flats of onions will be transplanted into the garden soon enough to provide room in the cold-frame for the tomatoes and peppers from mid-April until they're set in the garden after the danger of frost has passed.
Once seeds are planted, they require vigilance and regular care: Water, light and warmth are all critical. The seedlings reward our attentions with vigorous growth and a bountiful harvest of good eating. They'll let us know if they aren't happy.
We tend toward larger containers which provide greater reserves of water and nutrients for growing plants. If you need to buy a soilless mix for starting seeds, it is probably good to add some compost. It brings life to the mix.
Although growing your own seedlings may seem like a lot of trouble, it is pleasurable work with its intimate connection to the progress of the growing season, the weather and the living things which sustain us. Starting our own is the only way we can get the heirloom tomatoes and really delicious hot peppers we want.
Outside in the garden already, there's arugula, cilantro, lettuce and several kinds of kale coming up in our simple hoop house. This season extender consists of a 3-by-8 foot wooden rectangle which sits on the ground with hoops of old black plastic water pipe arching from the front to the back. A piece of clear plastic attaches along the back edge and to a board which can be rolled up from a closed position in the front to half or all the way open. This time of year, the open ends of the frame keep it from getting too hot on sunny days. At night we use clothespins to shut the ends.
The peas I sowed last week should be up soon. We planted the Early Frosty variety to shell for eating and freezing and Sugarsnaps for in-the-garden snacks. There's still time for you to plant some peas, too. Because germination and growth occurs slowly in the cool soil, a week or two difference in planting at this time of year is not significant.
We've just harvested the final crop from last year, the Jerusalem artichokes which have such a wonderful crunch just before they start their new growth. Dandelions and nettles are providing the first greens of spring.
The next month is prime time for starting cabbages, broccoli, tender flowers, herbs, tomatoes and peppers indoors and peas and greens outside. Discover the pleasure of growing your own vegetables. Now's the time to start.
This is Bill Duesing, Living on the Earth
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