Veggie Seeds in Richmond

Here it is, seed starting time again! Love this time of year. Trying to plan out what I want to plant, what to try, what not to plant, where everything goes… We always overgrow everything here anyway, usually give away a bunch. But its time to start with basic timing facts.

If you are starting indoors this year, then you should have some basics down:

On the packet of seeds, there is a germination or emergence time, and a harvest time in days. In the description of the plant, most will tell how far in advance to start, like Tomatoes, Egg Plant, Onions, and Peppers take the longest. Our last average killing frost is around April 15th. Notice I said, Average..  Me? I’m in the ground on the 15th, no matter what. I’m not afraid to cover a couple of times for frost, I eat first in my neighborhood. So back to the packet info. There’s also a Planting Chart for zone info. We are Zone 7a here in Richmond, Sunset Zone 32. Parts of Oregon are 7a, but different Sunset Zone. That’s just a mathematical equation for length of day, angle, intensity which sometimes comes into play for planting times and longevity of the season. That’s why I also do “succession” planting on the really fast harvesting veggies like Radishes, Green Beans, etc. Some I am picking thru Thanksgiving. That’s why I bought a freezer last year.

So starting indoors will be in about a week for me of Tomatoes and Peppers, maybe a few Eggplants. I have my racks set up already which is very simple. I have a 2 gang flourescent fixture and a 4 gang on 2 racks. I don’t use grow lights. All you need is different bulbs in them, like a soft white and a cool light, or any combination, just as long as they are different. Why? Because any two different tubes will give the same spectrum of light as a Grow Light, but way cheaper. My racks are on wheels so I can roll them out later in March on warmish days to harden them off before transplanting, which I have several ways of doing.

Here is the scenario:

Have your light fixture in place over your seed starting tray at about 2″ from the top. If you are us

ing the store bought starter trays, make sure to keep a slight gap in the lid or you may get a fuzzy black fungus growing in there. Use only a seed starting mix. Not potting mix. You don’t want any fertilizer to start, makes them lanky. As the seeds germinate, there will be only 2 leaves for a bit, they are not “true” leaves. They are looking for intense light to convert sugars to the roots. After the 3rd or 4th leaf appears, now the plant is looking for food. Some folks topdress with a potting mix at this time, or use a water-soluble fertilizer with an N-P-K of like 18-18-21 or so. Others just sprinkle a bit of 10-10-10. For the Organic approach, Fish Emulsion works great.  You still want the light at about 2″ from the top of the plant. If it’s too far, the plants get tall and lanky, then collapse. Dont forget to keep the soil moist, it does dry out quickly under light.

Simple huh? So while the seedlings are getting ready for transplanting in about 8 weeks, you should be prepping the bed. I usually compost layer my garden through the Fall, toss a bit of lime on it, and maybe a thin layer of manure and let it “cook” over the Winter. In early March, I will till all the goodies in, rake it out smooth, 10-10-10, water, and cover with clear plastic until early April… See my “Solarization Made Simple” entry. You’ll see why. But we’ll get to that later.

I Know It’s Cold, But….

The time is right to start thinking about that vegetable garden, now… Instead of drudging through the cold part of the year, and getting “house madness”, I opt to start my garden in my head. What went wrong last year, went right, wanted more of, some of… Yeah. All that is buzzin’ around in my head. So, the first thing I will do is figure out how much more space I can conjure up on my property. I will even make use of growing food in large pots that almost made it to the dump. I have already amended the old part, as well as composted a newer part I will till in March. Yeah, I will have more this year.

But when do I?…… Start the seeds, start saving milk jugs, solarize, etc…. First things first. The seed racks are out already, and I have some dried out from last year. The proper timing in my experience is this, and its streamlined, you betcha…. On every pack of seeds, there are some important bits of info for you, after all, those folks have been selling seeds a long time, and it’s their job to keep us straight. There is a growing zone chart on when to plant outdoors, height, width, depth, spread, row length, etc. But the one piece that  most people ignore, is the “emergence” time.  That is the time to expect the seedling to pop up and say hello. Here in Zone 7a, my last average killing frost is around April 15th. Sooo, I will take the timeframe they say for each individual crop, add 3 weeks, do the math and subtract that many days from April 15th, and thats the day I start that particular plant, indoors…. Too soon, and I will have to repot because of root mass, and who has time to do that over and over, plus the space it will take, and too late and my neighbors are eating fresh veggies before me. Nah. not me.

There are several hundred ways, creative, and marketable gadgets, to start seeds in. It’s a great feeling to see the little guys pop up, but here’s the thing. From the time they emerge, they are hungry, so now feeding is going to be a priority. They don’t get food in the soil while germinating, or it will make them leggy most times. I want my little fellas to come up, and sprout leaves soon. Then I will start a little balanced feeding. When that happens, they start to root out more, which is a good thing. From root, you get bloom, from bloom, fruit. So less leggy leafing, gets me more root mass, see? If I have to repot, then the feeder roots keep getting disturbed, and start producing more leaf, which takes away from my precious root mass. So one transplant time is good enough for me. Matter of fact, when I transplant to the garden bed, I place bottomless one liter bottles on them, then feed so the food isn’t right at the root. My guys have to work for their food by spreading their roots to get to it. After all, I have to work on picking it later. It’s kind of a thing we have, me and the plants that is.  Wow. I’m picking Green Beans and Squash in my mind already. Yeah. I’m ready. But there is a little more to do yet.

Later we will discuss the art of solarizing a garden bed and setting up the irrigation, etc. But for now we need to remember High School Biology a little. It takes seed to soil contact, moisture, and light to get your seeds off right. I will add some pics (hopefully) on a cheap, easy seed starting contraption and even a easier way to transplant to the bed, without even touching the plants. Time to get creative a little on your garden sense. After all, I do know those folks out there who did this stuff last year for the first time, and you are wanting to go, now… Timing people, timing and planning will get you off to a better start with memorable times next Winter, when you are still eating veggies from your own garden, instead of buying them. The time is coming. Start planning. If you need to get something going now, and just can’t stand it, go out and get some cuttings from a bunch of your Spring blooming trees and shrubs, bring them in the house and put them in a vase with water in a well-lit room. They will explode waaay sooner than outside, and maybe give you a little hope that it will be warm soon… Just a little.

Are We Dirt Ready?

   OK, it’s been about 6 weeks since we have been getting prepped. Either we have decided to go container, raised bed, or in the ground. Seeds have been started, they should be full and leafy, roots coming out the bottoms of the root balls. Maybe given a small shot of food. Solarized beds are showing substantial growth, maybe even some insect life. All’s well if you obtained that. Raised beds are built, amendedand cooking. Containers should be rinsed with a light bleach solution if they are being re-used. Gravel, Styrofoam peanuts, hair curlers, bag of green Army Men, whatever, for drainage in the pots ready. Compost cooking all Winter for amendments is getting ripe now. Shorts in Walmart, Bikini’s in Target, Tomatoes at the box stores…. We are ready but Ma Nature still has some unpleasantness in store. For 2 years in a row, we have had some sort of freezing precipitation on April 7th. We are not out of it yet.

   Unless you are prepared to baby your tender veggies, don’t jump the gun yet. Row covers are not all that fun, and won’t hold up 1/4″ of ice which is what we usually get in April. We have plenty of time to grow, but we are running out of time for the prep. Remember, some of you (and me) are planning to show a difference in our food bills this year. I have been mentioning the old “Victory Gardens” of yore, and now the spin is “Recession Gardens”… I kinda like that. It will mark our point in history in years to come. Whenever someone mentions “Recession”,  most of us will also remember the great Tomatoes, Green Beans, Squash, Melon’s, Cucumbers, etc., that we relished on during this time. Even bragging like over blown fish stories. To make it through, we need to be “Dirt Ready”.

   This term is not just soil in a bag ready. It should be thought of as, “Do I have the right tools to maintain my dirt, is my dirt properly bedded, and most important, am I ready to get dirty?” Michelle Obama proved to the nation last week, that you can dress classy, and get dirty. I don’t think for an instant, that she would have hesitated to get on her knees to plant something in that photo-op. I really don’t think it was a put on. I think the media thought she was just going to be the figure head. I believe she shocked them when she picked up a shovel and knew how to use it. I believe she would, or maybe after the cameras were gone, she did, get down and dirty in that garden. I wonder though, if memories of her childhood were flowing through, of her gardening with Dad, or Grand Ma, or whoever. Playing in dirt usually brings back pleasant memories of someone in your past. Dirt. Who would have thought we were right as kids. Why did someone always yell out the back door at us, “Don’t get dirty!” And what did we do? Got dirty… It was almost as if we were not supposed to know the joys of dirt.

   Advantages of getting dirty. Stressed at work? Play in the dirt. Want to amend a frendship or make up with a spouse. Go plant something together.  Want atonement? Plow a garden plot for someone who can’t. Karma is a wonderful thing. Ahhh, dirt. You can learn a lot from its complicated biological formation. We came from it, and we will eventually go back to it, maybe that’s the attraction, I dunno… I have 5 children, and 3 Grandchildren. I always encouraged dirt. Don’t think I was ever the one yelling about the dirt on them. I mean, it washes off you know. Yeah, my offspring are dirt ready. I can only hope that when they plant, they think of me. They are after all, my personal garden. And I am proud to have “dirty” kids. Yeah, they will feed me when I’m 80.

   So are we dirt ready, because its getting close to get dirty.  I would recommend though, if you are planning to prove what you can save on what you grow, NOT to wear what The First Lady wore. That wouldn’t be cost effective. Let’s get dirty.

Upgrading the Past

   Its great to be able to get the garden in the ground. Fresh babies all in a neat and tidy row. Got all the right tools for the new season. Plenty of fertilizer, bug killer, weed killer, oyster killer, killer killer. I’ve spent about $ 250.00 so far…. Wait, I’m supposed to be “growing” , not killing? Wait, the media and commercials are promoting all this to make my garden “foolproof”. Wait again. I want to be Eco-friendly. Why does it cost more to buy “Eco”? Its less harmful stuff, right?

   I get so tired of hearing this. Plain and simple, go ask your Grand Parents how they did the “Victory Gardens” back in the day. There was no bagged goods, no special applicators, no “green sand” products that cost a fortune, and by the way, for all you “Sustainable Gardeners”, anything that has to be “Harvested” is NOT sustainable. We harvest Green Sand, Peat Moss, Bagged Soils, etc. Oops, I let that slip out. I’m sure that somewhere in your neighborhood, there is someone who has an abundance of Oak leaves, Pine Needles, etc. that goes to the local landfill. I have seen great stuff growing in the landfill. Mother Nature must be proud. How do you think she feeds her own? Green Sand, I mean COME ON!

   OK. Back to your backyard. It’s March, It’s getting close. First timer? Old Hat? First Timers, meet Old Hats. They are the ones that can grow anything right? You had problems last year, and probably blamed something. Weather, stupid seeds, wrong media advice, long vacation, bugs, the old “Brown Thumb” syndrome. But the Lady down the street fed the entire block out of her 15’x20′ plot. How’d she do it? Oh, she’s made mistakes before, but only once. See, gardening is like a nice soothing lesson. You do, you screw up, you correct, you enjoy. That’s the difference between Gardening and Landscaping. There are no rules in Gardening. If you are following rules, then you are only Landscraping. How hard is it to get a seed in contact with moist soil? How hard is it to get good soil? Leaves fall to the base of a tree in the woods. No one cleans them up. They decay, and turn to dirt, compost if you will. Not the first empty plastic bag in sight. 

   Back to Old Hats. Its simple folks. If we haven’t learned from our own mistakes from just last season, and we don’t heed the Old Hats advice. We won’t make it, especially now, when everyone is putting in some sort of plot because of the economy. We will buy all the killers while trying to get something to live. Find an Old Hat. They love to teach, share, help. There’s nothing new under the Sun. It’s all been there since the dawn of time. So have the Old Hats. So have Garden Coaches. Find one.

Seed Starting in Richmond

Seed Starting in Richmond is a timing issue to most. Some have great assets such as a South facing window, or even a small Green House. Those who don’t, here goes.

Start by doing some simple math. See the “Emergence Time” on your seed packets? Add 40 days to that, and then think about our Zone. We are in 7A here. April 15th is our last “Killing Frost” approximate date. That means that we should be able to plant seedlings out without getting bit by frost. Now, back to the math. Subtract 40 days from April 15th, add the emergence date on the packet of seeds, and settle on an about time to seed. I am “kindofagambler”, so I usually start when I’m ready for change. Which will be verrry soon. Just like seeing the little guys coming up, and I’m not afraid to cover them up when the forecast is going to turn bad. Later issue.

Now, there are several ways to start your garden. Seed starter kits can be store bought as a kit, replicated with egg cartons, empty plant flats, pudding cups, deli tray platters, etc. I like to re-use what I find. (Sorta lessening my carbon footprint). Make your own mind, but hurry, It’s almost time.

Seed starting mixes are done to death. I use what Ma Nature hands me. You can use the soiless seed mixes to get started if you need to. There is no “dirt” in them, mostly peat. You shouldn’t feed when seeding anyway. Feed after leafing. The thing to remember is this, “Don’t plant so early as to get your little guys in a root bound situation before its time to transplant, or they will die.. Just plain die”. Do the aforementioned math and you will be hooked forever!

OK. Lets go.

Get your seeds, growing medium, containers, labeling ID stakes, location or growing get up, and patience. Seed to soil contact, water, sunlight. Thats it. Simple? You betcha. There are a lot of ways to copy Ma, but you need to remember, it is doable. Some prefer to make a “Grow Box” using a tote, PVC pipe, and a plant light. That’s great for the North facing folks. The rest can use a narrow flat in a window sill to get results.

The planting instructions on the packet are there to get you growing. The seed companies have spent a lot of time playing with the formulas to get you eating veggies in your own gardens. Pay attention to them. Emergence, moisture, sunlight, depth, etc. Its all on the packet. Not a bad deal to get baskets of fresh veggies all Summer for $1.69 or so. Go ahead, get dirty.

Now that the “simple” part is done, let’s get a little more physically drained. Where are you going to plant your seedlings later? In about 3 weeks it will be time to tend to your garden plot. We will address that then, but now, you need to decide. Pots, tilled bed, raised bed, naturalized, etc. Where is the room coming from. The average size family of 6 can eat comfortably from a 20×15 plot for about 8 months or more. Holy cow! And that’s without chickens! I have seen a lot of folks with10, cheap, 18″ pots with the craziest stuff growing from them, ALL year. Come on, get dirty. Small plots going vertical, balconies lush with plants, and even water gardens supporting tomatoes!

Yeah…. Its time.. Put a seed in the soil, it will grow, you will eat, you will share with your neighbors, they will return the favor and the flavor, you will cook, you will learn, You WILL be hooked!! You will save money, and Ma Nature will be proud…. Get Dirty!

Garden Coaches are out there waiting for your decision. Call one or e-mail one (Kevinthegarden@verizon.net) for example.. We’ll grt you dirty!