Seed Starting Part 3: Starting your seeds indoors

After a long winter there’s nothing more hopeful than pushing seeds into fresh potting mix.

For many years I have been starting my seeds indoors under lights before transitioning them to an outdoor unheated hoophouse.

I want to share with you how easy seed starting can be!

I’ll start by outlining what you’ll need to get started:

  • Pots and domes

  • Seeds

  • Potting mix or growing medium

  • Lights

  • Heat mats

  • Shelves

Now I’ll walk you through each of the above items in more detail…

Pots and Domes

I use 11x21 inch trays and fill them with soil blocks. Interested in soil blocking? Read more HERE!

You can also use 4 pack or 6 pack plastic containers. Or plant straight into 3-4” pots. You can find all these options at your local garden store.

So should you choose a larger pot or smaller pot? If you plant into larger containers you won’t have to worry about transplanting later when your plants are getting big. But if you’re growing a lot of plants you’ll get more plants in less space if you use the 4 or 6 packs.

Also invest in a few plastic domes! These will help keep the humidity perfect for seed germination.

Seeds

Read Part 1 of my series on seed starting HERE. It’s all about ordering seeds.

Potting Mix

There are a few products that I really like. If you’re in Anchorage, you can find them at Southside Garden Supply or Alaska Mill and Feed.

1) Pro-mix MP Mycorrhizae Organik. This is a great all-round potting mix and it’s organic! I’m using this for all my seed starting needs this year. It is also working great for soil blocking! Find this in cubes at Southside Garden Supply.

2) Fishy Peat or Alaska Earth - made in Alaska! I’ve had success with both products. They are not organic but are made with wholesome natural ingredients. Both can be found at Alaska Mill and Feed.

3) Fox Farm Light Warrior or Ocean Forest- this company has a variety of potting mixes and seed starting mixes. They use natural products and they work great! Southside Garden Supply and Alaska Mill and Feed carry these.

Note, that if you’re growing a lot of starts, buying a cube will be more cost effective than buying individual bags. Ask your local garden store if they offer these products in cubes!

Lights

To be honest, I tend to be opportunistic when it comes to lighting. I look for free stuff and cheap stuff. And what’s great is that they’ve all worked just fine. So here’s what I’ve used: LED shop lights from Costco, florescent shop lights as found in any hardware store, grow-specific LED lights. All these will do the job! I say buy whatever fits your budget best.

The most important steps when it comes to lighting is 1) to keep the lights just a few inches from the plant to prevent “leggyness” and 2) to give your plants 16 hours of light (an inexpensive outlet timer works great for making this happen).

Heat Mats and Thermostats

For the BEST germination, invest in a a seed starting heat mat AND thermostat made specifically for this. This will cost you around $70.00-$80.00 If you can’t afford this your first season, don’t sweat! But even soil heat at around 75-80 degrees will give you the best seedling germination.

Soil temperatures are roughly 10 degrees cooler that ambient room temperature, so often your soil may be cooler than you think without a heat heat mat.

Shelves

I use simple metal wire shelving so I can stack my seedlings. But get creative here! You’ll just need a place to hang the lights and a place underneath to set your trays.

NOW you’re READY TO PLANT!

1) Fill your pots with damp soil

2) Put 1-2 seeds on top. Your seed packet will give you a germination rate for each seed. If its less than 80% put 2 seeds in each pot.

3) Lightly cover with soil. Just barely cover as light aids the germination of most flower seeds. I like to cover just so there is a bit of soil contact on top of seed.

4) Cover with a plastic dome and place under lights and on heat mats.

Happy planting out there!

Seed Starting Part 2 (a 3 part series): Planning Your Dream Garden

I know it’s the middle of winter but believe it or not, it’s time to plan your dream garden!

To be honest, here on the farm this is a HUGE undertaking. Every year it gets a bit easier but I am always surprised by the time this takes.

As a home gardener your task is a little simpler but give yourself time and have fun!

I want to break down your garden planning job into a few smaller tasks. Next to each task I will have a description on how I do this and a link to an actual PDF sample of my planning tools.

1) Make a crop list. List all the crops you are going to grow!

How do you decide? I like to grow things I like to eat! Start there then browse through your seed catalogs and find a few other things you might like to try.

How do you choose varieties? Read about each variety carefully. For Alaska, shorter days to maturity is important especially with very long season crops (like tomatoes). Also try to read between the lines. What are the descriptions NOT saying. For example, I tried a short season cucumber advertised as a great variety for northern growing. Sure win right? Not quite. The flavor and texture was almost unpalatable. Our chickens feasted on those.

I make a simple spreadsheet with the following information on it: crop (i.e. broccoli), variety (Belstar), source (where I bought my seed), days to maturity or DTM (you’ll see this in the description online or on the back of the seed packet), weeks to maturity WTM (just divide your DTM by 7 - I like to do this cause it’s way easier to count back by weeks than for days to figure out when you need to plant), notes (YOU MUST TAKE NOTES THROUGHOUT THE SEASON ON EACH CROP).

CLICK HERE to see a sample of my planing spreadsheet! I have left on a few extra columns here in case you want to add these on yours too.

2) Draw your garden. Sit down and draw your garden!

I like using grid paper for this. Then each grid increment can be a 1 foot or 6 inch increment. OR you can just draw on plain paper and just mark off your actual garden dimensions.

Pencil in where you want each of your chosen crops to grow. Remember to think about taller plants (or plants that need to be trellised) - place these on the north side of your garden so they don’t shade smaller crops. Crops that stay in the ground the whole summer (like broccoli or potatoes) can be further away from your paths than crops you might harvest more often (like salad greens).

This helps you plan where things go and how much you can fit in your area. This also becomes a record (keep your dated drawings) so you can rotate where you grow each crop in subsequent years.

3) Make a planting calendar

CLICK HERE to see a sample of my planting calendar. I plan by week. Week 1 is the first week of the year - using week numbers (and not just dates) is helpful in order to use past planting calendars to plan for future planting dates since actual dates may fall into different weeks each year.

In order to make sure I’m seeding things when I need to I usually start by planning when I want to harvest each crop.

For example, if I need all my broccoli harvested by September 1st, I’ll count back its weeks to maturity (days to maturity x 7). If broccoli has 66 days to maturity (or 9.5 weeks to maturity) I will make sure my plants are planted in the ground by the end of June. Note that since broccoli is usually started indoors, I need to add additional time for germination (maybe a week) and indoor growth (a few weeks). So I would start my seeds the first week of June.

Remember you don’t want ALL your beans or broccoli or whatever to be ready at once, so stagger your plantings. Each plant is different but Johnnys and High Mowing, two of my favorite seed saving companies, are usually good at suggesting how far to stagger your plantings in order to get a steady supply of crops all summer.

CLICK HERE to read my previous blog all about ordering seeds.

A note on days to maturity (DTM): DTM is a best guess the seed company can give based on when the plant goes in the ground. Crops usually direct seeded (salad mix, peas, beans, carrots, etc) have a DTM from date sown. Crops usually transplanted (cucumbers, tomatoes, etc.) have a DTM from the time you plant them in the ground. I know this is a bit confusing so remember to use DTM as a guide but not as a written-in-stone rule.

So there you go! Now you’re ready to get started planting.

Stay tuned for my next post on actually starting your own seeds!

Seed Starting Part 1 (a 3 part series): 4 Great Sources for Ordering Garden Seeds

I’m putting together a 3 part series on seed starting for all you home gardeners out there!

This first one will give you a look at my favorite places to buy seeds for my home garden and commercial cut flower, salad mix and herb garden.

The second one will cover how to plan your dream garden (STAY TUNED).

The third will walk you through how to start your seeds indoors (STAY TUNED).

So here’s a quick breakdown of where I order my seeds.

I prefer to order all my seeds online. The variety is endless and it’s easy to source organic and heirloom or open pollinated varieties if that’s what you’re looking for.

1) Johnnys Selected Seeds. Johnny’s is a comprehensive seed company out of Maine. They carry almost everything you would want to grow AND have tons of growing guides and resources. They carry organic, heirloom, open pollinated and conventional seeds.

I usually order the bulk of my seeds from Johnny’s as the quality and webpage functionality is outstanding.

They offer free shipping for orders over $200.00.

2) High Mowing. This is a company that sells exclusively organic seed out of Vermont. I love this company because I know everything is organic and extremely high quality. Most of my salad greens seeds come from High Mowing.

They offer free shipping on orders over $10.00! This is a screaming deal.

3) Bakers Creek Heirloom Seeds. A company out of California that sells heirloom and old fashioned varieties. Their prices are VERY reasonable. Their print catalog is also SUPER fun to look through.

I usually only order some rare and unusual veggies or flowers that I can’t find anywhere else. Even though I don;t order much from them each year, what I have ordered has had great germination and good quality. And their packets of seeds usually have way more seeds than other seed companies.

4) Foundroot. I will admit that I haven’t ordered from these guys yet. BUT they are an Alaskan company that I would like to support. They have hand picked varieties that do great in Alaska and cater to home gardeners - which means their packet quantities won’t overwhelm you.

Their webpage and buying options are a bit clunky but I hope to stay tuned as their business grows.

So there it is! Page through some of these online catalogs or request a print catalog. Curl up in your cozy chair and dream about your spring garden.

Oh, and when do I do this?? I start putting together my seed orders in January. If I have any last minute purchases, I’ll do another order in February or March. Don’t wait too long as specific seed varieties do sell out! And, before you know it, you’ll be starting your seeds.

Stay tuned for the next Seed Starting Series on Planning Your Dream Garden!

Do you need holiday gift ideas?! Here are 5 Favorite Books from my Gardening Library

Looking for that special gift for a gardening friend?! Or need an addition to YOUR gardening library? I’ve got you covered this season.

While I know it can be overwhelming to sift through ALL those gardening books (there are so many), when you come across a winner it can be SO valuable in helping your skills grow.

Here you can see a handful of my favorite books that are currently on my farm/garden library shelf.

Read More

10 Must-grows! My absolute favorite varieties from the 2018 flower cutting garden

The end of the growing season is a good time to reflect on what went well and what needs improvement for next year. There is simply nothing that compares to learning things from experience, sometimes the lessons are hard and other times they are joyous.

I’m going to focus on the latter and share with you my ABSOLUTE FAVORITES from my 2018 cutting garden. These flowers stunned me every time I entered the garden with their productivity, abundance and beauty!

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3 Easy Recipes to Dress up your Salad Greens

If you’re like me, you LOVE a salad every day all through the summer!

Now don’t even think of using that store bought dressing. Not only does it taste inferior to your homemade variety, but it can be loaded with yucky additives, fillers and undesirable oils.

Honestly, if I'm short on time I'll just have a bottle of extra virgin olive oil and Grand Reserve Balsamic on our dinner table to drizzle on top.

BUT, if I want something a little extra special I'll whisk up one of the following quick and easy recipes.

ANYONE can make these at home and they sure will dress up your greens!

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Starting Seeds with Soil Blocks

Last year I was inspired to change up my seed starting system to include soil blocking. If you’re not sure what this is, please read on! Soil blocking requires taking a wet grow medium and using a little blocking press to create perfect stand alone squares in which to sow a seed or transplant. I invested in a 3/4” blocker for germinating slow growers and tiny seeds and a 2” blocker for transplanting into or sowing larger or quick growing seeds. These are available from Johnny’s Seeds (my favorite online planting/growing store).

Read More

Grants Galore

I imagined the winter months of 2017/2018 would bring more time for leisure, running, skiing, art, movie watching and more (and in fact I am doing a TON of these things). But I find myself also completely inundated with office work: website creation, bed planning, seed sourcing, and toiling over the application for three grants. Let's hope at least one comes our way in 2018! For a low-profit business like farming, startup money can be slim and grants can be a big help in paving the way towards profitability. Although writing them feels daunting, it's one of the reasons I LOVE farming-the fact that I have to do (and be relatively proficient at) many things: growing plants, designing systems, communication, basic accounting, marketing, business planning, budgeting, etc, etc. Cheers to the new year! And another year of farming!