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Bill's Lenten/Spring Gardening Advice, Week 1


Plant those seeds!
One can easily get cabin fever in the Northeast when snow storm after snow storm arrives on one’s doorstops.  One remedy is to peruse those seed catalogs and dream of warmer days, but if you have already dreamed your dreams and picked out what you want to grow, and are ready to get started, the end of February or beginning of March is a good time to “start from seed” some of those veggies you want in your garden this year.
Starting Your Seeds
Here at MV, the first seeds to get started are the broccoli and cabbage plants; we plant two types of cabbage: red and green, and have decided to use an early variety of green cabbage, since that one usually makes it into late summer sauerkraut recipes before Karen heads back to the classroom.  To start your seeds, then, we re-cycle whenever possible, and use old strawberry containers as growing flats.  They are clear plastic containers with slots in the bottom for bottom watering, but you could use any type of pot with holes in the bottom for bottom watering.  On the bottom of each pot, place 2-3 layers of old newspaper fit to cut the pot.  Fill the pot with “seed starter,” a growing medium you can purchase at any garden store.  Plant your seeds as directed and then add a thin layer of vermiculite on top.   We also use small sticks, like Popsicle sticks, to write the name of what seeds are in what pot.   Bottom water the entire container, meaning immerse the pot up to one inch of its top in a sink full of water.  Keep it in the sink until the ground is saturated.   You can also mist lightly the top of the vermiculite.   Place pots in a sunny window, south facing if possible, and wait for the seeds to begin to sprout.  Using seeds packed for this season (they are all usually dated) will ensure a good germination rate.   You can also use grow lamps if you do not have a southern facing window.
seed starting
Transplanting Seeds
Seeds will usually set out two small leaves when they first emerge from their seed pods.  These are the first set, but they are really a false set.  You need to wait until you see the true leaves, the second set.  The first set is actually just the covers of the seed pod.  When you see your second set of leaves, you can begin to think about transplanting.  Mix in a large pail: 6 cups of potting soil, 2 cups of seed starter and 1 cup of vermiculite.  This will be your “good earth” for the growing seeds.  You can use a variety of cups (like coffee cups) or small pots for this next step.  Make sure each has a hole on the bottom for good drainage, but once they are in their own pots, top watering is usually OK, though bottom watering is also fine.  Transplant carefully each seed with its second set of leaves, being careful to disturb as little as possible the root system, which will be quite fragile at this point.  If you choose to continue bottom watering and have several cups, place them in a tray of some sort and pour about an inch of water into the tray and let it be absorbed by your plants.
Moving Your Plants Outdoors
If you can access to a green house, even a small one, or a cold frame, as soon as the temperatures are above freezing, you can put out your seed cups to get them used to outside temperatures.  You have to remember to bring them in every night, however, if temps are going to go below zero each night. It is easiest to take them out in trays.  With our winter thus far, we can’t even seem to get too many days with temps about freezing this year, so that may be a bit off yet.   Broccoli and cabbage are cool weather crops, so they can actually go in the ground when the temps start staying above freezing during the day and night, and that may be around Easter this year, with Easter landing on April 20th.  When you are ready to plant them in the ground, follow seed directions for spacing, but we usually plant cabbage and broccoli in our raised beds, so whatever “row directions” might be on the individual package, e.g. every 6 inches,  every 12 inches, etc., we make sure they are spaced that way all the way around.  We then heavily mulch the new plants all the way around with straw.
There is an old Irish tradition that says the first crop to go in the ground is your peas, for you can usually plant peas on March 17th, the feast of St. Patrick’s.  They are another cool weather crop and peas are directly seeded right into the earth, but the way this year is going, we may still have snow and ice on the ground March 17th, so we will see.  A heartfelt prayer to St. Patrick might help, or maybe one to St. Isidore, the patron of farmers would be a good one, too!
If you’ve already got your cabbage and broccoli started and your peas are simply waiting for those over freezing days, the beginning of March is also a good time to start your tomatoes, peppers and eggplant seeds, which is what will be on the agenda this coming week.
Happy Seed Starting!!