Over the past few years, I have half-heartedly joined the ranks of city folk attempting to be more sustainable by urban farming. Most of my yard is covered with plants other than grass and I’ve got chickens (much to the dismay of one set of neighbors) roaming around. While on one hand I’m lucky to have a yard to tear up and experiment with growing my food, it also means more work and mess, especially if you can’t seem to control your desire to shred turf and start projects. It is great, though, to see my kids eat green beans off the vines, so I keep starting projects and some survive. Sometimes I even grow enough to completely support all of the rabbits, birds and bugs on my block.
Ordering the seeds from Seed Saver Exchange for the Co-op has been a great learning experience for me in growing my own veggies and in learning suggested planting times. You may have noticed that seeds started re-appearing here at the Co-op in January this year. I remember it seeming a bit crazy to me at first how many of you were asking when the seeds would arrive last year while I was in full hibernation mode with not a single seed-starting thought in my mind. I have Mother’s Day etched in my head as the safe time to put plants and seeds in the ground. Why you needed seeds in January, my bear-like head did not want to comprehend. Fret not, it didn’t take too much arm-twisting to get me looking at my seed catalogs and ordering earlier this year. I’ve also tried something new to ease into the seeds arriving this season by having them arrive in shifts based on their growing seasons.
Longer growing season
The seeds that arrived first were mainly for plants that have a longer growing season than our weather allows (like broccoli, Brussels sprouts, eggplant, kale, onions, peppers, tomato, oregano, rosemary, sage, thyme). These plants do well started indoors in March and transplanted outside when it’s warmer (early-mid May).
Seeds can be started in just about any type of recycled containers (ice cream, milk, yogurt) or you can buy seed starting materials (like inexpensive black plastic trays or seed starting peat pellets). There are pros and cons to each but it’s easy to keep costs minimal. With either choice, your seeds need light (a window is not enough—use a cool white fluorescent for about 16 hours a day. Keep them close to the bulbs, they can almost be touching), heat (the seeds like to stay warm, keep them on or near your furnace vent), and moisture (keep them just right—not too much water, not too little and allow for good drainage). You still probably have time to start these types of seeds, but these are plants that are also typically available already started for you as transplants beginning in early May through June (and maybe even July if it’s a cool summer again) from Weststar Farm and Voss Organics.
Even if you are container gardening, you can start seeds ahead of the outdoor growing season. Still start your seeds in a small growing space (container). This will make it easier to keep them warm and cozy. When you are ready to transplant to a larger container, be creative with what you use; last year I had a friend who grew tomato plants in doubled-up plastic shopping bags hanging from the banister on her front porch. She produced enough tomatoes to eat fresh and can for the winter.
As much as I hate to confess, I am a bad leafy green-eater. I don’t really eat kale or spinach or arugula or chard or any of it. I don’t know why the reluctance, maybe just my unyielding Taurus ways. I see people buying these green bunches all the time, but you seed buyers may just be the ones to convert me. You really love growing this stuff! The number of seeds you all purchase to grow greens greatly outnumbers any other type of seed. So this year, I’m going to grow some of your favorite greens in my yard (I may even try to eat them!), and bring in some new varieties for you to add to your garden collections. Look for new varieties of arugula, spinach, beets, cabbage and chard. Actually, now that I think about it, there are new varieties coming of about everything! We are even going to hopefully have seed potatoes available.
I invite you to join me in trying to grow something this year. If you start small enough, you may not even notice that you’re working on being sustainable until you get to eat your work. Check out all the great gardening books at the library, look for articles online or grab one of the garden books we have on special this month. Just grow something.