If you garden, I’m guessing that even though the ground may still be frozen, you are already working on your future crops. If you like growing more of your food from seed, you are most likely getting seeds started for plants that have longer growing seasons than our erratic Wisconsin seasons allow: tomatoes, broccoli, cabbage, eggplants, peppers, Brussels sprouts, onions, cauliflower and romanesco, as well as herbs like sage, rosemary, and thyme. If you have not started yet, it’s not too late, but you really should get going this month. We will once again be selling Seed Savers Seeds, and all of these seeds listed are potentially available at either site. Each store will have a variety of very basic seed starting supplies available. East will have plastic seed-starting trays and domes (both full- and half-flat sizes available this year) as well as a starting mix that is lighter than a standard potting mix (which is also usually fine to use). West will have seed starting peat pots as well as other gardening supplies to get you started. If you are looking for more than what we have to offer in seed-starting supplies (or anything garden) please check out who we buy from—Paradigm Gardens at 4539 Helgesen Drive in Madison.
A new seed of a slightly unique sort will be gracing us this year at Willy East the first week of April—seed potatoes. You can grow potatoes from the organic potatoes you buy to eat, however many conventionally sold potatoes contain inhibitors to stop them from growing eyes, which is what you need to grow more. Some believe that the best way to grow potatoes is from seed potatoes grown from a culture, which is what we will be experimenting with selling this year at East. I have never grown potatoes, but I’m going to try this year with my boys. There seem to be many tricks to growing potatoes but there’s one in particular that intrigues and confuses me in all its counterintuitive glory. Apparently, as your potatoes work their sprouts up out of the soil towards the sun, you need to cover them with more dirt. Not just once either, but a whole bunch of times. In fact you want to keep the tuber like parts completely out of the sun.
As with growing anything, there are other rules and tricks to grow with ease and to avoid pitfalls like bugs and disease. I suggest you grab your favorite gardening book and see if they have a section on how to grow everyone’s favorite tuber. Both of our stores plan to have an eclectic and rotating assortment of gardening (as well as homesteading) books available, but if you are not seeing a title or topic you are looking for, please ask as we may be able to get it. Madison Public Library also has an excellent selection of gardening books, so check them out too.
Starts for sale
If you are not the gardener that needs to get everything you grow started from seed, or if you’re like me, one who only daydreams of doing so, rest assured that Mark and George have our backs. Once again the Co-op will be a stopping point for the beautiful vegetable and herb “starts” that start out in the greenhouses of Mark Voss of Voss Organics and George Kohn of West Star Farm only to land in your yards and patios. At East, many of you have favorites from both of these vendors, and you often request your favorites while I am out in front of the store watering. I have some advice for you: make me write it down (or do it for me on bright paper so I can’t lose it!). I love to carry what you love and what has worked growing here in our climate. What is available varies from week to week but watch for those great basil plants (you people buy so much basil, it’s a bit crazy) as well as tomatoes, peppers and more herbs to arrive at our stores the last week of April/first week of May. I’ll remind you now and I’ll say it again when they get here, though, that if you plant these outside before Mother’s Day/second week of May, you will most likely need to protect your plants from cold nights. Buying your plants earlier gives a gardener more time to “harden off” their starts before putting them in the ground. These plants are given time outside the greenhouse at the farms before they come to us, but it doesn’t hurt to give them longer transition to all day in the sun and outside.
This is also a good time to sow seeds of plants that don’t like to be started indoors and then transplanted directly outdoors. This includes many root crops like carrots, beets, turnips and radishes, which all also like the cold a bit anyway (especially the radishes which are a great easy, early crop). Corn, beans and peas also like to be sown directly outdoors as well as squash and melons (both of which like it warm). Again, most of theses seeds should also be available at either store, and if not, it can possibly be arranged (although, sometimes it may take a few days).
Although to some it may seem as counterintuitive as throwing dirt over a sprouting plant that we here at the Willy Street Co-op really, really want you to grow your own food, but we really do. If by growing all or a small portion of your daily fare, you shop here less, we are happy because growing your own food is not only an opportunity to be more in touch with the amazing plants that nourish our bodies, it also offers a possible glimpse at understanding the food systems in our communities.