With spring right around the corner, we decided it was time to start our first indoor seed plantings. We are, perhaps, slightly premature, if not over-eager, but armed with a good grow shelf and greenhouse, we ignored the foot or so of snow still on the ground and began planting.
We did not start seeds indoors last year, and ended up regretting it sorely. We built a small greenhouse, but without adequate heat and without the thermal mass of larger greenhouses to provide buffer on bitter cold early spring nights, we could not plant our seeds as early as we would have liked. So this year, Alex designed a grow shelf that holds 4 growing trays with lids. Our light is provided by 6 32-watt T8 fluorescent bulbs (the most energy-efficient available, I think they were Sylvania Ecological). Constructed out of 2 by 4s and a bit of plywood, it is rugged, yet easy to build (it took Alex a couple of hours). I'm attaching photos, and if you are interested in more details of how he built it, feel free to email me.
This year we are taking the organic garden one step further and planting only heirloom varieties. Heirloom plants are indigenous species that have not been genetically modified,and have often had their genetic heritage preserved for decades, if not centuries. I have touched upon one of the very important reasons that we need to preserve heirloom seeds in a previous post, in which I talk about genetically engineering plants. We are at great risk of losing thousands of years of genetic diversity by allowing corporations to patent new plant species and then distribute them on a massive scale. Our American diet is about 75% composed of only eight species of plants (including corn, canola, and soybean), and those plants are now primarily genetically engineered.
Through the span of man's existence, it has been estimated that we have eaten nearly 80,000 various species of plants. Humans currently have in our culinary repertoire about 600. Those forgotten species of plants represent huge nutritional and medicinal diversity, disease resistance, and flavor combinations that are at risk of being lost forever. You see, in order to preserve seeds, you have to grow the plant- you can't just harvest seeds and keep them for years. They are a living entity, and must be grown and harvested in order to continue the line. That is why we decided to grow heirlooms this year: to help preserve our agricultural genetic heritage (and to try varieties of plants we had never even seen before, like Cherokee Purple Tomatoes or red Dragon Carrots).
We ordered all of our seeds from Seed Savers, an organization dedicated to preserving heirloom varieties of various fruits, veggies, and herbs. On February 28, we sowed our first indoor seeds. I planted an entire tray of mixed greens, so that I can have an early harvest of baby lettuces for salads. We also planted the cooler weather crops: broccoli cauliflower, onions, cabbage, arugula, spinach, chives, various spices, and brussel sprouts. My husband is going to do a greenhouse experiment, growing some tomatoes and peppers in 5-gallon buckets in the greenhouse, so he went ahead and got those started (normally we would not plant them yet).
We used peat pellets (though we are seriously looking into more eco-friendly options for later plantings, since harvesting peat from peat bogs is environmentally disastrous), the kind that are small discs until you soak them with water, and they slowly pop up into planting cores. We labeled each row with markers made by cutting some laminated number cards I no longer needed (I am a "retired" teacher)- we are always trying to re-use things instead of buying something new, whenever possible, to cut down on waste. I wrote the type of seed and planting date on the marker. The lids were put on, trays set on the grow shelf by the window, and we turned the lights on for 12 hours each day.
Our first seeds sprouted a mere two days later. Wow! That was fast. The photo attached to this blog was taken on March 5, almost one week after initial planting. Even the tomatoes are sprouting already, which is a good sign. We will keep the sprouts in the grow trays with lids until they reach the lid and their roots are starting to protrude through the bottom of the peat. Then they will be transplanted into small pots (we re-use the pots that seedlings come in from the nursery, as well as cottage cheese containers, yogurt containers, etc.). And if Mother Nature is cooperating, those seedlings will be transplanted to the ground, using protective measures when necessary, with the earliest transplants going in about 4 weeks before our last expected frost date (which around here is around May 15).
We will be doing another round of plantings in a few days (probably over the weekend). Watch for more on our organic gardening adventures, including cold weather protection methods, some new tools and implements we've acquired to make things easier, our attempts to start a CSA, adventures at farmers markets, the chicken coop, the Nubian goats, and more!