Arcadia Farms

  (Portage, Michigan)
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Seed Starting Resources

Those of us who live in cooler climates and who want to get a jump-start on the growing season have been thinking about seed-starting recently. Last winter I shared several informative posts about how and when to start seeds. This winter I thought it would be beneficial to present all of those resources to you in one easy-access post. So without further ado – here are some of my favorite resources for seed starting.

Arcadia Farms Seed Starting Plans

Here’s a peek into how we’ve put all of the advice below together to create our own seed starting plan.

2013 Seed Starting Plan

2014 Seed Starting Plan

Resources

soaking onion seeds in water

Seed Starting Spreadsheet Template

Instructions for how to use this spreadsheet are included on the first tab.

Seed Sources

Here are my favorite sources for seeds (heirloom and open-pollinated).

Soaking Seeds

Soaking seeds before planting speeds up germination by stirring up the process of the dormant baby plant inside the seed’s hull coming to life.

Optimum Transplant Age

Starting seeds indoors helps gardeners in cooler climates to get a jump start on the growing season. But how soon should you start your seeds? This chart provides guidelines for optimum transplant ages of select crops.

Square Foot Gardening Plant Spacing

Here’s a cheat sheet chart to let you know how many plants to sow per square foot. It’s easy to read on your mobile device so that you can use it in the garden.

Planting by Moon Phases

Did you know that the gravitational pull of the moon actually impacts the success rate of seedlings? Check this article out to learn more about the phenomenon and how you can use it to your advantage in the garden.

kale seedling in newspaper pot

Planting in Newspaper Pots

When you start seeds indoors, you need media – a substance to start your seeds in. I’m now using potting soil in plastic trays, but there are several options. Here’s an analysis of them all, along with details on how to make your own newspaper pots.

Keeping a Garden Journal

A garden journal is a tool you can use to keep track of important garden stats and observations. Being able to look back on this information will help you to plan for next year and will help you to identify patterns in your garden that you otherwise wouldn’t detect. In general, a garden journal allows you to record your successes and failures and details that may have impacted the outcome.

Square Foot Garden Seed Tape

Here’s an easy way to prepare for your spring garden while the snow is still on the ground. Seed tape helps you evenly space your seeds for maximization of resources.

Setting Up Your Garden for Seed-Saving

Here is a fabulous webinar video by Seed Savers Exchange on how to design your garden for seed saving. The post includes my summary notes to highlight the key concepts for those of you who don’t have time to watch the whole thing.

Container Gardening Tips

Everyone can have a garden, including renters and apartment dwellers. Here are some tips on container gardening to make yours a success.

Chitting (Sprouting) Potatoes

Chitting potatoes is the act of sprouting them before they are planted. It speeds up the maturity process and it’s super easy. This guide will show you how.

bean seedling

Planting Garlic

Garlic is a staple in the kitchen for many of us. The fact that it’s so easy and inexpensive to grow means it would also be a great staple in your garden. Here are tips for the best type of garlic for your garden, when to plant it and how to plant.

Garden Apps Wish List

For the technologically inclined among us, here are some apps that can streamline the gardening process.

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Planting Garlic

Garlic

Garlic is a staple in the kitchen for many of us. The fact that it’s so easy and inexpensive to grow means it would also be a great staple in your garden. With just a small amount of garden space you can enough garlic to be self-sufficient for the better part of a year.

If you’re like me, you’re destined to spend a decent amount of time this winter dreaming about what you’ll plant in the garden when spring arrives. But if you plan to incorporate a garlic harvest into next year’s season, you’ll need to act much sooner. Though you can plant at any time, for the best results, garlic should be planted in the fall. According to Lynn Byczynski, owner of Seeds from Italy, “Your goal should be to plant within two weeks of the first frost (32°F) so that the cloves develop roots but do not emerge above ground by the time of the first hard freeze (28°F).”

Since we experienced our first frost this week, I’m planning to have my garlic in the ground by the end of this weekend. Here are some things I’ll be keeping in mind as I go (and that you’ll want to take note of as well) for a successful harvest next summer.

Choose Between Hardnecks and Softnecks

Garlic falls into two main categories: Hardneck and softneck. The Daily Green describes the difference like this:

Softnecks, the standard garlics of commerce, are the easiest to grow in regions where the weather is mild. They keep longer than hardnecks, but they are less hardy and more prone to make small, very strong-flavored cloves. Hardnecks do best where there is a real winter and are more vulnerable to splitting – or simply refusing to produce – when grown in warm climates.

Prepare Garlic Seed

Garlic is traditionally planted from cloves which are the smaller sections that can be separated from the larger bulb. It is recommended that you plant garlic from “seed garlic” rather than from a bulb of garlic purchased from the grocery store. However, you can certainly plant garlic from bulbs purchased at a farmer’s market or from the produce section. The risk here is that garlic from the grocery store may be an imported variety that is not well-suited for growing in your climate, or it may have been treated with chemicals that make it difficult to sprout/grow. I’m going to experiment with planting from three sources: Farmer’s market garlic, seed garlic (Chesnok Red Organic) and organic garlic purchased at the grocery store.

Start your planting process by pulling the cloves apart from the bulb. Be sure to leave the papery skin intact. As an optional step, Organic Gardening recommends soaking cloves in the following mixture for two hours prior to planting in order to “prevent fungal disease and encourage vigorous growth”:

  • 1 quart water
  • 1 tablespoon baking soda
  • 1 tablespoon liquid seaweed

Avoid planting cloves that are tiny, dried out or that show signs of discoloration and mold.

Prepare the Soil

Garlic grows best in well-drained, fertile soil. Garlic does not do well in clay soils, which means you may need to amend with sand or vermiculite if you have predominantly clay soil. The soil should also be free of weeds.

Plant the Cloves

To plant your garlic cloves (“seeds”) first dig a 3-inch-deep furrow in the garden bed. Place the seeds with the flat root section down and the pointed section up. If the weather has been dry and you don’t expect rain any time soon, you may want to water the seeds before moving on to the next step.

For those of you with square foot gardens, you can plant either 4 (large varieties) or 9 (small varieties) per square foot. For those of you who garden by the row, 6-8 inches between cloves should be your guideline.

Garlic should be planted in full sun.

Side-dress Furrow with Organic Matter

To make sure your garlic has a rich, fertile environment in which to grow, you’ll want to side-dress your seeds with organic matter. Suggested materials include composted manure, alfalfa meal, garden compost or other organic fertilizer. Personally, I plan to use rabbit manure.

Mulch Away

After you’ve planted your seed and added fertilizer, cover everything with 6-8 inches of straw mulch. I’ve also used grass clippings and mulched leaves. The mulch will help to keep weeds at bay but will also help to retain moisture and moderate soil temperature. In the spring, carefully rake back the mulch to allow the green shoots to more easily emerge and soak up some sunshine.

 

That’s it! With these few simple steps you can easily grow all the garlic your family will need for the summer, perhaps even for a whole year. Later in the season I’ll share information with you about caring for, harvesting, curing and storing garlic. But for now you know all you need to make sure you don’t miss this perfect opportunity to get out there and plant your garlic before the garden is covered in a blanket of snow.

Alternative Garlic Growing

An alternative way to grow garlic is by planting garlic bulbils. This is a method I discovered while preparing to write this post and is something I’ll spend more time studying this winter. I do love a good experiment so I hope to harvest some garlic bulbils and attempt to propagate more garlic this way in 2015. For more details, click here.

Did you enjoy this article? Visit www.arcadia-farms.net for more info on eating healthy, saving money and buying locally.

 
 

Potato Experiment Results

Back in April I wrote this post about planting experimental potatoes. They were experimental in that they are:

  1. Planted from spouting (organic) spuds we purchased at the grocery store.
  2. Planted (mostly) in hay.
  3. Planted outside the fence, intermingled with garlic in hopes that the deer will be deterred by the garlicky smell.

Today I spent the better part of the evening digging up these experimental potatoes and I’m pleased to report that they are amazing! Even better than the potatoes planted from official ‘seed potatoes’ in the main garden!

Here’s a quick recap of what I did – along with thoughts on what worked well and what I’ll do differently next year.

First, I started with chitted potatoes – potatoes with eyes growing on them. (Click here to learn how and why to chit potatoes before planting.) Next I dug pits along the outside of the fence which were 10-12” deep. I put the potato pieces (with at least 2 eyes) in the pit and covered them with composted waste hay from the bunny. I didn’t go out of my way to water these at all – occasionally they would get some overspray from watering the garden and they definitely received their fair share of rain! When the plants grew about 6-12 inches above the hay, I added another layer to “hill” them. Unfortunately I ran out of hay before I had hilled them all so I added some compost to two of the sections.

That’s it! No fertilizer, no watering. And here’s what I received…

Our experimental New Potatoes harvested from outside the garden fence.

Our experimental New Potatoes harvested from outside the garden fence.

Part way through harvesting.

Part way through harvesting.

Amazing!

Planting the potatoes in hay (or you could use straw) really did make it much easier to harvest them. (Trust me… I am WAY over digging for potatoes in the 100% compost bed!). Now that the hay has broken down, the soil in these areas looks quite rich. This should be a good way to add organic matter to the area surrounding the garden.

Also, I originally planted onions and garlic in between sections of potatoes to keep critters (especially deer) away. I’ve seen many deer tracks in that area, starting as early as the week I planted the potatoes. On the face of it, the garlic/onion strategy seems to have worked. However, a friend (who has much more gardening experience than I do) pointed out to me that deer won’t eat potatoes because they have a high amount of a certain acid in them. (I wish I could tell you the name of the acid…) Still, with anecdotal advice I received from the stories of other gardeners (both in the area and online) it seems that the real test of whether or not a deer will eat potato plants is whether or not his belly is full when he finds the potatoes. So whether the garlic kept them at bay, the potato plants are too acidic for their taste or they’ve been feasting elsewhere by the time they get to me, the deer have left my potato plants completely alone.

All things considered, this feels like a pretty successful way to grow my potatoes. The best part is that it frees up space in my raised garden beds (I only have so many!) and makes use of what would otherwise be unused space while still keeping things pretty central to the garden area. In fact, these potatoes are from just one side of the garden. There are two other sides which would be suitable for tater-growing. Giddy-up!

The only downside in this year’s potato-growing endeavor was this: Overgrowth. The pits I planted my potatoes in were simply dug with a shovel. In early spring, this fence-line row of garlic and potatoes looked quite neat. Meanwhile, piles of overturned sod created a bit of a berm to the west of the piles. I kept telling myself I’d “get to moving those piles eventually.” Well, I never did, save for one small section. Because the ground is freakishly uneven there, Ryan won’t mow it. Which means weeds and grass have taken over and are growing quite snuggly in with my potatoes. Next year I’ll till everything up properly and I’ll be sure to level the area so it can be mowed.

overgrown potatoes

Without proper tilling, the potatoes and garlic quickly became overgrown with grass and weeds. Next time I’ll be sure to clear the area and keep the ground level so we can mow.

overgrown potatoes

More overgrown potatoes.

overgrown potatoes

Here’s a view of the west side of the garden where the potatoes and garlic were planted along the fence. There are more potatoes on the south side of the garden as well.

Based on what I’ve learned, I have plans for a new experiment next year. Along the West fence, I’ll plant potatoes just like I did this year. Here are some variations I’m planning for the other two fence lines.

  1. On the South Fence: All potatoes from store-bought organics, but some planted with waste hay and some with grass clippings.
  2. On the East Fence: Using waste hay, I’ll plant some potatoes from ‘seed potatoes’, some from store-bought organic potatoes that have sprouted and some from ‘seed potatoes’ from my own garden.

So there you have it… I’m considering my experimental potatoes to be a smashing success! Anyone else harvesting potatoes? What other things are you harvesting right now?

 
 

Planting Experimental Potatoes

Since it didn’t snow yesterday (yes!) I spent some time planting potatoes and lettuce in the main garden. Lettuce will go in under plastic row covers in some of our narrow beds (2' x 12'), along with spinach which overwintered and is already growing. I’m scheduled to plant lettuce in two additional narrow beds on the hugelkultur side of the garden… the problem is, they’ve not yet been built. (This past December we put in 4' x 12' hugelkultur beds but skipped the 2' x 12's since they were too narrow to dig with the bobcat.) I guess I better grab  my shovel and get on that…

Meanwhile, I cleared a blanket of leaves that have been keeping fall-planted onions sung over the winter.

I cleared away a layer of leaves that have been protecting fall-planted onions through the winter.

I cleared away a layer of leaves that have been protecting fall-planted onions through the winter.

Fall-planted onions debuting for spring.

Fall-planted onions debuting for spring.

I was also able to plant some taters. These are ‘experimental’ potatoes in that:

  1. I’m planting eyes from spuds we purchased at the grocery store.
  2. I’m planting them in hay.
  3. I’m planting them outside the fence, intermingled with garlic in hopes that the deer will be deterred by the garlicky smell.

Planting from Potatoes that Sprout in the Cupboard

From everything I’ve read, the most reliable way to get great potatoes is by buying seed potatoes. That’s because some potatoes you buy at the grocery store have been sprayed with a chemical sprout inhibitor to keep them looking tip-top on the grocery shelf. Despite all of this sound advice, the potatoes we grew in our very first garden came from store-bought potatoes… and they were delicious! We typically buy organic potatoes so I thought I’d give it a whirl. Fortunately twice now I’ve discovered forgotten potatoes in the pantry with some hefty eyes on them. In one case I was able to simply cut the eyes out, store them in a brown paper bag, and use the potatoes for dinner. The other time they were way too far gone to be eaten. This afternoon I planted those whole. No waste here!

Planting Potatoes in Hay

Ever heard of planting potatoes in hay? The benefit is that its easy to “mound” the potatoes with more soil (ok, hay really) and its super easy to dig the potatoes up when they are ready to harvest. The danger in planting with hay (or straw) is that you have to make sure the potatoes stay covered so that no light gets to them. Potatoes exposed to too much sun will go green and become toxic. (Don’t eat green potatoes!) I planted our “experimental” potatoes in 1 foot deep holes outside the Main Garden fence and piled on about 8-10" of composted waste hay from Nacho’s (the bunny) cage. Nacho’s hay (and poo) has been composting all winter in a special bin. I think the recent sunshine has kicked the process into overtime because a good deal of it has already turned into soil.

planting potato in hay

This potato started sprouting in our pantry. Now its growing underneath composted waste hay.

At any rate, here’s a video about how and why to plant potatoes in hay.

Keeping Taters Safe from Critters

I’ve done some research about what deer will and won’t eat. Turns out – during cold weather when plants are scarce – they’ll eat anything green they can get to. During more abundant seasons, there are some things they’ll avoid, including onions and garlic. I’m interested in growing lots of storage potatoes this year but just don’t have the kind of room I need in our raised beds. So I decided to do a little experiment and place a few potato plants between sections of garlic. So now on the west side of the Main Garden I have alternating plantings along the fence – about four feet of garlic (which is coming up beautifully already!) and about four feet of potato plants (1 per square foot).  I plan to direct seed a few scallions in with the potatoes for extra insurance. Here’s hoping these city deer won’t get too curious!

young spring garlic

Our garlic is coming up! It’s going to be a good spring.

Anyone out there have advice on how to best grow potatoes? Have you tried planting in hay or straw? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Did you enjoy this article? Visit www.arcadia-farms.net for more info on eating healthy, saving money and buying locally.   

 
 

Baby, it's (almost) cold outside!

It’s fall. Big time. Temperatures are dropping along with brown and orange leaves. The tomato plants are bending beneath the weight of green fruit hoping for enough time. (I’ll be picking them before we get frost.) The zucchini, cucumbers and beans are all distant memories. And all I can think about is sowing seeds. Yes, that’s right, sowing seeds. Today I planted seeds in the main garden and before the weekend is over, I’ll have planted many more. Why? Because I’m experimenting with four-season growing!  [Read More]
 
 
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