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.

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

 
 

Early Spring 2013 Update

NOTE: Ooops! Somehow I managed to only save this as a draft and did not publish it. This was supposed to be posted on April 1 (no joke). Keep that in mind as you read my "today"s and "yesterday"s. - Farmer Katie


Today’s Headline: No snow… (yet)! Today’s forecast for southwest Michigan was snowy. To be sure, it is cold outside (hovering around 30 degrees as I write this) but the sun is shining brightly. After a sustained string of sunny days, it’s a little hard for me to stomach the idea of snow. The good news is that Wednesday should be sunny and relatively warm (40’s) and then if the Mr. Weatherman is right, there’s no looking back! Farewell, winter – I’m ready for spring!

Our First Hugelkultur Planting

With spring on our doorstep, I’ve been super busy starting seeds. On Good Friday I planted about half of our peas. The most exciting thing about these peas is that they are the very first thing planted in one of our hugelkultur beds! To recap, the beds are comprised of pits (about 3’ deep) filled with rotted logs, branches and fall leaves which have then been topped with the very earth that was removed to make the pits. (For in-depth info on why in the world we would bury logs in our garden – and why you should too – click here.) On Friday I made a mound about 8-10” high with more topsoil and topped that with 6 cubic feet of organic garden soil (purchased from Lowes). My plan was to create the mounded part of the beds with compost but I have not yet ordered the compost. (Just like last year we’ll get it in bulk from a local supplier.) Because I knew a cold snap was coming, I covered the bed with a plastic row cover using our PVC hoops. (I had a fabulous helper!)

hugelkultur bed

This hugel has 3 feet of logs and leave buried beneath it with a 8-10? mound of top soil on top.

hugelkultur bed

Owen is helping me put the hoops in place for our row cover.

hugelkultur bed

What a great little helper!

hugelkultur bed

Hoops are in place. A covering of organic garden soil (from Lowes) tops the bed. This is only 6 cubic feet… I wish I could have added more.

hugelkultur bed

The bed is ready for the row cover.

hugelkultur bed

I covered the bed with plastic held down by logs and large rocks. The let the bed warm for a day before planting the peas.

The row cover will also keep the deer and other critters from digging up my peas since there we do not yet have a fence around this part of the garden.

Seedlings

To date I’ve started onions, leeks, cabbage, cauliflower, kale, rhubarb, chard, broccoli, stevia, lettuce, peas and tomatoes. Frankly, this is the part of the season that keeps me on edge. Starting hundreds of seeds at a time while the weather is still touch and go provides lots of challenges.

a pile of newspaper pots

My biggest issue is space. We live in a small house and have a very small greenhouse. Finding an out of the way place for so many seedlings that also has the warmth and light they need is difficult. Second of all, making sure I stick with my planned planting dates is hard for me. Life gets busy and despite the fact that I vowed not to do this again, I’ve already had a couple of days where I look at the calendar at 8:00 PM and think “Oh crap, I’m supposed to plant 200 seeds today!” Right now I’m way off schedule on planting chives, scallions and a few days off on lettuce, spinach and chamomile. The biggest issue is that I haven’t been diligent about making newspaper pots every day. The good news is I think I can go ahead later this week with direct seeding my chives and scallions (they are cool hardy) and I’m thinking of direct-seeding the lettuce and spinach under row covers. The only reason I was going to start chamomile this early is because it takes a while to mature and I wanted to give it a jump start. But since that is not a critical crop for our CSA, I think I will just direct seed it after the last frost date.

In further keeping-it-real news, my onions are not doing well. I planted about 450 seeds and I think about 30% of them are thriving. I think the culprit here is lack of light… they’ve been hanging out in my laundry room and there are so many that some are not in the best-lit places. Also my cauliflower and cabbage have not germinated well because they are in the greenhouse which drops down to about 50* at night despite my space-heater’s best efforts. I replanted cauliflower a couple of days ago and will be bringing those seedlings, along with the cabbage, inside to germinate. The good news is our kale is doing fabulously as well as our chard. Broccoli germinated just fine and the tomatoes are coming along. Once the night temperatures pick up (or I get my hands on a second space heater) we should have no problems.

kale seedling in newspaper pot

Later this week I’m hoping to build shelves for the greenhouse to make better use of space (and get seedlings out of my dimly lit laundry room!)

The Garden Fence

Now that the direct-seed season has arrived (at least for my cool-hardy plants) we need a new fence ASAP. For those of you who are just starting to follow us, you might want to check out this post where I talked about expanding our garden. We’ve doubled the size of the Main Garden by adding 14 new beds – 10 of them are hugelkultur beds. The existing fence is still standing around last year’s garden. Besides needing to be expanded, it also needs to be improved. The posts are loose in several places and there are gaps (like, fawn-sized gaps) in the metal fabric in a couple of places.

Existing fence around main garden

Existing fence around main garden

DSC03841

fawn sized hole in existing main garden fence

Oh look – a fawn-sized hole in the fence… lovely…

Last fall I shared with our CSA members that we could use help in April with building the new fence. Several of them graciously said that they’d be willing to help when the time arrives. (Thank you!) We haven’t set a date yet but will soon. The fence will serve several purposes: Protect veggies from critters (like deer and rabbits), allow sun to reach our crops (by using welded wire fencing), provide a trellis to the north of the garden and create an attractive boundary for the garden. The attractive boundary is a driving force behind our need for some additional help, of the financial variety. Being good neighbors is important to us and since we’re a suburban farm, we want to create a fence that is as aesthetically pleasing (for our neighbors) as it is effective (for our crops). To make a prettier fence, we need a prettier penny. (And since we’re a start-up farm committed to operating debt-free, the budget is tight.)

The good news is that we’ve found a way to make a fence that is relatively low cost while still serving all the purposes listed above. And we’ll be able to make it modular so if we need to expand or move it in the future, all of the dollars invested in our project will not go to waste. All contributions (even $5) will bolster our ability to provide naturally-grown, locally-sold produce to our community. If you’re interested in investing in the naturally-grown, buy-local movement, here’s a great opportunity to make a tangible difference for just a few dollars! If you’d like to contribute, please email me at katie@arcadia-farms.net.  (P.S. We’re giving away some pretty cool rewards to contributors. More details coming within a few days on our very first www.kickstarter.com project!)

Here are some pictures to give you an idea of what we’ll be building.

prowell woodworks gate

{Image Credit}
www.prowellwoodworks.com

Garden-Fence-Designs

{Image Credit}
www.onhome.org

wire wood garden fence

{Image Credit}
http://mnkyimages.com

There you have it… a little peak into the world of what we’ve been up to lately. What have you been up to around your homestead? Have you started any seeds indoors? Outdoors? Any other gardening activity? I’d love to hear what you’re up to!

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

 
 

Planting in Newspaper Pots

DSC03606

Some of the 450-or-so onion seedlings I’ve sown already are starting to come up! They’re just tiny twigs of green but they remind me that spring will be here soon! In March I’ll really be into starting seeds as I shared in this post about planting by moon phases. In that same post I shared that even though I already had  a detailed seed-starting plan (including my Seed Starting Planner, you can download it for FREE right here!) several things have made me reconsider. The first thing being a desire to try planting by moon phases and the second being second-guessing the medium in which I plant my seeds.

Last year I started some of my seeds in potting soil (soilless mix) in upcycled yogurt containers and some of them in Jiffy pellets. Both have their pros and cons… and I’m pretty disappointed with the cons. Here’s why.

Upcycled Yogurt Containers

Pros

  • They’re free!
  • Recycling them reduces waste.
  • I can plant multiple seedlings in each container (depending on seed/plant size)
  • They are sustainable. Once I have the containers, I never have to buy new ones.

Cons

  • Seedlings get rootbound in them.
  • They are hard to move from one place to another.
  • Their round shape means they don’t fit well into trays.
  • Because they don’t fit well in square spaces, they are not an efficient use of my limited greenhouse space.
Jiffy Pellets

Pros

  • They are a seedling-friendly medium (have the right ingredients)
  • They fit well into trays which makes them easy to transport from greenhouse to garden. (Or move to a new place in the greenhouse).
  • Because they fit well into trays, they are a more efficient use of my limited greenhouse space.

Cons

  • Seedlings outgrow them quickly.
  • Seedlings can get rootbound in them.
  • Though they are relatively cheap, buying enough to start as many seeds as I need to (3,000+) makes them expensive.

Comparing the Options

Aside from obviously wanting to provide a quality growing medium for my plants, my two main concerns are space and money. The right solution can’t cost a ton (taking Jiffy Pellets out of the running) and it has to be an efficient use of my tiny (6? x 6?) greenhouse (farewell yogurt containers). What’s a nerd girl to do? Make a spreadsheet, of course!

That’s just what I did. I created a spreadsheet of reasonable seed starting mediums so I could compare their pros and cons to find the best one. Here are a few points to go with this analysis:

  1. Some of these seed starting mediums are things I’ve heard about but not actually tried. My assessment is based on my best guess.
  2. I did not include hydroponics in this assessment. For more info on hydroponics (which I know bupkiss about) click here.
  3. Soil blocks are… well… blocks made of soil. They’re somewhat like Jiffy pellets only they don’t have a netting around them, are (typically) larger and can be created from a soil mixture you create. Their most frequently touted advantage is that plants don’t get rootbound in them – when the roots meet air at the edge of the block, they simply stop growing. They can be planted directly into the garden.
  4. Newspaper cups are also similar to Jiffy pellets except that they are made from newspaper mulch. Because the newspaper is biodegradable, they can be planted directly into the ground. Black and white ink is no problem for natural growing because the ink is soy based. (Stay away from colored inks.)
  5. Newspaper pots are square-shaped, origami-like containers folded from newspaper. Like newspaper cups they are biodegradable and made from natural materials so they can be planted directly into the ground. They hold potting mix just like a plastic yogurt cup would.
  6. Potting soil in trays is my way of saying just spreading potting soil in a tray and planting seedlings like I would when I direct-seed them. To transplant them I’d have to dig them up, exposing the roots in the process.
  7. Paper cups can also be used for planting. These are the tiny dixie cups sometimes used in bathrooms. I’ve used these before and found that, even if you poke several holes in the bottom, moisture tends to close those holes back up and they don’t drain well. Also some have a waxy covering which may cause them to take longer to breakdown in soil.

To do the analysis I rated each medium in cost, sustainability, drainage, portability, space-saving and transplanting. Rates were poor (1), fair (2), good (3) and great (4). After rating each option I found the final score by averaging all of that medium’s rates.

Chart

The Results

After making all of my assessments, it turned out that soil blocks would be the best choice for my needs with newspaper pots as a close second. I gave newspaper pots a 2 for sustainability and here’s why: If our culture continues as it is right now, there will be plenty of free newspapers for me to use. However, if something changes, newspapers will not be a naturally recurring resource for me to utilize. I also gave them a 2 for drainage… that was before I noticed that a small hole can easily be made in the bottom during the folding process. When assessing cost, I considered the ongoing expense rather than the initial expense. Turns out that the startup expenses for soil blocks and newspaper pots are very similar: Potting soil and trays to hold them. Soil blocks require purchasing a soil block maker and newspaper pots require purchasing (or getting) newspapers. Since they have so many of the same benefits, I decided that this year I’d save the expense of buying a soil block maker and just go with newspaper pots. My sister-in-law is a couponing queen so I’ll have access to plenty of desinted-for-the-recyling-bin-anyway newspapers (FREE!). Not only that, but if I’m going to use soil blocks, I want to invest in one that makes lots of them at once. Those run upwards of $200, so before I make that kind of investment, I want to try soil blocks out first. You know, just to make sure they’re as wonderful as everyone says they are.

So there you have it. I’m going to be starting my seeds in newspaper pots this year. I’d give you a tutorial on how to make them, but Tina at Happy Hobby Habit (winner of our Reader Tip Contest) has already done a great job of making one for you! You can find it by clicking here.

Well. I’ve got lots of folding to do if I’m going to use 3,000 of these in the next few weeks.

 

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

 
 
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