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.

 
 

Crock Pot Apple Butter

red delicious apples

Last month our partner in Arcadia Growers Group gifted us with some fresh, pesticide-free produce. One of the items was a half bushel of red delicious apples. Per their name, they are delicious! But… they’re not very pretty. Pesticide-free means I choose to trade a perfect-looking apple for a perfectly edible apple that might look a little less than appetizing. (They look 10 times better in this photo than in real life!) They polish up decently but with a few soft spots here and there they really needed to be peeled before eating.

I’m not complaining at all – they were worth the 60 seconds needed to peel! But, if I’m being honest, apples are usually a grab-and-go snack at our house so even just the 60 seconds of peeling was enough to keep us from eating them as quickly as we normally would. Besides that, there were so many that I knew I’d need to process some of them before the entire batch went to waste. The problem is, red delicious apples aren’t exactly known for their cooking and baking qualities. Fresh eating? Yes. Baking and cooking? Not so much.

I asked our readers on Facebook what they thought I should do with our apple gift. The best suggestions were making apple chips and making apple butter. Honestly, I wanted to try both (and certainly had enough apples for that) but with the Thanksgiving holiday and simple busyness abounding in our lives lately, the apples sat a smidge too long. They started to get a smidge soft. And making apple chips started to sound a smidge unrealistic.

But… soft apples are right at home in apple butter.

canning apple butter

 

I’ve never made apple butter before. After looking up several recipes, using the crock pot seemed to be the most fool-proof way to go. I found lots of recipes online, many of them with essentially the same ingredients but with slightly different amounts and cooking times. I used all of those recipes as a guide to make my own.

The process takes about 12 hours, mostly hands-free. I realize not everyone has as flexible a schedule as I do. This might be a great Saturday project. Otherwise, you could cut and gather the ingredients the night before, start the process in the morning (7:30 AM) reduce the heat on your way out the door (8:30 AM) and be home in time to add the vanilla bean (5:30 PM). After dinner you’ll be ready to puree and process your apple butter (7:30 PM). The jars will be cool and ready to enjoy for breakfast the next morning!

canning apple butter

canning apple butter

Crock Pot Apple Butter Recipe

INGREDIENTS
  • 6 lbs (8-10) Apples [Note: I ended up using 12]
  • 3/4 Cup Granulatd Sugar
  • 3/4 Cup Brown Sugar
  • 1/2 Cup Apple Cider or Apple Cider Vinegar
  • 2 tsp Cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp Cloves
  • 1/2 tsp Nutmeg
  • 1/8 tsp Ginger
  • 1/4 tsp Salt
  • 1 Vanilla bean (or 1 Tbsp vanilla extract)
INSTRUCTIONS
  1. Peel and core the apples. Cut them into small pieces.
  2. Add everything but the vanilla bean to the crock pot. Stir.
  3. Cook on high for 1 hour.
  4. Stir the mixture again. When replacing the lid, move it partially so that it remains slightly open. Cook on low for 9 additional hours.
  5. Slice the vanilla bean down the middle with sharp edge of a knife. Then run the flat edge of the knife down the length of the bean to push out the inside. After 10 hours of cooking, add the vanilla bean and simmer mixture on low for another 2 hours (12 hours total).
  6. Remove the vanilla bean. Use an immersion blender to puree the mixture. (You could also use a blender/food processor and puree the mixture in batches. Be careful not to slosh hot apple butter onto yourself!)
  7. Ladle hot mixture into sterilized jars. Leave a ¼ inch of headspace. Use a butter knife to press along the inside edges of the jars in order to remove air bubbles. Securely add sterilized lids and bands.
  8. Process jars for 10 minutes in a water bath canner. Remove jars and set them on a towel or wire rack to cool. Allow jars to cool completely before handling. (If you don’t want to can your apple butter, you can store the jars in your refrigerator for up to two weeks. Freezer-appropriate containers of apple butter can remain in the freezer for two months.)

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

 
 

Heating the Greenhouse

When I was growing up my mom always had a countdown to spring. I’m not a fan of cold weather, or snow, or the cold-meets-muddy mess that is early spring in Michigan. For all those reasons I always joyfully joined into the countdown. And for all of those reasons I was always sorely disappointed. Here’s why: Mom counted down to The First Day of Spring… as in the little square on the calendar that tells us the day of the astronomical vernal equinox has arrived (March 20 this year). In Michigan, that usually means it is still cold, possibly snowy and muddy beyond belief. Once I became a teenager and wised up to all of this, I vehemently refused to participate in the countdown to avoid the imminent disappointment. I’ve learned that it’s best not to expect spring until May.

Expecting that warm weather won’t be here until May has implications for our greenhouse. In order to plant by the phases of the moon and have my transplants ready for the garden by the time our last frost date passes I have to start seeds as early as next Monday (March 11). We don’t have room in our tiny house to store the thousands of seeds I plan to start in March and April so they need to go elsewhere. The greenhouse is naturally a good candidate. This time of year there should be plenty of light to keep my seedlings happy during the day, however, the temperature is still well below freezing most days. We need a heater.

Sustainable Heater?

Enter my desire for low-cost, sustainable processes. We have an electric space heater in the greenhouse which did a fine job of heating our 6’ x 6’ space this fall. I was hoping to find something a little more sustainable – or at least less expensive – to do the job. Here are some of the things I considered (solar powered heater, terracotta pot heater and rocket stove) :

[pin here]

Source: youtube.com via Arcadia on Pinterest

 

Choices, Choices

Of all the options I decided to try the terracotta pot heater. Online reviews from other users seemed to indicate that the heater didn’t give off as much heat as they had hoped but it still “worked.” One person said it could be used to heat a small room. A 6’ x 6’ greenhouse is a pretty small room so I felt optimistic. Plus I already have plenty of pots so materials wouldn’t’ be very costly. Materials include:

  • Two terracotta pots (10? and 12?)
  • Lamp
  • Heat bulb
  • 2” threaded bolt (1/2 inch diameter)
  • 8 washers
  • 4 bolts

I decided to use a light bulb instead of a candle because I felt the energy would be more consistent and then I wouldn’t have to buy a supply of candles. (If I ever needed to use the heater with a candle instead of a light bulb, that would still be an option.) We’re preparing for chickens so I recently bought a pack of two 250W heat bulbs. Using a lamp I already own, I tested the heater by placing a large pot over the bulb. Presto – heat!

Next I went to Home Depot and bought the bolt and a handful of washers and nuts.  I used the bolt to thread the 10” pot inside the 12” pot.

terra cotta pots threaded together

Then I setup the lamp (used an extension cord from the garage), surrounded it by 6” pots placed upside down (like a tripod) and set the threaded pots over the lamp (resting on the 6” pots).

terra cotta pot heater with heat lamp

terra cotta pot heater

In very little time the pots began to heat up – a lot!! I even burned myself on the bolt once. But alas, after several tests I determined that the heater at best was making a 1-3* difference in the air temperature of the greenhouse. And that at best difference was happening in the afternoon when I need it least. At night time (when I need it most) there was no measurable difference at all. Even if I had two or three of these bad boys, I don’t think it would help.

Bummer.

Oh Mr. Sun

The good news is that since I was monitoring the greenhouse temperature closely for several days I noticed that the sun has reached a point in the sky where it is adequately heating the greenhouse during the day. Today it is 100+ degrees in there with just solar heating! So long as we continue to have moderately sunny days, I think I’ll be able to get away with letting the sun keep my plants warm (above 60*) during the day and using the electric heater at night. If time allows, I’d like to try making a small rocket stove to use at night. No promises there, but if it happens, you can be sure that I’ll share my findings with you.

Does anyone have tips for how they heat their greenhouse? Any creative ideas you’d like me to try?

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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