I always find myself playing, I mean, working with my seeds in February. Usually by Valentines I’m cleaning the last of the seed heads harvested in late fall. I have some new seeds this year, sunflower seeds. I’m hoping I got them all dry enough last fall. I had a batch of pumpkin seeds that didn’t get dry enough once and they rotted in their envelope. I know of course that you can take a seed out to the sidewalk and whack it with a hammer to see how dry it is. My neighbors already think I’m pretty crazy. Whaling away with a hammer on the driveway is not going to improve those opinions. Plus, I’m often impatient, I want things done, and done now! Anyway, now is when I start going through the seed stores to see what has gone wrong over winter. Something usually does. I have found myself becoming more accustomed to failures since becoming a gardener.
For those of you new to seed saving, holler out in the comments if you’ve got questions or confusions.
Besides preparing and organizing seed, now’s the time to start squaring away your seed starting area. Mine always seems to get cluttered with dead plants and excess potting equipment over the summer. My setup is pretty basic, so it only takes a couple of hours to really get things sorted. I have 2 fluorescent tube ballasts with 2 bulbs in each. They are the regular sized ballasts, not the small 2 or 3 foot ones you can find sometimes. I have those and a heat mat on a timer plugged into the wall. They click on for 6-8 hours a day, supplementing the south facing window’s sunlight.
I usually start two shelves worth of seed flats. One full of those seeds that like some bottom heat to sprout. Tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, squashes and some herbs. Then the other tray I fill with hardy stock like kohlrabi, cabbages, onions, etc. that don’t need that extra heat. That usually provides me with more seedlings than I can actually plant.
I start my seeds in a mix of potting soil, vermiculite and home-made worm castings. That mix I can usually start gathering in February. This year for example, the gathering of the worm castings is going to be a complete clean and restock of the worm bin. What doesn’t get used in the seed starting mix will be stored to spread on the garden once things thaw. Last time I cleaned out the bin I got close to 3 gallons worth of worm castings.
I start most of my seed in small plastic pots that allow for plenty of root development, planting out can happen late here if winter drags her feet. Those need a dip in a light bleach solution before they get filled with the potting mix. If you’re planning on making the pressed paper pots, or diy pots out of cardboard, it’s best to start early. Some of those can be tedious to make, and it’s better to get them done now than wait until you find yourself needing them.
I haven’t yet finalized or drawn out the garden plots for this year. That too usually gets done by the end of February. Sometimes this month is mild enough that I can start some tool prep. Sharpenings and replacements and such.
So, now you’ve all got homework. Make sure you start getting things ready, rushing can lead to a stressed out gardener and a stressed out batch of plants. Work smarter, not harder people!
- Calamity Jane