Category Archives: Starting Seeds

April Gardening Challenge Round 1: Seed Starting

We’ve just past the vernal equinox and wow what a difference in the weather! Not two weeks ago I readied the garden during an entire week of snow, hail, sleet, and driving rain. Now? The days are longer, weather milder and the worms are going to town! The earth wants you to garden. I want you to garden. Do you want to garden?


Perfect! Let’s garden! The first stop on your gardening challenge tour is with Erica of She’s got a great challenge for you.

Later this week I’ll be part of a virtual book tour for Jessi Bloom with a chance to win a copy of her book, Free Range Chicken Gardens before the month is out, then check back here next week because I’ve got other hosts (including Jessi) lined up and the challenges will come a little faster as the month progresses.

Colin McCrate with The Seattle Urban Farm Company and co-author of Food Grown Right, in Your Own Back Yard has a container garden challenge for you. I just got my hands on his book and people, it’s a must have. I only wish there was a book like this when I was just starting out trying to grow all my own food. I will do a review of this book this month as well.

Graham Kerr has a personal garden challenge for you, along with other co-hosts who will be joining in throughout the month.


This is going to be a fun-packed month with something for everyone that has enough space for an herb pot in a kitchen window. At the end of the month, remember to come back to this blog and link up what you’ve done for a chance to win some GREAT gardening prizes: a V Garden, a vegetable start subscription from Cascadian Edible Landscapes, a copy of The Urban Farm Handbook, a copy of Free Range Chicken Gardens, a copy of Food Grown Right, in Your Own Back Yard, a copy of Growing at the Speed of Life, a children’s chocolate garden from Chocolate Flower Farm, an original garden broom and more!

Are you still here?  Get on over to Erica’s yard and get growing!

Strawberries, Raspberries, Blueberries, Saskatoons and Cherries

Despite the drizzly cold weather we’ve had things are actually ripening here in my little bit of sponge. Tonight after dinner I fairly breezed through the garden gleaning a little of this and a little of that. Not much of any one thing, mind you, but the joy of being able to find so many fruits in just our second year of this was indescribable.

It looks like the bundt pans I bought at Goodwill and strung from the saskatoon and cherry trees are warding off the marauding robins and crows. I just wish there was a version of this suitable for slugs.

And while I haven’t had quite the quantities of strawberries this year as last due to the chickens decimating the plants this spring it’s enough for us to eat this for breakfast nearly every other day

Sadly I’ll have to buy my berries for mes confitures this year. I selected Strawberry with Pinot Noir and Spices for my can jam entry but it looks like I’ll miss the deadline. Technically I’m out anyway since I missed posting my March allium entry by the deadline (in fact I have yet to post it despite that I’ve made not 1 but 4 batches of amazing caramelized onion jam.) But post I will once school is finally out and I don’t have to get up so early getting everyone ready in the morning.

I have so many posts to catch up on: the goat fest from nearly 2 months ago now, my attempt at soap using goat milk that more resembles a baby ruth bar and thus I’ve dubbed it the goat poop soap, my tomato trellises and rat fortress (did you know I already have RED tomatoes?), our Memorial day weekend wherein we pitched a tent in the basement to evade torrential rain storms and used the kitchen torch to roast our homemade marshmallows for homemade graham crackers and the pantry giveaway for wonderful Kat that I’ve been working on and hope to wrap up and post about next week.

I have been a busy beaver despite all the end of year volunteering, school activities and gardening.

Before I hit the hay I want to mention two things:

1. Prune your tomatoes. It’s time. I know there are folks in the no prune camp like Tom but, especially this year, unless you have a vast garden area where they can be leisurely spaced apart you should consider pruning the non-fruiting branches and trellising them upward. This lets more of that rare sunlight in to ripen the fruit and increases air flow, hopefully warding off fungal diseases. Here is my post from last year about pruning tomatoes. I know they look naked and as tiny as a wet cat just after you prune them but trust me they’ll be back rawhring in no time flat.

2. Order your winter seeds if you haven’t already! The Territorial winter seed catalog is out and you have mere weeks to start brassicas and cole crops indoors. Last year I had every intention of starting my fall and winter crops by midsummer but it was more like August. I paid the price with a gap in edibles in early winter. Granted it was a short gap but it would have been nice to eat more than just mache and kale for weeks on end. You can read more about it here.

And this is my entry from last year complete with my planting schedule which I didn’t adhere to. We’ll see if it happens this year…

Insane Planting, and Just How We Eat Our Yard Year Round

I’ve been crazy busy madly planting, starting, sowing and harvesting the last few weeks. I have a rough garden map courtesy of (which I’m not affiliated with) but the variety of things I have makes it impossible to rely on something like that completely as I’m growing so much that it doesn’t all fit on the map. I very intensively plant and succession plant.

It’s a system that I’m still developing but what I love about it is that, unlike square foot gardening, I am able to use drip lines which helps conserve water and I can put it all on a timer and go on vacation. And hope that the water pressure cooperates and none of the tapes blow…

The intensity of the way that I garden lets me grow enough vegetables to feed my family year round using only a fraction of my 1/5 acre lot.

I’m hoping to inspire as many others as possible to grow much of their food if only for part of the year. What really made me realize this was even possible was reading a few books which I hope you’ll look for at your local library. They are Fresh Food from Small Spaces: The Square-Inch Gardener’s Guide to Year-Round Growing, Fermenting, and Sprouting and Four-Season Harvest: Organic Vegetables from Your Home Garden All Year Long. If you are at all interested in growing food in the city I hope you’ll check both of these out.

I want to share with you what I’ve been so crazy mad busy starting and my starting schedule which I believe is appropriate to my Seattle conditions although I’m technically challenged so please click on the link to open the excel version of my seed starting schedule and list.

Crop Name
Crimson Clover
Wild Garden Insectary Mix
Sunflower, Tarahumara
Sod Buster Cover Crop
Wheat Grass
Lemon Balm
Dukat Dill
Fernleaf Dill
Flatleaf Parsley
Anise Hyssop
Basil, Mammoth
Basil, Cinnamon
Echinacea Purpura
Peas, Schweizer Riesen Snow
Peas, Cascadia Snap
Peas, Sugar Ann Snap
Peas, Maestro Shelling
Mesclun Mix
Micro Greens
Provencal Winter Mix
Continuity Butterhead
Parris Island Cos
Flashy Troutsback
Strawberry Spinach
Malabar Spinach
Red Russian Kale
Nero de Toscana Kale
Dwarf Blue Scotch Kale
White Russian Kale
Nash’s Red Kale
Winter Red Kale
Fizz Kale
Radicchio, Variegata di Castelfranco
Radicchio, Early Treviso
Belle Isle Cress
Garden Cress
Ruby Red Chard
Rainbow Chard
Bloomsdale Savoy Spinach
Beets, Early Wonder
Beets, Autumn Harvest Blend
Nasturtiums, Empress of India
Nasturtiums, Black Velvet
Viola, Johnny Jump Up
Fennel, Perfection
Celeriac, Brilliant
Celery, Utah
Cauliflower, Nash’s
Cauliflower, Galleon
Cauliflower, Snowball
Cabbage, Filderkraut
Cabbage, Beira Tronchuda
Cabbage, January King
Cabbage, Tundra
Cabbage, Red Express
Cabbage, China Express
Ching Chiang
Cabbage, Danish Ballhead
Broccoli, Purple Sprouting
Broccoli, White Sprouting
Broccoli, Rudolph
Broccoli, Fall Blend
Broccoli, Purple Peacock
Broccoli, Apollo
Brussels Sprouts, Rubine
Brussels Sprouts, Roodnerf
Mustard, Osaka Purple
Mustard, Tah Tsai
Mustard, Kyoto Mizuna
Carrots, Scarlet Nantes
Carrots, Purple Dragon
Radish, Minowase Daikon
Salsify, Mammoth Sandwich Island
Carrots, Autumn King
Parsnips, Javelin
Parsnips, Cobham Improved Marrow
Radish, French Breakfast
Rutabaga, Joan
Turnip, Purple Top White Globe
Corn, Golden Bantam
Beans, California Blackeye
Beans, Tigers Eye Bush
Beans, Empress Bush
Beans, Provider Bush
Tomatoes, Super Lakota
Tomatoes, Black Plum
Tomatoes, Scotia
Tomatoes, Cherokee Purple
Tomatoes, Jaun Flammee
Peppers, Mini Bell
Peppers, Wonder Bell
Leeks, Giant Musselburgh
Onions, Copra
Onions, Tallon
Cucumbers, Alibi
Cucumbers, Marketmore 97
Pumpkins, Small Sugar
Pumpkins, Magic Lantern
Pumpkins, Sweetmeat
Squash, Costata Romanesco Zucchini
Squash, Black Beauty Zucchini
Melon, Muskmelon
Melon, Prescott Fond Blanc
Melon, Blacktail Mountain Watermelon
Potatoes, Russets
Potatoes, Yukon Gold
Potatoes, Bintje
Potatoes, Red Fingerling & La Ratte

I’ve scheduled my start dates for both late spring/summer crops and my start dates for fall/winter/early spring crops.  This allows me to feed my family (and chickens) year round exclusively (and chickens partially) from my city lot.

I don’t have a greenhouse or special seed starting room.  Instead I use a simple re-purposed book shelf, fluorescent lights suspended from chain link and a 24″ Hydrofarm Jump Start T5 Grow Light System.

When it comes time to harden off I put the trays outside during the day for a week, bringing them in at night and keeping a watchful eye on them so they don’t dry out.  This time of year the weather can be tempestuous winds or torrential rains so I’ve rigged up some simple 72″ long wire pieces tucked inside one raised bed.  I’ve covered them with opaque plastic held in place with metal clips that I purchased from an office supply store.  On rainy or windy days I put the flats under cover.  I will also use this system to cover my tomato, basil and pepper starts until May once I’ve planted them out.

The question I get asked most frequently is how I find the time for the garden.  Realistically once you have the seeds planted (mainly during end of March/early April and then again at midsummer) and if you’ve irrigated the garden it doesn’t take up much time.  The harvesting and preserving, however, does.  Having made the choice to only eat foods if I know how and by whom they were grown means I would be spending that time at the farmer’s market, UPick or preserving foods someone else had grown for me anyway so growing as much as possible myself isn’t much more of a time commitment.  And the money it saves you will add up quickly.

Plus being outdoors in April and midsummer is something that I want to do anyway. Now that my kids are old enough to not eat their own caterpillar soup creations, they enjoy racing around the maze of garden boxes or digging in the mud hole I’ve incorporated into the front garden bed. We have plans to build the brick mud pie oven, garden spider orbs, and make a sundial together and we look forward to many a garden tea party.

I hope you are all busy planning your gardens and hope to meet as many of you next Saturday in my yard as possible.  The open garden is from 1-4 at my house, 5710 NE 56th St in Seattle.  The zip is 98105 and please do google it since the streets don’t all go through.  Also please consider carpooling as parking is limited.  The garden is in that in between phase where I have just recently harvested the last of the fall/winter/early spring crops but the late spring/early summer thing are just barely surfacing so it doesn’t have that lush mid-summer look but I hope you’ll still get ideas on how to pack more edibles into your own yards.

Happy gardening!

Gardening Giveaway

It’s time to start planning for what you’ll eat next year! For many who can’t grow all their own food that may mean simply taking stock of what pantry items you are going through so that you can make plans to buy from a local farmer and preserve as much of that as possible.

For others, however, that means planning for the spring/summer/fall garden. I belong to a rocking group of Seattle urban farmers and gardeners. We buy as many things in numbers as possible to get the best possible prices on chicken and goat feed and seeds. It’s also an invaluable chat group where you can take questions about which peach trees and grape vines to buy or what to do with sick chickens.

The last few weeks I’ve been organizing seed orders from many of the members and this week they all came! It’s total garden porn for me and I can’t keep my hands out of the boxes.

The first order I placed was with Uprising Organics, which is like a Seed Savers for the Pacific NW. I can’t say enough good things about the fine people running this company. They are committed to planetary stewardship and the preservation of heirloom seeds. They have 10 varieties from the ARK of taste which is impressive considering they are only a few years old.

And not only are they cool by virtue of profession but they just cool folks. When I explained to them that I wanted to save some of my seeds to design a starter garden as a giveaway they offered to send me some packets in contribution. When I got the box I couldn’t believe how many packets they had included – what a great garden package for one lucky reader! I’m even throwing in these cool new garden gloves that I saw and couldn’t resist.

These seeds were specially selected to do well in our short and cool Pacific NW summer but they should work equally well in any northern garden.

The seed list includes:
Super Lakota Tomato (missed the first time)
Siskiyou Sweet Heirloom Onion
Bulls Blood Heirloom Beet
Rainbow Carrot Mix
Marketmore 76 Cucumber
Spring Raab Rapini (Broccoli Raab)
Uprising Lettuce Mix
Blacktail Mountain Watermelon
Rainbow Swiss Chard
Flemish Antique Heirloom Poppy

Of course I had to plant my seeds right then.

To win this giveaway simply leave a comment on this post. Anyone commenting by midnight, February 14 will be eligible to win. On Monday I will do a random number generation using and announce the winner.

Good luck!

Starting Seeds Indoors

I’m a little behind due to the bronchitis but I’m getting my seed setup going on and if you are in the Seattle area you may want to do something similar to this.

You don’t need a fancy setup to start seeds but you do need a sunny window. Lacking that, you need some lights on about 16 hours a day fairly close to the top of your seedlings. You can purchase grow lights but you can also use a combination of one cool and one warm regular fluorescent bulbs and get almost the full spectrum of light in that way.

Last winter I started out using my kitchen counter and elevated my seedlings up to the light level until I had time to purchase some extra fluorescent lights.

After finally braving Home Depot I came home with two cheap fluorescent lights, some small C screw in hooks and four lengths of chain with which to lower the lights down to seedling level. Unfortunately this took up some valuable kitchen counter for several months when we have none to spare.

It’s also unfortunate that this is the best picture of that setup that I have. It wasn’t pretty but it was highly functional. And always in the way. But the tomatoes are worth it.

Ultimately I was shopping at City People’s and saw a Jump Start Plant System for around $65 and splurged for it. I want to point out that that is an Amazon affiliate link but if you find one of these at City People you would save the shipping and support a local business.

My intent was to get the seedlings off the kitchen counter but by then it was time for me to start a new crop and the kitchen seedlings were still months away from dirt so I ended up doubling my seed starting capabilities.

Earlier this winter I started a crop of indoor lettuce under the Jump Start light in the living room but once the main garden stopped needing my attention I quickly forgot about my gardening duties and never remembered to turn the light on. The salad greens grew leggy and ratty so I finally put them out in the garden to fend for themselves over winter. I’m not sure that they survived since I already had salad greens growing out there to confuse them with. Salad houseplant experiment fail.

Now that the Jump Start is free again I’m combining it with the fluorescent lights using an old particle board book shelf that’s been in the garage of this and every other house we’ve owned. Why I could not tell you. It’s gone unused for 3 houses now so I’m claiming it in the name of nutrition.

The Mom recently posted pictures of a handsome homemade seed starting shelf that I’m envious of although my setup will honestly work just as well.

My plan is to place the Jump Start on the top shelf and suspend my fluorescent lights over the lower shelves. Kitchen counter reclaimed! Well, it will be once the olives finish curing in my lovely fermenting crock.

Renee’s Garden has some nice garden plans and a timely article on starting seeds indoors if you are looking for basic seed starting information.

I have some reusable plastic flats with plastic covers that help maintain moisture until the seeds germinate and then I remove the covers and put the flats under lights but you could achieve the same thing by reusing plastic microwave or disposable aluminum food containers inside a plastic bag.

One thing that happened to me last year was the dreaded “damping off” where seedlings suddenly seem to die at the soil level and then keel over. It can happen as a result of overwatering. One trick I read about and then employed with real success is spritzing them with chammomile tea. I just used Sleepy Time straight up several rounds of watering and all except the furthest gone starts recovered.

This year I have plenty of dried chammomile flowers from the garden so no need to buy tea. And if you plant chammomile, you will also have plenty of flowers as well as volunteers. The volunteers currently are forming a lush lawn growing in any crack of my garden they could get their roots into.

If you are looking for a master seed starting schedule for the greater Seattle area let me introduce you to to my gardening mentor, The Modern Victory Garden. I’ve just linked in to her 2010 seed starting schedule which is a little bit ahead of Growing Vegetables West of the Cascades: The Complete Guide to Organic Gardening and that’s a good thing for us in Seattle. We have such a tight window to grow sub-tropical plants like tomatoes, eggplants and squash that those extra weeks can mean the difference between an abundance of ripe tomatoes and an abundance of green ones.

The Modern Victory Garden has a forum where you can post gardening questions and she patiently answers them all. She’s got some great “How-Tos” on her site and some amazing gardening series if you scroll through older posts.

I hope you take advantage of this early warm weather to get some things started and your beds ready!