While we still have snow on the ground from the late snow on March 6, today we are hauling out our seed box and starting flats of seeds for this year’s garden.
Even for an experienced gardener, each year contains a little trial and error. Sometimes a lot, like last year. I tried some new gardening methods from a book called Gaia’s Garden (no link, I don’t recommend it) and we ended up with some setbacks in the garden. Maybe that’s an understatement. The book recommended multiple layers of mulch, from straw, to compost, cardboard and finally shredded mulch. So we can all agree that weeds were not a big problem. However, all those layers of mulch breaking down made the conditions too acidic for the plants, and most had failure to thrive. The plants that managed to grow became insect candy. Now, since we’ve been growing organic for many years, we are used to a certain level of insects, but this is ridiculous! One thing that grew well in this soil was turnips. After figuring out that even the children will eat turnips if you use enough Romano cheese, it ended up being a beneficial crop.
The book I mentioned advocated permaculture gardening, a method I strongly endorse in general. This method encourages the cycles of plants and animals and humans in such a way that each benefits the other and creates a system where each sustains each other. Monoculture – planting only one variety of plant in an area – is discouraged for requiring extra fertilizer and making it very easy for insects to take over a crop. Permaculture encourages planting diverse things in an area so that insects have a more difficult time finding the type of plant it feasts on. The diverse plants each have different nutrient fixing properties (like beans with nitrogen) and the plants can improve the soil instead of depleting it. Permaculture also advocates the creation of microclimates that help each plant to thrive. For example, placing a stone next to a delicate plant will give it additional heat at night and help it grow. We are able to keep a large fig tree by planting it on the south side of the house – a microclimate. I find that Sepp Holtzer has wonderful advice since he’s been planting this way since before it was called permaculture.
The areas of the garden where I ran out of all these mulching materials did much better and here are some of the gorgeous vegetables we were able to grow last year. All pictures below are from our garden and not stock photos:)
This year the mulched areas have had time to break down further over the winter and I am hopeful that this will yield ideal growing conditions. We’ll do some soil amendments recommended by Eliot Coleman in Four Season Harvest (a book I highly recommend!) and keep our fingers crossed for a good growing season.
So, with my husband next to me talking about scranlettin tipcklepenny corner (can anyone guess the source?) lets start planting! The best seeds and value are from GourmetSeed.com. We can’t say enough about this company, and this blog links to them on the right column as well as from our farm website. They import most of their seeds from Europe which is a benefit since Europe has so consistently banned GMO crops. That means we don’t have to worry about cross-pollination with undesirables. The quantity of seeds that you receive for the money is outstanding. I frequently make comparisons with the other seed catalogs we receive, that will usually have 50-100 cabbage seeds in a packet. For the same amount of money, the Gourmet Seed packets will usually have about a thousand. I could not make this up – start comparing some seed websites for your self!
First, the easy ones that can go directly in the garden right now. As soon as the melting snow reveals the black earth, we can start planting the hardiest varieties such as fava beans and peas. Fava beans are delicious, and are much better known in Europe than they are here. They are a wonderful way to put early vegetables on the table. The peas are hardy and a favorite with our family, and need to go in now. If planted too late, the hot summers here will stunt them.
We will start the seed trays in the conservatory, although we could do them in the hoop houses as well. The temperature in the conservatory is much higher though, and the seeds will germinate more quickly. The conservatory is also much more humid and the seeds are less likely to dry out. You can start seeds successfully in a sunny window – morning sun is best.
Eliot Coleman has his own recipe for making soil blocks, but we do not use those. We have an abundance of seed trays we were given, and we recycle those each year. For this operation we do use the organic seed starter mix which seems to prevent damping off – the early death of a seedling from some unknown cause, most likely bacterial or fungal. We will start with hardier varieties of plants, Brassica family plants like cabbages and broccoli, lettuces and spinach. In a few weeks we will start the tender vegetables such as tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers.
Here are the seed trays that we have planted today – five trays with 72 cells each should make a good start for the garden in a few weeks. The seeds used are radiccio, lettuces, chard, cabbages, broccoli, brussel sprouts and more.
It was heavenly to plant the seeds only feet away from fragrant orange blossoms.
We also had another baby lamb and we are pleased to introduce Comet, in honor of Comet PanStarrs. Here she is in her little black dress. Her fleece is stunning and will make beautiful naturally colored yarn.
Well, we need to go drain the well. One of the neighbors is missing…