It’s almost the last weekend in February and the polar vortex has finally departed, so what does that mean? It’s seed starting time! Technically I should wait until next weekend, but I need some growing green friends to care for right now, and really what difference will one week make?
Seed starting for me over the years has gone from a few tomatoes in a sunny window to full on shelves of seed flats with grow lights, and now sits comfortably at a practical only what is truly necessary. Since we get so many tomatoes and peppers from our CSA, there is no reason for me to grow them myself any longer. And since I don’t grow tomatoes and peppers in my garden it leaves room for all sorts of other stuff, like potatoes and garlic. Only this year we decided to take a break from both of those, which explains why I have so many different varieties of beans to try.
Seriously, when I was making my planting plan a few weeks ago it was beans, beans, beans, oh look more beans. And hey, what do you know, another packet of beans! There are so many different kinds of beans in the world that the lack of variety found in grocery stores is criminal. But beans don’t need to be started indoors 6-8 weeks before last frost. Beautiful beans go directly into the ground and are amazing to watch sprout. Have you ever seen a bean sprout from the soil? One day nothing. The next day a bump as the unfolding bean pushes up the soil. And then the day after that there is this sturdy sprout with two big leaves. Beans are like the Great Danes of seeds, unlike tomato sprouts that are like Chihuahas—tiny, delicate, shivery, and sensitive to cold. If I remember come bean planting time, I will take some sprouting photos of the magic.
Last year in pandemic lockdown, I didn’t start any seeds until the equinox, and I did not use the warming mat, and it took forever for some to germinate, and because I keep my house rather cool and they had no extra warmth, some of them did not get very large before it was time to go outside, which caused them to not do well and quietly dissolve into the soil. This year I have vowed to do better.
I only have two seeds that need a really early start and they are do-overs from last year—ground cherries and arnica.
Arnica is a perennial that I want to grow in my herb spiral, but weirdly, after a couple years of fruitless searching for an already growing plant—why does no one sell arnica?—I gave up and bought seeds. It eventually sprouted last year in spite of my half-assed seed starting operation, but it was so little when I planted it out in the herb spiral mid-May that after two weeks it had disappeared beneath the creeping thyme never to be seen again. This year I am going to do right by the arnica! I need its sunny yellow flowers in my life. Plus, who wouldn’t want a plant who is also sometimes called wolfsbane and has medicinal properties growing in the garden?
Ground cherries are also pretty impossible to find already growing in a pot. The one time the annual plant sale I attend had them, they had already all been bought by the time I got there. And they have not been offered again. Humph. So seeds.
Ground cherries are in the same family as tomatoes. If you like tomatillos, you are enjoying a variety of ground cherry. But I am not growing tomatillos, I get those in my CSA box too. The ground cherry I am growing (I hope) is one that tastes like pineapple. There are also ones that taste like strawberries. Is this not one of the most amazing things ever? I can grow something that tastes like pineapple in Minnesota. Hot diggity!
Last year they too were victims of my poor seed starting operation. Remember how I said tomato sprouts are like chihuahuas? Ground cherry sprouts are like chihuahuas squared. Without the heating mat to warm the soil, they did not sprout until the end of April. And when they did sprout they were so thin and tiny I could hardly see them. They were not at all happy, and by the end of May they pretty much looked like I had stuck some sad alfalfa sprouts into the pots. They would not survive in the garden like that so they went right to the compost bin
This year I am determined to do right by the arnica and ground cherries. I am starting early so they have time to germinate and grow. I plugged in the heating mat. Yes, the pots are empty toilet paper rolls I have been saving up for the purpose. This worked great last year and saved me from making newspaper pots. Since we do not use plastic wrap, I have lovingly covered them with plastic salvaged from the wrapping of a furnace filter so they can have humidity. And they are sitting in front of my sunniest window. I will give them love and hopefully they will love me back.
I am now going to shamelessly encourage you to grow something of your own. You don’t need a yard, you can grow a tomato in a pot or herbs on a windowsill. I am a firm believer that growing something will help you feel connected to life and the diversity of non-human persons with whom we share this planet. If you don’t have a yard or have never grown anything before, a good place to start is with container gardening and a new book called Tiny Victory Gardens. If you have a yard and a garden already, maybe it’s time to go all in? I just signed up (and you can too) for a free 52-week permaculture course. I have the first lesson to do after I post this. So exciting!
What are you waiting for? Go grow something!