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.

Making the planting plan

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

Seed starting–nothing fancy needed!

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!

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12 thoughts on “Let the Seed Starting Begin!

  1. I agree that the idea of growing and nurturing plants is more soul-nourishing than we tend to think. I’ve got a few herbs and two plants that we brought inside before the frost hit; I dunno how well they’ll do when the season comes ’round, but I keep shuttling them around the apartment for a little sun (when there is any) and watering very lightly, so we’ll see. Otherwise, we’ll buy a few more from the farmers who grow our food. That course on Permaculture! Thank you for mentioning it. I’ve investigated a little and this is not the time for me, but I will keep it in mind for later this year or next year, so do let us know how it’s going for you, as the lessons unfold. Also, I love their pay-what-you-can model. And they have other “classes” too. Very cool.

    1. What a good plant carer you are BIP! I hope the herbs and plants do well once they can go back outside again. Glad you are interested in the permaculture course! I like the pay what you can model too. You get a lesson each week and so far I have done two. I’ve always thought permaculture was just a gardening thing but it’s a whole systems design approach to sustainable living, which is pretty cool. So far it’s going pretty well!

  2. Last year, when the pandemic hit, my daughter and my two little granddaughters, Scout and Wren, were staying with me for six months while my son-in-law was in Afghanistan. I had planted cherry tomatoes in pots along the driveway. One of the girls’ favorite things to do was go out to see which ones had turned red. They ate them right then and there, so none made it into the house – but it was a bumper crop! I’m looking forward to growing them again this year. Scout got really interested in gardening and “helped” me with my flowerbeds. Kids love to garden, so anyone who has “littles” around should encourage them to get dirty!

    1. Oh yes Grad, children love to garden! That is when I learned. My dad would always plant a big veg garden and my grandparents too, and I loved helping plant the seed and pick the ripe vegetables. It was magical! And it still is! Scout and Wren are very lucky girls. Thank you for nurturing some new gardeners!

  3. I adore your enthusiasm for seeds. It rubs off on me but it’s a bit early to plant outside just yet…. unless I did indoor planting? Hmm. Point to ponder, methinks.

    1. I can’t plant outside yet either Liz. I will be able to direct sow cool weather stuff like peas at the end of April if I am lucky. The seeds I am starting indoors won’t go out until Mid-May. Seed starting indoors is pretty easy. I think you should give it a try 😀

  4. I planted garlic for the first time last fall and they’re starting to come up. I’m moving things around a bit this year — moving the herbs out to the raised beds by the chickens (hot sun and less frequent watering out there) and plan on several kinds of squash, some scarlet runner beans (so pretty!), a couple kinds of peas, and some tomatoes, lots of salad greens and kale, and I don’t know what else. I wrote down a plan somewhere — need to find it! I’m giving up on peppers (although I might give shishito peppers one more try, in a different location) but I always do well with tomatoes and oh, of course, cucumbers. Sometimes I think I should just grow herbs — so pretty and satisfactory! But I love growing all kinds of things. Last year was a bad gardening year for me. I wasn’t focused (gee, wonder why) and things just didn’t grow all that well in general. Oh well! I’m hoping this year is better — I was diligent about our compost bins so we’ve got some good stuff to contribute to the soil. I’m also covering large sections of the beds with cardboard and will put a big load of new garden soil on top — the weeds were getting a little out of control. Gardening is so much fun, even when it’s not as successful as you’d like.

    1. Good luck with your garlic Daphne! I love growing hardneck garlic and eating the scapes too! But after years of growing it, for the past 2-3 we haven’t had any success at all. So we decided to take a little break and re-evaluate. It sounds like you have some fantastic plans for your garden! It can be a lot of work sometimes but it is satisfying and rewarding work in my opinion. Have fun!

    1. Thanks Brian Joseph! We still have snow here too. The plants I am starting will not be able to go outdoors until the middle of May. But my growing season is so short I need to start them early indoors.

  5. There are also so many different kinds of peas in the world! I miss purple-hull peas and crowder peas and lady peas and field peas. All the stores have are “black-eyed peas.” But the growing season isn’t warm or long enough for those up here, let alone where you are.

    1. Oh Jeanne, yes there are! I have grown lady peas in my garden before but they were not very productive. I have been growing a variety called Holstein for about 5 years now, saving the biggest each year to plant again the next and last year two of them ended up being big beautiful productive plants. I saved the biggest peas from them to plant this year. We will see how it goes!

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