Or; Seed Staring 2013 at Quarter Acre Home!
So at long last I get to post about plants! Plants are SUCH an important part of living a homesteaders life and I really struggle with them. I have killed almost every plant I have ever owned from peppers to cacti to sage… Nothing has survived. I even killed a pine tree once. Even the ones I have gotten to sprout have eventually died a crispy, yellowish death.
This year I will be trying something different because my plants will be going into the ground. I will be seeing them every day and this should help me remeber to water them. And if I forget? Then they’re in the ground and are unlikely to dry out all the way. Hopefully planting my plants outdoors will be the solution to container gardening.
But before all that happens, some plants need to be started in containers because they are slow to develop and we have lots of cold months up here. Today was warm enough to go outside and steal some dirt from my yard but it’s due to drop again soon. A seed that germinates best at over 70 degrees will have a tough time growing outside in winter temperatures. Which means a new shot at container gardening for a bit to start the seeds. In this attempt I am pulling out all the stops I can and not investing in anything but the seeds. Every other bit of it I will have already. That way if I fail miserably I only loose some seeds.
I picked my seeds from http://www.highmowingseeds.com/. They are an organic-only company that sells lot of heirloom plants! I got ONLY heirloom plants because that’s just how I roll. I love the idea of growing something that has been around for hundreds of years and still works. If it isn’t broke, don’t fix it! I like this site because they give instructions on how to grow particular varieties, comparison charts of the varieties and even seed saving instructions! We’ll have to wait and see how their plants grow before a true verdict can be given. I have decided to grow the following plants this year; carrots, corn, tomatoes, peppers, arugula, spinach, kale and pumpkins. Each of these will serve an important purpose in feeding either my animals or myself. Some of these things aren’t very well-loved; I’ll be honest. Kale is gross, peppers I can only take sparingly, Greg hates pumpkins and I have a serious vendetta against corn. But each of these plants serves very different purposes in my book. Kale can be juiced or turned into “kale chips” (like potato chips) to snack on, besides it’s high nutrition value for all animals. The peppers are sweet and full of vitamin C to pack my rabbits full of immune-boosting power (besides the great addition a VERY small number make to stir-fry’s and curry)! The corn I got is specifically for drying and milling. It can be ground into a flour for tortillas and cornbread, and it can be cracked to give my animals all-important fat and calories in the winter. Pumpkins are very freezable and are one of the healthiest vegetables you can feed a dog (good for balancing out digestive issues especially)… And considering we have two of them that eat 6 cups of food a day, mixing this with fresh rabbit could save us a lot of money!
But some of these need to be started well in advance. The tomatoes and peppers are the worst but the corn and the pumpkins too. So I decided to build a grow-box. It’s juat a simple wood frame with aluminum on the back and floor, then plastic on all the other sides. It helps keep in heat and moisture while amplifying light, a little like a greenhouse. Mine could probably use about 10 more layers of plastic but if nothing else it’s a place to give my plants a little more light in these sunless months and keep my dogs out of the seeds.
I decided to make cardboard seed starters out of toilet paper rolls. These are free, biodegradable, have great drainage and are the perfect size. If you have not heard of this before now you will soon be hooked! My goal was to not spend money so these worked well. First you have to prep the containers. To do this you have to cut the rolls in half and then split one end into four equal parts about a half-inch up the sides.
Then you just fold those parts in so each flap has on end over another flap and the other end under another flap. This is how most people close cardboard boxes too. You want the flaps to come into the middle so that there is little or no space in the middle. If there’s more than a tiny gap your flaps need to be larger. Once they’re folded just turn them right side up and press them down so the bottoms flatten out.
Then fill them with dirt about half-way. The dirt I used was my own little concoction. A study of compost and soil shows that most plants like a slightly sandy soil with a high nitrogen content as well as some carbon, calcium and potassium. The best source for nitrogen is urine but that will burn a plant if it’s not aged. Instead you want poo! Rabbit poo works great for this but is not terribly high in nitrogen. Cow manure is best, but hard to come by in a city. Other animals like dogs and chickens also have nitrogen-rich poo, but it’s TOO high and needs a fair amount of carbon to balance it out. Carbon can be obtained through anything from sawdust to straw and even the cardboard of your own container! Since the cardboard breaking down will leech nitrogen from the soil you need a little extra.
In fact, even human poo can be used for growing plants and the reason behind not using it is some plants can carry on diseases from the animal that provides the poo. This helps stop the spread of disease, but in a modern world how many people do you know carrying ringworms and coccidia? If you, or your pet, are disease-free than so will be the resulting poo! If you’re still worried, a compost pile aged without turning for a year after being filled will naturally kill every disease and parasite in it except for ringworms!
So I pulled out some topsoil my sister had. It’s cheap soil and is a bit sandy and grity. Just what I wanted! I mixed in plenty of rabbit poo and crushed it in. I had to pick out the rabbit poo because I did not want any of the hay bedding. Uncomposted or undigested those grass seeds can sprout out of just about anything! The soil was too dry and rough with all the rabbit poo and grit in it so I went into my back yard and rubbed some rotting wood into the mixture as a source of carbon. I also mixed in some of the thicker, heavier, rich mud we have around where our stump was decomposing for years. The ground there is very fertile. Lastly I needed extra nitrogen in the mix. My dogs are healthy, so in went some poo that had been sitting under snow all winter! Not too much but when I was done the soil had lost it’s too-sandy consistancy and was a rich, dark pile like you’d expect to see come out of a bag of organic, fertilized planting soil.
Lastly I mixed in some fireplace ashes and well-crushed eggshells. These add potassium and calcium while helping to remove acid from the soil. Most plants like a Ph of 7ish, which is slightly basic. Ashes do a good job of changing that while adding potassium, just don’t use too much!
Next I soaked my seeds in luke-warm water. This is a trick my mother uses for starting seeds. Let them soak in warm water for 15 minutes or so to convince them it’s a spring rain and it’s time to wake up and start growing! Seeds alone do not react much to light, it’s the water and temperature they react to so soaking them simulates both! Then I simply took them out of the water and stuck them in the half-full planters. I stuck anywhere from 2-7 seeds in each planter depending on seed size. I was taught to always use at least two seeds in each because if the first one is a dud the second one probably won’t be and you won’t have wasted the effort of planting them!
Then simply fill the starters most of the way up to the top and put them where they will be warm. Water small amounts every day. It doesn’t take much, just a tablespoon each at most. Just make sure they stay wet!
I tried this earlier in the year with some sprouting wild garlic bulbs I collected from the pre-existing plants! I stuck them in some of the rich dirt from around our stump, put some wood chips on top as a mulch and watered with our (now-deceased) fish’s tank water as a source of nitrogen. At this point the cardboard has started decomposing pretty badly but the plants in it are going on strong and are fairly tall! They will make great garlic chives or I can plant them outside to get even more garlic next year!
I can only hope that my cultivated veggie plants do as well as my wild garlic has so I get plenty of great vegetables come spring!