Let's get this party started

on Sunday, January 23, 2011

Ok, I admit it, maybe that title's a little premature - it's not like we'll be able to go out and dig in the dirt for quite awhile yet - it's frozen rock solid! But with it being near the end of January, it actually IS time to start getting some seeds started for this year's garden. Hard to believe, isn't it? Now we're not talking juicy tomatoes, spicy peppers, snapping fresh peas, or anything like that - those won't get seeded for awhile yet. But when it comes to crops like those in the onion family - well, ya gotta start early! REEEEAL EARLY! And so that's what I did today - started four varieties of leeks from seed. This is my second year of growing leeks from seed, and I decided to try something a little different. As with last year, I'm starting them mid-to-late January in soilless seed starting mix in flats, which will sit on heat mats, as you can see below.

But take a closer look at that picture - it looks like I didn't finish filling in the flat of seed starting mix - right? If you look at the next picture, you'll see what's going on. I felt like last year's leeks were incredibly started off incredibly scrawny compared to what I've read about them and those that I mail-ordered as immature plants. Sure, they turned out great, really taking off by mid-summer and plumping up nicely. But I'm wondering if they could've been even bigger and even better!? So I decided to put a thin (1/2"?) layer of "homegrown" worm castings (aka worm poop) in the bottom of the flat, and then top that with the seed starting mix. It seems like that should give the leeks a nice nutritious boost once their young roots get down that far. Here you can see a more clumpy, solid looking layer in the bottom of the tray, and then the looser, speckled layer of seeds starting mix on top. (Those little red flecks aren't my worms - they're just shreds of paper (worm bedding) that didn't get fully processed before I scooped out the castings.

So here's what I'm trying for leeks this year, each with a different number of days to maturity (from the time of transplanting them in the ground), which I hope will help stagger their harvesting for the CSA. See how I feel about this later if I'm griping because I want all that garden bed space freed up for other crops! Anyhow, I'm trying:

Yup, that's a pack of garlic chives you see that I'll be starting from seed. They're a different flavor, and flatter leaf, than the chives you're used to having on baked potatoes...and I might find it's easier in the long run to just buy a plant at a garden center....we'll see.

Anyhow, back to the experiment with the worm poop. I realized, as I was seeding the trays, that I wouldn't know if this year's leeks were really starting better because of the worm castings, or if there were other factors. Thing is, the first two packs of seeds I started were REALLY loaded with seeds - way more than the 50 I thought they were supposed to come with - and so they took up the majority of the first flat. This worked out pretty well - I'd already accepted I'd have to use a second flat for the remaining two packets of seeds (which, it turns out, contained much closer to 50 seeds apiece!) - and so I decided to try the worm casting experiment with them as well, AND to have a control group.

I used a seed/planting tray that was formed with six divisions - a 2x3 grid. In the image below, each type of leek is planted from front to back of the tray in 3 rows, but only the three sections in the front side of the tray have worm castings, and the back half is pure seed starting mix.

It was around this time I realized how few seeds came in the two packets I was working with, so I used the right-most two sections to continue the experiment, with the front half starting with worm castings. There's four different plants started over there (the right-most got cut off) - Skyphos red butterhead lettuce (pelleted), Tatsoi, Komatsuna, and Mizuna.

Uh, what?

Cover of Cover via AmazonYeah, those last three are VERY new to me! After reading a number of books talking about winter harvest crops, Asian greens, etc (including the incredibly good The Winter Harvest Handbook: Year Round Vegetable Production Using Deep Organic Techniques and Unheated Greenhouses by Eliot Coleman), I decided to give some of these more popular Asian greens a try....some might get combined into an Asian greens stir fry mix, while others might get included in the CSA on their own...assuming they're any good and successful. I have others I'm going to try, but these three seemed the most popular/common in my readings and the seed catalogs, and I had plenty of their seeds to experiment with.

So....check back periodically to see how the experiment is going!
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