Winter is an exciting time of year for those of us who have grand gardening plans. Seed catalogs arrive in the mailbox, or we scour the online lists, filled with flower & vegetable seeds that we dream of growing. If we are prepared to start our own seeds, then we can purchase artichoke, pepper, chili, leek, bulb onion, woody herb and long-season brassica (cabbage) seeds. If not, then it is best to purchase those vegetables as seedlings, or as “sets” for onions, because they take a long time to get established.
For the scale of garden that I love to grow, starting some seeds is right for me. The positive is, that I can chose the seed varieties that I want and know, that right from the beginning, organic methods and amendments are used in their upbringing. It’s important to me to build very healthy organic soil, to grow thriving plants, so we can consume more nutritious (possibly) food. I try as often as possible to keep on that path. If you are interested in the pros & cons of organic vs chemical fertilizers this is a good article.
I use a lot of peppers and onions throughout the year. Not only used in our daily meals, but also when I preserve canned sauces and salsas. Peppers are expensive at the grocery store all year around, so it’s definitely a worthwhile effort for me. I’ve had great success growing them and will continue starting my own seeds and dedicate a large bed to them each season. Peppers are super simple to stuff and freeze. I make meat&rice filled bell peppers, poblano “chilies rellenos“, jalapeño poppers and large baggies of multi-coloured diced peppers that I can grab and add to any dish.
Onions are pretty cheap to buy in bulk in for winter storage, so I save my garden space and don’t try to grow enough for our year-round use. I do grow onions intermingled with all kinds of crops, to help with pest control and to get the most out of my garden beds. They take up very little above-ground growing area and don’t need to penetrate deep into the soil. That means they can be planted around kale, broccoli, brusselsprouts, the base of blueberry bushes, tomatoes and in-between the lettuce rows. If they get in the way with my succession plantings, I just harvest them, regardless of the size, make a braid, and hang them in the carport to cure. Dot them in with a blue marker when you are drawing up your garden plan 🙂
Peppers, leeks and onions take a long time to germinate and grow. They are always the first on my list to get planted. This year seeds went into potting soil pods on January 10th but last year it was February 8th and they did just fine. I try to get these seeds started before March 1 each year. Individual pepper plants at the garden centres are expensive, and that is because they take a long time to grow. A $4 package of onion seeds can yield 50-80 onions so that is a frugal investment for a large payout. This year I am starting my own 3rd generation of leek seeds.
To start, we dusted off some solid waterproof and some meshed trays that I saved from previous years.
Using one solid tray and one mesh tray to keep seed pods out of direct water, we filled the trays with rinsed, recycled plastic containers.
Using purchased organic seed starting mix, we filled all the pods outside on the work bench. We pushed down the soil in each one to make sure it was full, as they tend to shrink once watered. Whisk brushing away the excess soil will hopefully keep most of the mess outside, rather than in my house. Filled trays were brought in for seed planting on the dining room table, by the warm fire. Ginja was helping pre-sort? or pre-warm? the seeds while we were out in the cold.
Each pod, or 6-pack, was marked with a waterproof sharpie pen as to the type and variety of seed planted. We also added these details to our garden planting journals. Cut up sour cream & yogurt containers make great tags.
After we completed four trays full of assorted pepper and onion varieties, they were generously sprayed with water. The spray evenly coats and moisturizes the pods without disturbing the seeds, like a watering can would.
Once we had four trays seeded, they were set on a small table in my dining room, on a special growers heating mat. The mat will keep the flats at an even, warm temperature for optimal germination. Now, we’ll wait and watch for them to sprout before moving them to a cool spot under grow lights.