Sunday, February 07, 2010

In preparation for spring

January is long and cold here in Vermont; There is something about the start of February that makes me want to force spring to come sooner..I know I can't move the calendar, but there's something about putting hands in earth that is uplifting to a winter soul.

On my way out to Waggles yesterday I noticed that the local Agway was having a 50% off sale on all Burpee seeds. Last spring I waited too long to buy seeds and by the end of May most stocks were slim pickings - one or two varieties of each vegetable, but not anything like the late winter optimistic selections!

Just touching each of those little seed packets and imagining the warm summer evenings in the garden, my bare feet in the loamy soil; mid-summer the taste of a fresh bell pepper - warm from the sunshine - freshly picked and eaten like an apple right in the garden patch. If I close my eyes right now I can almost feel the sunshine on my face...

Today's purchases and garden planning included a couple of slicing cucumber varieties, a pickling variety of cucumber, four kinds of summer squash and zucchini, some sugar snap peas, green and waxed bush beans, broccoli, carrots, radishes, eggplant, cauliflower, pumpkin, cantaloupe, watermelon and some kale. It's going to be a BUSY garden this season.

While my mother, grandmother, aunts, uncles and cousins are all incredibly gifted gardeners - it's never really been my skill. I'm not sure if it's zen, patience or karma - I love the process - the romanticized notion of being one with the land, the creation of nourishment, the quality of having a well kept garden - my application is often flawed. Last year a June frost, a tomato fungus and a very wet summer trashed my little plants. Even with the best intentions I harvested exactly three cucumbers, two squash and only a handful of peppers, carrots, radishes and tomatoes. I'm hoping to turn all of that around this year with a liberal application of cow manure and a more consistent time commitment to get out there to weed, water and talk to my plants.

Of course it's too early to really start seeds now - and in the past when I HAVE started seedlings inside I haven't particularly loved the results - my tomatoes never harden properly - usually too tall and unable to withstand winds, even when planted deeply and with support. I know this was mostly attributed to starting them too early in the spring and also not acclimating them to natural sunlight.

I have three grow labs that I built years ago (I have the plans if anyone is interested in building their own) and as I was picking up those little paper envelopes of seeds I was so tempted to start them all - and start them TODAY. Luckily my more rational side prevailed and I left with the notion to start just a single packet of seeds this afternoon.

I chose a loose leaf lettuce to grow indoors - In particular an heirloom variety called "Black Seeded Simpson". I appreciated that it came in seed tape format (as I tend to over-seed); it's a spring variety and I wanted to set up the grow lab in my basement(it's pretty consistently around 60 degrees down there) and lastly because BSS harvests in about 45 days. If all goes well (Q! is a huge variable in that equation), I will have my own freshly grown lettuce around mid-march! By that time I can start a couple of the squash and cucumber varieties if I'm feeling motivated to do so - or I can start another batch of lettuce.

A folding table from the garage and the grow light setup and ready to go. I was pleased that the bulbs still worked after they'd been packed away for so long. This dark corner of my unfinished basement is pretty bright now.

And I found clean trays in the garage, of course they're "soiled" now. {{giggle}}

I used significantly more seed tape than I should have. But given my track record, I'd rather thin the seedlings (or start them in a new tray) than have to start all over. The packet called for 8" distance between plants.

All finished! Covered with saran wrap to help keep the moisture in and the cat out.

They're on a 12 hour timer to start with. There isn't much natural light in the basement.

Meanwhile, Teller at the top of the stairs, waiting patiently.

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