Garden Prep: February Starts

Trays ready for seeds, overlooking where they will live in a few months!

As someone who lives solidly in zone 5 (5b to be exact), I feel like I NEVER get my seed starting done early enough. Which means I often would start TOO early without a proper plan. Part of this was definitely due to my previous career. I would work like a madwoman from October through end of January, finally get a week off to recuperate and then in February try to get back to normal during what is (in the retail world at least) the first month of a new fiscal year….

Soooooooo basically: writing annual performance reviews, crafting business goals and strategies for the next year, rolling out the inevitable ‘new processes’ and initiatives to the employee population, and (as more prevalent in recent years) going through the pain of restructuring, downsizing and adjustments that come with recession, streamlining and just industry evolution in general. In short, February was ALWAYS my least favorite month (August a close second.) A month that logically SHOULD be the easiest, slowest and a time to heal and regain strength after the holiday battles… is actually the most challenging, draining and emotionally charged because you have *points at the first sentence of this paragraph* ALL THAT going on while you are also just SPENT (want quiet and space)…. BROKEN (ouch feets)… SO, SO TIRED (rest means REST.)

So yeah, I never was able to start seeds with proper timing… never planned our garden based on frost dates, germination times and maturity guides. I just did it. I guarantee that was a good amount of the frustrations I had with several crops that I deemed ‘just not suited for our farm’ or ‘impossible to grow, because of our soil/location/weather/etc….’ I just started them too late, or too early most likely.

This year, however, I am happy to try something new: sticking to an actual seed starting calendar and being able to focus on one thing: growing our food in a more measured and successful manner. (Every year, the farmer and even hobby gardener makes the same promise to themselves: this year I will commit to do better, grow more, waste less and be more attentive. It’s a big promise, one that we all harshly judge ourselves against, as well.)

The first thing is to understand your Hardiness Zone and find a recommended planting calendar for it. THIS is the one I used (as it also has other farm/property chores listed that help prep for the new season of growth and eventual harvest.) The site is pretty killer, too. These ladies have a great mission, and hail from Asheville, NC. I found them late this winter and will be buying seeds from them for next year’s garden for sure!

This month I will be starting several veggies as well as a few more flower starts:

Veggies: Sweet Onion (from seed), Cabbage, Cauliflower, Celery, Spinach, Kale

Perennial Flowers: Yarrow, Aster, Lavender, Mallow, Delphinium, Scabiosa

Tuber/Root/Bulb potting: Container Tulips (Copper Image), container Anaemone (De Caen White), DEEP POTTING Royal Wedding Papaver, DEEP POTTING Helen Elizabeth Papaver, Container starting Bridal Bouquet Peony

Tuber Propagation: Breakout Dahlia, Fleurel Dahlia

Now it’s DEFINITELY early to start these things without the ability to support their continued growth (either in container or greenhouse) before placing into the ground, however, the flowers will bloom quicker than those directly sown, and the veggies (these are the most cold tolerant or those with the longest maturity growth timeframes) should be able to get into the garden EARLIER, on a schedule versus just being transplanted ‘whenever I have a few few hours….otherwise they stay in the tray’…

This is my test for the year: will the combination of early starting then turning out to the hard greenhouse work? Can I get more than one planting rotation in this year? By ACTUALLY having a spring, summer and fall planting/growing plan? Aggressive, but entirely possible with planning!

Why do I grow?

  1. I love the work
  2. I love the food we make from the time and energy of caring for plants
  3. I love the beauty that homegrown flowers bring to our home and property
  4. I love how it helps our earth and the land we steward (the birds, pollinators, butterflies and other beneficial insects…)
  5. I continue the traditions of my family… and hope to pass along to my daughter. Live the life, love the life… SHARE the life.

This is my process this year:

  • Beginning of Month: Fill cells with seed starter

  • (WEEK 1) Plant seeds to proper depth, mark varieties and date. Mist to cover. Place greenhouse cover over (or encase in plastic wrap) and place in Germination Station (Sunroom)

  • Check daily, mist as needed to keep tops moist and check for sprouting. To speed along germination, use a heat mat. Keep in mind this will dry your seed starting mix quicker and you will need to mind the tray occasionally throughout the day.

  • (WEEK 2) Once you get a few little sprouts poking through the soil, tent the lid/remove wrap. Give tray a week or so in a sunny spot before moving to indoor greenhouse

  • (WEEK 3) Check that most of your tray has sprouted then move to indoor greenhouse with grow lamps, for heat hungry plants (to build root structure) add heat mat to greenhouse position (think peppers, tomatoes, etc.)

  • (WEEK 4) Continue to water (mist if plants are delicate) until they are ready to pot up. Once seedling is well rooted, switch to small watering can but be mindful to water at the BASE… too much water on tender leaves under grow lamps can result in unhealthy plants, early onset funguses or even burn.

  • Repeat each month with appropriate flower/veggie seeds until it is time to direct sow.

Potting up will be based on growth and need to give more airflow around the plants AND more space for roots to grow. As root systems become space deprived, they push the growth into leaf/ flower and fruit. Often, this is why you never see the full potential of a plant (especially if you are growing in containers) but can also lead to lengthy grow times in a bed. Young plants setting flower/fruit early might seem like a great thing, but the stress on the plant to mature the fruit deprives the actual growth of the plant to potential. This is the big reason for ‘pinching off’ early flowers on most young plants (even though most of us gardeners hate thinning and pinching LOL!) There is a whole world of info out there to dive into: which plants to bind root growth for stronger starts, which plants do better in containers due to the desire to build such extensive root systems they flower and fruit very LATE (I’ve learned our super hot peppers prefer living in a gallon container and are WAY more productive this way for us, versus in the ground)…. depending on your location and growing season, these things should all be researched in order to maximize your yields!

Transplanting is a whole other plan… for a later post.

Previously, I only had two spaces to germinate and grow to transplant size: My sunroom on a table and the indoor greenhouse. This year I will have THREE spaces. More spaces means more plants, right? (shhhhhhh…)

Germination Station : AKA sunroom

Initial Grow Room: Indoor Greenhouse

Final grow out/Hardening off: Outdoor Greenhouse

The minute Feb gets here I get SO excited for Springtime and waking up the Farm. Even though the beds are asleep below the snow, there is still MUCH to do to get ready… and I throw myself into it wholeheartedly!

How are YOU preparing for this growing season?

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