I know it’s hard to believe… we haven’t had much of a “real” winter here yet, but the calendar doesn’t lie. It’s February and it’s time to start some seeds. In fact, I should have gotten the onions and leeks started earlier, but I was on vacation in Mexico. Gardeners need their sun, you know.
This weekend I managed to slip out to the greenhouse. Last year I had some problems with damping off, where your seedlings die just as they germinate. It’s caused by a number of different pathogens which can hide in your used pots and seed-starting trays. So, I decide to sterilize my cell-packs this year. I grab two 5-gallon buckets of water… one with a bleach solution and one for rinsing. I put the cell-packs in the bleach solution, making sure they are in complete contact with the water, and let them soak for at least 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, I find my potting soil. I use Pro-Mix which I get in big bales at Alaska Mill and Feed. It is more economical than buying small bags and already has mycorrhizae in it, which is a fungus that forms a symbiotic relationship with the plant and helps them grow bigger and stronger.
When potting soil comes out of the bag it is dry, dry, dry. It is so dry that it will repel water. I moisten it before I fill my cell packs or pots, otherwise, I will never get it evenly moist and my seedlings will suffer. I dump my potting soil into a big plastic tote, pour some water in, and mix it up. I keep pouring and mixing until there are no dry spots left and it is about as wet as a wrung-out sponge. I gather a handful of soil and squeeze it into a ball. No water runs out, and when I open my hand, it stays in a nice ball. Perfect. TIme to fill the seed trays.
I use plastic cell packs like the ones you buy at the nursery to start my seeds. I can fill a whole tray with soil and plant it in no time. They are convenient and easy to move around. And when I plant, the seedlings pop right out. I do not mess with individual pots, paper pots, egg shells, and especially not the peat pots that are so popular lately. They will not break down fast enough in our cool soils and the plants will suffer.
I rinse the bleach off of the cell packs, put them in the trays, then fill them with potting soil. I mound the potting soil on, then brush the excess off the top. Each cell is evenly filled to the top… not packed too tight. Then, because Matt is inside with the kids and my hands are cold, I bring the trays inside to plant. Onions, leeks, celery, tomatoes, peppers, and herbs.
It feels deeply satisfying to have the trays stacked up in the corner, waiting to germinate. Each flat holds a potential for 72 (or more) food-bearing plants that will fill our bellies this summer and fall. It is a promise that winter will soon give way to spring. That we will soon feel the heat of the sun on our back as we sink our hands into the earth and breathe deeply.