Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Sowing Spring

Early Jersey Wakefield cabbage sprouts sown two weeks ago.
Yesterday it was 71F out, and the hens were happily sunning and dusting themselves. Today, it's gray and gloomy and the mercury has topped out at 28F. It's a good day to stay inside and invoke the first whispers of spring with a bit of soil and seeds.

I have two different varieties of cabbage to try this year. One of them--Early Jersey Wakefield--is a pointy heirloom variety of cabbage. I planted a couple of rows in a flat two weeks ago. Today I'm adding Copenhagen Market, an early-1900s heirloom cabbage variety from Denmark. Hopefully that will spread out my cabbage harvest just a bit. I'll set aside seeds to plant outside in late summer, as well, for a fall harvest.

I also received a free packet of Red Romaine lettuce seeds from Baker Creek Heirlooms, so I'm adding a few rows of lettuce to the flat in my kitchen. I don't usually start lettuce indoors--those easy-to-wilt leaves seems sensitive to transplanting--but I want to set some out early this year and am hoping for early home-grown salads.

I mixed together organic potting soil with vermiculite, a combination I've not tried before. It's light and loamy, and carries an earthy scent that is a prelude to crisp lettuce and fragrant tomato seedlings. This peaty scent comes ahead of true spring, and I relish it for its promise. (L likes the earthy scent too. She kept going over to the newly planted flat, breathing deeply and saying, "Oh that smells so good!") That rich soil scent takes me back to my grandfather's garden, in the back corner of his yard, just behind a huge spruce that sheltered skittering rabbits.

There in my kitchen, I pull the flat out from under the light, where the first couple of rows of cabbage have sprouted. I slip in plant markers, then wiggle the point of a knitting needle just enough to make about 12 divots in the mix. Then I carefully tip the seed packet toward my palm and use tweezers to pick out seeds one at a time and drop them into their prepared dark cradles.

It is amazing to me that a tiny sphere as miniscule and unassuming as a grain of sand contains the blueprints and material to provide a nice jaunty cabbage for coleslaw or pigs-in-blankets.

I tuck the seeds in gently and set the flat on the shelf back under the lights. Because it's a cool-weather crop, I'm opting not to use my heat mats beneath the flat. I want to see if the germination rate is better without it, and will use this flat only for my cooler weather crops and for seeds that don't need heat to germinate.

Next up after cabbages: Aswad eggplant and three varieties of peppers on the 15th. I normally start most of my tomatoes on March 15 each year along with the peppers and eggplants, but last year they were way too big, too fast, and I ended up having to place them in the garden a little early simply because of space issues. Even with Wall-o-Waters they seemed to struggle, and this year I'm planning to set tomatoes out a week after the average last day of frost (May 15). I'll put black plastic down on the soil to make sure it's toasty warm before I set my heat loving plants out.

No worries for my cabbages, though. They'll go outside in about a month to enjoy some cool weather. But that means we'll need to do some chicken-proofing on the garden beds within the next few weeks.

My flats planted and under lights, I sort through my seeds to feed my yearning for spring, then I head outside to let the hens out of the coop for the day. To them, it will seem winter has returned, but I know spring has started in my kitchen, and it won't be too much longer before it will be starting in the garden, too.

No comments:

Post a Comment