Category Archives: seed starting

early tomato starts

our hoop house is little – at least when compared to what i’m used to.  i’ve mostly worked in houses that are 24-34 feet wide and 96 long.  our little 14 x 36 foot might be smaller – but it never feels cramped, due to the six foot ground post (and that i don’t have to share it with anyone but my family).  one major difference of working in this this house and the others i worked in, it’s ours.  no more improving soil for someone else – no more having to make decisions via consensus to decide planting dates – s and i just sit around the table and decide what to plant.

like most folks, getting tomatoes early is a big goal, but i’m not that into bragging about who has the earliest tomato, but i do like a good tomato (alright i do like to brag a bit, but it’s not the only reason for wanting early tomatoes).  how the early tomato has entered  the american psyche as the source for garden bragging i don’t really understand.  peas, spinach or even radishes are just as exciting to me.  xtra large pumpkins seem like the only other crop that comes close, and i don’t care at all about those – you either carve it or make soup out of it, otherwise the pumpkin has no point.  an early tomato you can eat, and that certainly seems worth bragging about.

because of the hoop house at work i have likely enjoyed fresh tomatoes much earlier than most detroiters.  with my own hoop house i can experiment with early tomatoes in a way i don’t feel at liberty at the farm.

so this year we are trying much larger tomato transplants.  i’m skeptical, my personal experience is that older take longer to bounce back from transplanting, but that’s out in the field.  in the hoop house they have less wind, more water and more shelter from cold.  perhaps they will do better.

is it really about earlier tomatoes?  i think it’s ultimately about starting tomatoes earlier.  nothing, nothing really gets me though the last of winter like starting seedlings.

there are so many possibilities for containers to start containers, but for several years now at home, i have settled on the not so high tech styrofoam egg carton.  it’s cheap, common, holds in heat well, and is shallow so heat from a heat mat penetrates easily.  i cut the top from the bottom and use the top as a tray to go underneath it, poke a hole in each of the egg holders, fill it soilless mix and yr good to go.

in order to label – i simple use an industrial waterproof marker to write on the tray of the egg carton underneath each of the egg holders.  it works better than little sticks.

egg carton

they go on a heat mat and a couple weeks later once they sprout they get pricked out and then go under lights.  if i have room i try to keep them on the heat mat as long as possible, but eventually they get kicked off to make room for the next crop.


i’m growing these for twelve weeks, which is why i started them so early.  normally i go for a eight week transplant – but as stated before, i’m trying large transplants.

the peppers for the hoop house are also started – and i’ve direct sown, peas, carrots, beets, radishes, arugula, scallions, and spinach.

what grows in your winter garden?  i’ve been reading more about about grafting of tomatoes anyone with thoughts about that?


planting true potato seeds

i’ve been planting potatoes for at least 15 years.  every single one of the years i’ve planted clones, from what are called seed potatoes.  what we call seed potatoes are not true seeds, but clones that are vegetatively propagated.  what this means, is that when we plant potatoes of the same variety say the ever popular “red norland”  we are not planting plants that are genetically similar, we are planting plants that are genetical exactly the same.  this is a risky proposition.  it means that if disease descends on the field, and the “red norland” is vulnerable, then it they all are gonna be equally vulnerable – and you could lose all your crops.

while lack of genetic diversity is an issue, not having the opportunity to see just what these potatoes can share with the world is even more important.  true potato seeds show a high degree of genetic variability, and you never really know what you are going to get unless you have done controlled crosses.  that is the exciting part, potato traits that have not shown their eyes in generations could show up, plus new combinations of genetic info from potatoes that have crossed.  potatoberriesthis year i’ve finally saved true potato seeds for the potato berries, and planted them, and have a nice yield of seedlings.  

the seedlings i’m growing this year are crosses of a couple of the more popular potatoes – yukon gold and red norland.  both have been doing well for us for a number of years out in the garden, and have done well without any pest problems, disease, or watering.  


i have many more seedlings than i need, so if anyone is interested in some of them, i’d be happy to let them go for a dollar each, just to cover costs for growing them.  they should be ready to plant about the same time as tomatoes in mid may.  let me know if you are interested and the number of plants you want and send me an email to dirtysabot at gmail dot com.


may the growing season begin!

we have been busy in the hoop house, harvesting lots greens and pulling up all the crops we planted in the fall to make way for spring plantings.  lettuce, spinach, arugula, spicy greens mix, beets, radishes, turnips, and mustard have all been planted in the last few weeks and are starting to sprout up.  it will be some time before these are ready to harvest – but we have spinach under low tunnels out in the field that will be ready about the time we clean out the hoop house.

please ignore how crooked the rows are, the farm is a learning facility, so we embrace mistakes.  some more than others.  under lights inside we are sprouting snap dragons.  super tiny and they need light to germinate.  the seeds look like dust.  even though they could be handled to prick out, i think i’m gonna try to wait a little while so these are easier to handle by non veteran pricker outers.   lots to prick out, over 110 flats for community gardens.  out in the greenhouse we have started picking out collards & kale into blocks.  these will go into the hoop house in a few weeks.  onions are sprouting up nicely.  these will be our early onions that will be ready for fresh eating in mid july.  we have also started the first of the tomato starts to go out into the hoop house.  may the growing season begin.

sound track:  celtic frost – morbid tales

dirt farming

last post was about utilizing a spade to rip up sod.  this post is about preparing the bed and planting it.

most gardeners have this really annoying thing where they correct people when they refer to the stuff you grow in as dirt, insisting that it be called soil.  dirt is something negative, as in you get dirty, dirt is something that you sweep up off the floor.  soil is something positive, something full of life.  of course by this logic soiling yourself would be a positive thing.

whether i agree with this notion or not, i too have taken to utilizing the same phases since it is so universally agreed upon.  based on this working definition, i can’t rightly call what we grow in soil, it’s dirt.  it would be an insult to soil to call it such.  it’s amazingly compacted, full of rocks, brick, metal, and you hit a hard-pan of clay about an inch down, and then it is nothing but clay.  but we keep on working it, and overtime, it yields to our will, certainly not becoming dark rich soil, but something that holds plants up while we feed them massive amounts of compost.

digging out this most newest bed ma agreed that it might be the worst part of the yard we have dug up yet.  we couldn’t even get the broad fork down a couple of inches to loosen it up, instead we utilized a shovel to loosen it up.  double digging was out of the question, so we did my best with what we could.

after digging, breaking up clods, and shaping beds we put down about 3 inches of compost.  in the end i was surprised with how good the final texture and appearance was considering what we had to work with.   with the beds prepped it was time to plant the service berry seeds that i had saved. i’m not sure if the couple of weeks that they spent in the fridge will be enough to trick them into breaking dormancy and sprouting this year or not, but it’s worth a try, and if it doesn’t work, they should sprout next spring.

we collected pulp and seeds from processing service berries though the food mill for service berry mead, and did our best to remove as much pulp as possible, but there was only so much we could do.  the internet advised that planting whole berries was a bad idea and we might cause fermentation of seeds if we did.  i’m hoping that the left over pulp doesn’t cause any of those sorts of problems.

ma used the side of the collinear hoe to make a furrow.then dropped down the seeds and pulp.then covered them and gave them a solid tamping and a quality watering.  now its just  a waiting game to see what happens.

pawpaw seedlings finally sprout!

i wasn’t planning on writing  about paw paws again until putting together a batch of paw paw mead that i have fruit in the freezer waiting for me.  that is until i went back and checked the spot i planted some paw paw seeds a couple years ago.  ma had done some weeding in there last year and said nothing had come up and i took her word for it.  i decide to check once more this year, just to quite my hopes that they would sprout and move on to the next venture.  and i much suprised to see this sight.

over 50 of these little beauties.  planted much too close together, so i guess i’ll try to carefully transplant them next spring into another spot for them to get big enough to plant out.  my dreams of collecting paw paws in the city limits just might come true.  any recommendations of place to plant paw paws?

prick out

the term used for transplanting young seedlings into pots is called pricking out.  i don’t know why, that just what it’s called.  whenever the phase prick out is uttered at work co-worker kadri starts to sing a rendition of chic’s  le freak substituting the freak out choruses with prick out.

pricking out tends to worry folks.  particularly i think it’s because it involves handling young plants, and people are always worried that they are gonna kill them.  i like to remind folks of how much more resilient we are when we are young.  pricking out is pretty simple and easy if you just follow good practices.

most folks recommend pricking out once the first true leaves appear.  i find that by that point the plants are too big, and root systems too well-developed.  it is actually much easier to prick out once the cotyledons are fully formed but before the true leaves appear, or are just appearing.  to remove the seedling from the germ tray i use a blunt pencil or a chop sick to get underneath the seedlings roots and gently lift it up while i grasp the seedling by its leaves with my other hand.  often seedlings roots are tangled together, and i use the chop stick to work them apart.  it’s important to handle the seedling by its leaves, as if you break off the leaves, no big deal, it will regrow, but if you break off the stem, no good.

then it’s just a matter of putting it in its place.  you can drill a little hole in the pot it’s going in, and then drop it in place and close the soil around it.  or like in this image, you can just press the roots down into the soil.  ideally if you can you want to push them down as low as you can, so that the leaves are just above the soil surface.  the idea being to grow nice stocky plants not leggy ones.

the last step and perhaps the most important is to water the little transplants in.  using a gentle stream of water fully saturate the tray.  this is one of the few occasions you can’t really over water.  the bigger danger is not watering enough .  when you are doing this, it’s not just about watering the plants, but also making sure you are getting good soil contact all around the roots, and keeping them moist while they get used to their new home.

planting the hoop house

i’ve been itching to plant the hoop house at work for a month, but prepping beds and sifting compost has taken much longer than expected.  it’s no big deal, yes we are behind, but i’d rather the beds be in good shape.  it’s well worth the effort.

they still could use more compost on them, but then there comes a time when you have to say well enough, lets plant some food.  this fall i’m going to be sure to get plenty of compost sifted and ready to go.  we have about a 9 foot wide section in the very front of the hoop house where we can put a nice big pile of sifted compost to store.

i don’t know if i’ve ever shown off this guy, the six row seeder.  it’s pretty demanding, requiring a bed that is very smooth and well prepared.  even with the extra time spent on prepping the beds, it still saves an incredible amount of time.  the learning curve on using the six row seeder is pretty steep, we messed up on seeding a lot of beds before we started getting it right.  and priced at over five hundred dollars, you better be prepared to put it to good use, or it’s not worth the money.  but it has certainly paid for itself over the years, both in reduced labor costs and seed costs.

with any luck i’ll be able to take this same shot in a week and have little radishes sprouting up. in addition we also planted turnips, beets, chard, arugula, spicy greens mix and salad mix.  we still have some other beds to plant this week.

for instant gradification we also planted kale seedlings.

now i’ll be checking the beds multiple times a day to see if anything has sprouted other than weeds.