Tag Archives: territorial seeds

Tips for Starting Lettuce Indoors

 

Lettuce seedlings started indoors

Tiny lettuce plants in grow tray.

Look closely. Can you see them? Tiny, the size of a filament, maybe a bit bigger than a human hair.

You are looking a freshly sprouted lettuce.  I tucked these seeds in this grow tray 3 days ago – moist seed starting mix, a dash of vermiculite on top and water in the tray.

They came up on their own.

Lettuce likes the cold and doesn’t need light to sprout. Once they stick their heads up out of the soil, all you have to do is keep the soil moist and the light on (for 10 hours) and close to the seedlings so they don’t get spindly.

Lettuce plants ready to transplant.

Lettuce plants just before transplant.

In 4 or 5 weeks, these tiny plants will look like these babies, which are about ready to be hardened off and transplanted so they can enjoy the cool days and cooler nights of early spring.

I put my first crop of lettuce in the ground when the price for 12 ounces of the organic stuff hit $5.98 a bag.  That comes to $18 a week for just a bit over a pound of green leafy lettuce.  I haven’t looked back since.

Why?

Transplant lettuce in March.

Transplanting lettuce is easy.

Lettuce is one of the easiest crops I have ever raised.  And, it’s a two-fer! Save your seeds and pay no more (well maybe you’ll have to buy seed every 3 or 4 years). Just keep planting and harvesting.

If you want to grow organic, you have to be particular about whose seed you buy. I want organic seed, especially if I plan on saving and sowing.  And I want flavorful leaf lettuce — not head lettuce you have to chop with a cleaver.  And I definitely do not want Genetically Modified (GMO) seed.

There are four places I buy seed:

Adaptive Seeds – this is relatively new company, established in 2009 and based at Open Oak Farm in Sweet Home, Oregon. Their seeds are absolutely wonderful.  The moving forces behind this company – Sarah Kleeger and Andrew Still — are devoted to “…finding, stewarding and sharing rare, diverse and resilient seed varieties for ecologically-minded farmers, gardeners and seed savers.” They sell only public domain, open pollinated (OP) seed, as well as many diverse gene pool mixes.

Hudson Valley Seed Library –  the variety they offer is impressive.  Their seed is  locally grown in a climate and soil not unlike mine here in Zone 6b.  And this company helps support school and community gardeners with donations of seeds.

Territorial Seeds – kind of the granddaddy of organic seed growers, this company was organic before organic went mainstream.  Family owned, Territorial Seeds has a fantastic reputation for the seeds it sells and the customer service it brings to the table.

Grow Italian – I discovered this company more than a decade ago and it’s my go to seed company for all things Italian including some lettuce and mixed greens.  When you buy a packet of lattuga from them, you get high quality, high-germinating seeds and a lot of them.

Lettuce is an easy crop to grow and so tasty.

I think the hardest part of growing lettuce is picking the kinds you want to try.  But once you have your seeds, planting is so easy, you’ll wonder why you didn’t do it sooner.

I supplement my indoor seedlings by sowing seeds right in the garden bed.  One problem with sowing lettuce is that the seeds are small and lightweight and they tend to drop into the dirt in clumps or blow off my hand. I used to have a hard time getting them to spread out on the soil but here’s a trick my sister taught me.

  1. Get some soil – take it from your garden if it’s rich and light or grab some potting mix.
  2. Fill a quart jar about 2/3rds full of the soil.
  3. Put lettuce seeds in the jar.  I put different types together so I grow my own “mixed greens.”
  4. Shake the jar until all the seeds are mixed, uniformly, through the soil.
  5. Gently shake the soil out of the jar and into your beds. If you can still see some of them, put just a tiny bit of dirt over the visible ones.
  6. Water the seeds in.

Then all you have to do is water every day until the seeds sprout.  Then water weekly and wait for the lettuce to grow.

A few more tips:

  1. Don’t plant in the summer!  Lettuce, like beets, likes cool weather. Plant in the spring and again in August for harvest in late September and October.
  2. Start lettuce plants indoors if you want.  I use 40-cell growing trays and start mine in early February.  When I transplant, I cover the babies with a small tunnel to protect them from frost.
  3. When you cut lettuce leaves, don’t cut them down to the ground.  Cut about an inch from the bottom and you will get a second crop.
  4. If you want to save the seeds, plant for a spring harvest but only cut the first crop.  Let the second set of lettuce leaves grow up and flower.  Then wait.  It will be tempting to take the flower heads off when they get their puffy, white hair.  DON’T.  The seeds need to mature.  Wait until the heads are dry, brown and about ready to burst.  Then pull the seed heads off, take the seeds out and let them dry in a small strainer for a couple of weeks.  I refrigerate mine once they’re dry and plant them in the fall.

So while the wind howls around our house, I am happily ensconced in the basement playing with and planting lettuce seeds.

Excerpted from my book – Grow So Easy: Organic Gardening for the Rest of Us – a guide to easy, fun and productive organic gardening for everyone.

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Grow So Easy – Planting Lettuce In the Dead Of Winter!

This winter, according to Accuweather, my Mid-Atlantic zone is running about 10 degrees colder than normal.  I would say so! With wind chills, we have hit  negative numbers like -17 and -24 degrees.

For a gardener, sitting inside, listening to the wind howl and watching the earth be scoured by shards of bright, shiny snow could be depressing.  But this week, I decided to head for the basement and start some seeds.

What could I possibly have in mind considering the arctic conditions outdoors? Just one crop…lettuce.

I love raising my own lettuce.  It’s a love born out of hate.  That sounds like an oxymoron but it isn’t

I started raising lettuce when the price for 12 ounces of the organic stuff hit $5.98 a bag.  For me, that’s $18 a week for just a bit over a pound of green leafy lettuce.  Do the math.  I was spending almost $1000 a year on lettuce!  Try doing that on a fixed income.

I hated paying the price so I stared planting and growing my own.  And guess what?  Lettuce is one of the easiest crops I have ever raised.  And, it’s a two-fer! Save your seeds and pay no more (well maybe you’ll have to buy every 3 or 4 years).  Just keep planting and harvesting.

So, let’s start with seeds.  I am pretty particular about whose seed I buy.  I want organic seed, especially if I plan on saving and sowing.  And I want flavorful leaf lettuce — not head lettuce you have to chop with a cleaver.  And I definitely do not want Genetically Modified (GMO) seed.

There are four places I buy seed:

Adaptive Seeds – this is relatively new company, established in 2009 and based at Open Oak Farm in Sweet Home, Oregon. Their seeds are absolutely wonderful.  The moving forces behind this company – Sarah Kleeger and Andrew Still — are devoted to “…finding, stewarding and sharing rare, diverse and resilient seed varieties for ecologically-minded farmers, gardeners and seed savers.” They sell only public domain, open pollinated (OP) seed, as well as many diverse gene pool mixes.

Hudson Valley Seed Library –  the variety they offer is impressive.  Their seed is  locally grown in a climate and soil not unlike mine here in Zone 6b.  And this company helps support school and community gardeners with donations of seeds.

Territorial Seeds – kind of the granddaddy of organic seed growers, this company was organic before organic went mainstream.  Family owned, Territorial Seeds has a fantastic reputation for the seeds it sells and the customer service it brings to the table.

Grow Italian – I discovered this company more than a decade ago and it’s my go to seed company for all things Italian including some lettuce and mixed greens.  When you buy a packet of lattuga from them, you get high quality, high-germinating seeds and a lot of them.

Lettuce is an easy crop to grow and so tasty.

I think the hardest part of growing lettuce is picking the kinds you want to try.  But once you have your seeds, planting is so easy, you’ll wonder why you didn’t do it sooner.

I tend to sow the seeds right in the garden bed.  One problem planting lettuce is that the seeds are small and lightweight and they tend to drop into the dirt in clumps or blow off my hand. I used to have a hard time getting them to spread out on the soil but here’s a trick my sister taught me.

  1. Get some soil – take it from your garden if it’s rich and light or grab some potting mix.
  2. Fill a quart jar about 2/3rds full of the soil.
  3. Put lettuce seeds in the jar.  I put different types together so I grow my own “mixed greens.”
  4. Shake the jar until all the seeds are mixed, uniformly, through the soil.
  5. Gently shake the soil out of the jar and into your beds. If you can still see some of them, put just a tiny bit of dirt over the visible ones.
  6. Water the seeds in.

Then all you have to do is water every day until the seeds spout.  Then water weekly and wait for the lettuce to grow.

A few more tips:

  1. Don’t plant in the summer!  Lettuce, like beets, likes cool weather.  You can plant in the spring and again in August for harvest in late September and October.
  2. Start lettuce plants indoors if you want.  I use 40-cell growing trays and start mine in early February.  When I transplant, I cover the babies with a small tunnel to protect them from frost.
  3. When you cut lettuce leaves, don’t cut them down to the ground.  Cut about an inch from the bottom and you will get a second crop.
  4. If you want to save the seeds, plant for a spring harvest but only cut the first crop.  Let the second set of lettuce leaves grow up and flower.  Then wait.  It will be tempting to take the flower heads off when they get their puffy, white hair.  DON’T.  The seeds need to mature.  Wait until the heads are dry, brown and about ready to burst.  Then pull the seed heads off, take the seeds out and let them dry in a small strainer for a couple of weeks.  I refrigerate mine once they’re dry and plant them in the fall.

So while the wind howls around our house, I am happily ensconced in the basement playing with and planting lettuce seeds.

Excerpted from my book – Grow So Easy: Organic Gardening for the Rest of Us – a guide to easy, fun and productive organic gardening for everyone.

Grow So Easy Organic – Best Gardening Books

Anybody whose gardened for even a year has favorite books and favorite web sites.  As a 30 year, veteran organic gardener, I have my share of favorites, too.

There used to be dozens of books on my garden shelf.  Today, there are only about 10 of them.  What happened to the rest?

I realized that although I had a ton of books to choose from, I always chose the same, select few when I had a question or needed help.  So I decided to do a bit of clearing up.  When the dust settled, there were a lot more books in the back of the car than on my shelf.

I took the rejects to a used book store where all profits are used to support senior citizens and headed home, having done my good deed for the day.  So, on to the survivors, my favorite gardening books…starting with two books I have and treasure.

The Victory Garden
My life in the dirt began when I tripped over one small book one Saturday morning about 35 years ago. Crockett’s Victory Garden.  I guess I can blame Jim Crockett for all of my gardening crimes.

More than 3 decades old, Crockett’s book is still hailed as one of the best for beginning gardeners and it still has pride of place on my gardening book shelf.

Crockett was a gardener’s gardener.  He didn’t need fancy tools or high-end gadgets.  All this man needed was some soil, some seeds, some sun and rain and he had a garden full of the bounty of nature.

And he was always so easy to listen to and learn from.  No rush, no worries, just good, old-fashioned gardening advice, that’s what you got from Crockett every week on your local PBS station.  And that’s what you’ll get if you can find one of these vintage books for your shelf.

Seed Starters Handbook
The idea of seed starting used to terrify me.  I was beset with questions.  What if I saved the seeds incorrectly and none of them sprouted?  What if the seeds I saved changed from the original plant to a Frankenplant…born out of a cross I didn’t know about?  What if I got great plants and little, tiny fruits?

Saving my own seeds and using them in my garden the next year just wasn’t something I wanted to try.  But I did, with the help of a friend I’ve never met —  Nancy Bubel.

Published in 1988, Bubel’s The New Seed Starter’s Handbook taught me how to save seeds of tomatoes, cucumbers, squash and peppers and use them the following spring.  Getting started was so easy that today, almost 25 years later,  I raise all my own seeds.

In fact, this past summer every plant in my garden — 5 varieties of tomato, 2 types of pepper, 2 of cucumbers and 2 of eggplant and 2 of zucchini – were all started in my basement along with butternut squash, lettuce, spinach, basil and parsley.

Bubel’s techniques are easy.  No special equipment is needed and success is practically guaranteed.  In fact, seed saving is so…natural…I’m surprised everyone isn’t doing it.

Garden Insects of North America; Ultimate Guide to Backyard Bugs
If you grow them (vegetables and fruit), they will come.  Bugs you never imagined in your wildest nightmares will show up one afternoon and you won’t have a clue whether they’re good or bad.

WARNING:  Don’t do what I did.  I wiped out a whole generation of monarch butterflies because I thought the caterpillars on my dill and parsley were “bad.”  So, look before crushing.

It’s really important to, “Know thy enemy.”  Garden Insect of North America Garden Insects of North America: The Ultimate Guide to Backyard Bugs (Princeton Field Guides)  makes it possible to learn about every kind of bug you never thought you wanted to know existed.  Literally.

The images in this book are so good that I turn the pages with my fingertips and only touch the lower corners.  And the images and descriptions will help you identify what’s chewing its way through your garden and give you a flying chance at handling the critter.

Lasagna Gardening
Patricia Lanza’s book entitled Lasagna Gardening, helped me expand my knowledge and increase the size of my garden 5 fold.  There are nooks and crannies in my backyard that were wasted space before I met her and read her book.

Now, every patch of dirt is real estate to grow in.  The inside line of the fence becomes a foot wide bed where beans can be planted and trailed up the fencing.

What’s really great about Lanza’s technique is there is no expensive equipment, no digging, no ploughing, no tilling.  All you have to do is find the space gather materials like shredded leaves, manure, grass clippings, coffee grounds, newspaper and compost and start layering.

Lanza made it easy to do but what she really gave me was the vision to see where I could plant and the freedom to “dig in” without digging at all.

Grow Fruit Naturally
This is my newest book but it is also a book I reach for frequently.  If you decide to grow fruit, Lee Reich is the guy to have in your hip pocket.  Why Reich?

For one thing, the man knows what he’s talking about.  With a doctorate in Horticulture, Reich taught for a while then moved from academic to author, writing books for the everyday gardener and farmer. All of his experience shows in his new book, Grow Fruit Naturally: A Hands-On Guide to Luscious, Homegrown Fruit.

Reich’s knowledge comes from books but it also comes from experience.  He lives on what he calls his “farmden” so named because it’s “…more than a garden, less than a farm.”   And he really, really knows his stuff.

His latest book, Grow Fruit Naturally, could not have come at a better time for me and my backyard orchard.  I especially love his advice on blueberries.

I started growing blueberries without knowing that they are one of the easiest fruits to raise.  In fact, 6 of my bushes are mini-miracles in themselves.  But that’s a story for a later date which I promise to tell in this eBook.

Let’s just say, I planted 12 blueberry bushes in the corner of my back yard instead of 6 and I’ve been harvesting 60 quarts of blueberries every summer…until the summer of 2012.

Weather had something to do with it – 90 degree days in April and 40 degree nights in May.  But somehow, I knew weather was not the only problem.  I was very lucky because, in 2012, one of the best experts on planting and raising bushes and trees shared the fact that blueberry bushes have to be pruned.  Who knew?

Because of this book, I will be heading out into the blueberries in October to do my first pruning, ever!

The Pruning Book
Also by Lee Reich, The Pruning Book: Completely Revised and Updated. The Pruning Book is one I’ve had on my shelf for 15 years.  I bought mine used and have read it a couple of times.  Like his book on growing fruit, Reich shares tons of photographs and drawings that make it easier to learn how to prune any plant.

Reich also shares pruning basics using a step-by-step approach.  He tells you how to prune ornamentals, vines, fruit trees and even house plants.  And Reich offers a special section on pruning techniques for espalier, topiary, bonsai, and pollarding.

By the way, if you like what you read in these Reich books, check out the others he has on sale.  I loved Weedless Gardening and still use the techniques I read in this book in my garden, today.   This wonderful writer and gardener has published many good books.  The books are easy to read, enjoyable and can teach you so much about how to grow and care for plants, vines, shrubs, bushes and trees!

4 Season Gardening
When you are ready to extend your growing season, I can think of no one more helpful than Eliot Coleman and his book, Four-Season Harvest: Organic Vegetables from Your Home Garden All Year Long.  Coleman lives in Maine…so if he can grow vegetables year round, the rest of us should be able to do it, standing on our heads!

As it says in the new edition of this book, “It’s hard to achieve anything new in an endeavor as old as gardening, but Eliot Coleman has done it.”

In this book, Coleman shares every bit of his knowledge, his tools, his advice and his finely honed sense of the cycle of life over the course of a year.  He does so because he wants all of us to benefit from what it has taken him, literally a lifetime to learn.

Clearly written, beautifully illustrated and loaded with photographs, this book is a slow, steady path to move from just gardening in the summer to gardening all year round.  I love the fact that you don’t have to dive in and do it all, all at the same time.

Thanks to Coleman, I now use a small cold frame (made from recycled windows and wood) and have some small plastic tunnels for extending my lettuce crop.  I saved old sheer curtains and sheets and use them to provide protection from frost and I am constantly on the lookout for an old green house that I can buy or move and start growing from November to February.

I love this book and this author because of his generosity of spirit.  And I love Coleman because, as much as any other gardening guru and maybe even a little more, he has given me hope that comes from growing living things.  We don’t have to wait for spring.  We can grow despite the howling wind and falling snow.

Spring will come again but we don’t have to wait for it anymore.

Next week, web sites that I visit on a regular basis for help, advice, information and sometimes, just a little sympathy!

Grow So Easy Organic – Best Resources for Seeds

Fall is always a bittersweet time for most gardeners.

The bitter is the end of the season, the death of all the plants we nurtured from embryo and childhood to full blow adult.  The end of gazing at green dotted with red tomatoes, deep purple eggplant, multi-colored peppers and the deep blue and black of berries on the bush.

The sweet is all in the future – picking out next year’s crops and planning where these special additions will live in your garden.

Which Comes First – Picking or Planning?
This used to be a real conundrum for me so, sometimes I’d pick – sometimes I’d plan and sometimes. I do the exact opposite.  It doesn’t matter to me because I am a lot more relaxed about my garden than I used to be.  And frankly, I’ve learned that it doesn’t really matter…except when it comes to buying your seeds.

There are a whole lot of places you can find and buy seeds.  The market place gets a little narrower if you only want to plant organic seeds and narrower still if you are only going for heirloom seeds.

As an organic gardener, I really do work hard to avoid buying seed from companies that have anything to do with GMO.  I also don’t want my seeds coated with anything or doctored in any way.  Sure, some of the seeds won’t sprout but here’s my philosophy.  If it was meant to grow in my soil, it will.

So when it comes to acquiring seeds, I shop for organic and heirloom.  And I have a few favorite places to buy them.  Since I’ve been buying seeds for many, many, many years, my criteria haven’t changed but some of my sources have, thanks to the Internet and my gardening friends around the world.

Nonetheless, I love opening my mailbox and finding the first seed catalogue in it.  It’s the signal to start browsing all the possibilities and putting in my order.  NOTE:  I know it’s fall.  I know you won’t be planting until February or March (especially if you are a seed starter).  But don’t wait to order. This is especially true if you are buying organic and heirloom seeds.

If you wait to place your order, you may be disappointed.  The latest data indicates that about 50% — half of the population – are doing some back yard gardening.  Ordering seeds now means that you will get the ones you want.

Seed Resources
The internet has opened up a whole new world of where to get the best organic and heirloom seeds.  Here are some of my favorite places to shop and a bit of a reason on why I like them.

High Mowing Organic Seeds
High Mowing Organic Seeds started as a hobby in one man’s backyard garden.  In 1996, founder Tom Stearns planted just 28 varieties of veggies. Converting his tool shed into a seed packing area, he had no trouble selling the seed he grew that first year. The unmet demand for organic seed helped Stearns expand his business, first by renting parcels of land to produce the seed he was selling through a hand-made catalog then by working with select commercial growers.  High Mowing Organic Seeds offers over 600 heirloom, open-pollinated and hybrid varieties of vegetable, fruit, herb and flower seed.

An Aside:  there is another reason that I just love this small and “growing” company.  They share all of their knowledge, including their mistakes and their solutions, freely, literally.  Here’s a good example of the caliber of information High Mowing Organic Seeds posts for everyone to read and learn from.  This article is on growing spinach.  http://www.highmowingseeds.com/blog/spinach-for-winter-production/

So I buy their seeds and subscribe to their newsletter.  A win for me.

Hudson Valley Seed Library
I also buy from a small but growing farm network — Hudson Valley Seed Library.

Like High Mowing Organic Seeds, Hudson Valley offers only organic seed.  Like High Mowing, Hudson Valley started small.  But this is where the comparisons stop.  Hudson Valley offers an online seed library for all gardeners…but it also offers an online seed catalog that is focused on the Northeast.   The idea that was hatched in the town library has grown to a full-blown seed farm where open-pollinated seeds are grown, saved, and packed by hand.

High Mowing has close to one thousand seed library members and it has offers a surprise with every seed packet – heirloom seeds in unique Art Packs designed and created by artists who submit art work for consideration and inclusion in this unique living art gallery.

The farms that make up this group  raise seed you can trust, that’s a given.  But the partners who started this business, Ken Greene and Doug Muller, also use artists to create seed pack covers and donate free seeds to a school garden, community garden, or garden organization  in need.

I love the seeds and I love what the company stands for so I will spend some of my hard-earned dollars with Hudson Valley to get great seeds and support a worthy cause.

Grow Italian
When I want to raise tomatoes and peppers that grace Italian kitchen gardens and enrich the already luscious cuisine of Italy, I only buy Franchi seeds.

This is a U.S.-based business but the seeds only come from Italy.  And what wonderful varieties you can find on their website and

You can get a catalogue, too, but don’t expect a glossy 5 color magazine with gorgeous photography and elegant descriptions.  Grow Italian is mostly a one man operation.

Territorial Seeds
Territorials Seeds is sometimes considered the “granddaddy” of organic and heirloom seeds.

This company started when organic was in its infancy way back in the late 1970’s.  Today, it is still owned by Tom and Julie Johns. They bought the small enterprise in 1985 from its founder Steve Solomon.  Although the business has grown over the last 20 plus years, Tom and Julie have not strayed far from the original course set by Steve.

And Territorial Seeds doesn’t just sell veggie seeds, they share information including a garden planter guide and growing guides that I still use after years of gardening, myself.

Next week, I will be sharing some of my favorite books and web sites for organic gardeners.  Also, beginning next week, Grow So Easy Organic will be published on Saturdays…now that I have a full-time job!

Aside

This winter, according to Accuweather, my Mid-Atlantic zone is running about 10 degrees colder than normal.  I would say so! With wind chills, we have hit  negative numbers like -17 and -24 degrees. For a gardener, sitting inside, listening to … Continue reading