Tag Archives: seeds

Planning dinner six months in advance.

This time of year, you’ll see me with my stack of seed catalogs, but not far away is my stack of cookbooks and magazines for inspiration.

The reason I planted an herb garden a few years ago is that for years I had seen so many recipes in cookbooks and magazines that called for fresh herbs.  And I wanted to make them!  But fresh herbs cost a mint (pun intended) at the grocery store, and truth be told they really aren’t “fresh” inside those little plastic clamshell boxes anyway.

Grocery store herbs are reminiscent of fresh herbs, but lack the intense smell and flavor of freshly harvested herbs.

Because I love food–and because I love the people for whom I cook food–I had to grow my own herbs.  I couldn’t go wasting money on mediocre (at best) grocery store herbs and I HAD to make those great recipes I was reading and collecting.

Now I like to go back and page through my cookbooks or magazines and think about what we’d like to try in the coming year.  I see a great looking beet salad and I make a mental note to choose beet seeds that will be perfect for that.  Eggplant recipes have inspired me to grow a few different varieties.  When thinking about what to plant, it helps to think about what I will cook.

Last year I added tarragon to my herb bed.  How have I lived without tarragon my whole life?  I was inspired by recipes to add this and now I cannot imagine summer grilling without it.

So I’m looking forward to trying some new recipes this growing season and in preparation I’m going to be ordering the needed seeds.  I think of it as planning for dinner six months in advance.  Might seem a bit extreme to some, but to me it’s much less extreme than my herbs and veggies traveling thousands of miles to end up on my dinner plate.

A little advance garden planning makes it easy to throw together delicious meals during the growing season, such as this grilled chicken marinated in herb mayonnaise with fresh herbs.

Photos from the first week of April.

Finally made it out to the garden to do some digging and planting.


After turning this bed over and adding some amendments, my son and I planted peas around these supports. We arranged them into a little "house" so he can go in and pick peas.


I love that the emerging lavender buds ARE the color lavender. So pretty.


A sage leaf unravels.


Aha! Proof that the squirrels didn't take all the tulips I planted in my raised bed. I have plans to use these for bouquets, hoping more come up.


My daughter's clematis vine wakes up to spring.


Despite freezing temperatures, a hail storm and a lack of sun, the chives grow.


This Rose of Sharon won't be bare for long.

Photos from the third week of March.

Sidewalk chalk outside with the kids.


Tulips continue their ascent.

More tulips, a welcome sign of spring.


Rising temperatures made for a very pleasant week.


New life on old wood--this is the honeysuckle.

Meanwhile, indoors the lemon tree has set a few tiny buds.


More seed starts--tomatoes, eggplants, a few flowers, many peppers, fennel and cabbages. Filled another 72-cell tray... we will have plenty of plants this year.

Seed Starting

March is here and with it comes the task of transforming tiny seeds into herbs, vegetables and flowers for my (slowly) thawing garden.

But first, a confession.  I’ve been struggling for a week to write this post.  I think that writing from an instructional point of view isn’t working for me.  Since there are so many resources available on seed starting, I’ve decided that rather than give instructions I’m just going to report my experience and forget a step by step analysis.  It just isn’t my style. 

Whew!  Now I feel free to write.

Being a visual person, I like to map my garden, I also like to map my seed trays.  This seems to work better for me than using seed markers, and it feels like less work to me.  I especially like color coding my seed tray map!

I use a different color for each type of seed.

My kids' crayons come in handy for this project.

As it turned out, the above map–while lovely–did not have the correct layout for the 72-cell trays I am using.  So I had to redo it.  Such is life. 

For this tray, I’m starting some random things that seem like they need more time than others.  This works out well because by the time these seedlings are done with this tray I’ll be ready to start some more seeds.  I have two trays and will probably use each one twice this season.  I’m growing some flowers from seed this year, and they’ll take up at least one tray on their own.

I use a standard plastic 72-cell tray.  These trays come with a drip tray that the cell insert sits in, and a lid.  It’s easy to purchase extra cell inserts as needed from my local garden center.

I always read the seed packets before starting seeds.  Here is where I can find out when to start the seeds, any special information such as planting depth, sunlight needs, etc.  Seed packets contain all the information I need to be successful. 

Seed packets for Impatiens.

The back of the seed packet is loaded with information for seed starting, transplanting, growing and harvesting.

This seed starting mix came from Gardens Alive.  I had a coupon for $25 off (I believe every catalog they send has a coupon of some sort) so I used that to order some trays and seed starting mix.  It’s just as easy to visit a local garden center or hardware store and pick up needed materials.

My seeds have come from many different sources this year.   I purchased some at the garden center, others I ordered from Johnny’s Seeds, Seed Savers Exchange and Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds.  I wanted to try several sources to compare, and also just because it’s fun to collect seeds from various sources.  I like the different seed packets.    It’s been fun going through the catalogs as well and receiving orders in the mail. 

Using my map I carefully put the seeds into each cell after the soaked seed starting mix was in place.

Seed starting mix works well.


We added water to the mix and spooned it into the tray.


Alternatively, you can put dry mix in the tray and then add water.


Once the seeds are in, the tray goes to either a sunny place or a warm place out of direct sunlight. I had one tray of each, this information is on the back of the seed packets.


I either put the tray in my bathroom, where it is always very warm, or if the seeds require light for germination they go next to the patio door where it is warm and sunny.  Trays in the bathroom are moved to the patio door once the sprouts emerge.

Current setup--my mini greenhouse.


My son and I love to peek at the seed trays every day to see what has poked through.  It’s amazing how quickly they change, sometimes they can grow an inch or more in less than 25 hours.

Here's something coming up!


It’s not hard to start seeds.  I’ve been doing it for a few years now and have always been pleased with the results.  It’s much more affordable than buying plants at the garden center, and there is no limit to the varieties I can grow when I start the seeds myself.  I’m not limited by what a store may have in stock.

It’s certainly possible to be a lot more scientific about this process.  That’s just not me though.  I do this by look and feel and rarely consult the numbers.  I don’t really know what the temperature is in my bathroom or how many days it takes for seeds to germinate.  I don’t really care.  (Sorry!)  If they come up, I’m happy.  I move them to bigger pots as needed and when the weather feels good, I put them outside.  I guess this goes to prove that it’s really not that complicated to grow things at home!  I just follow the directions and that seems to work.

Now, I can’t wait to get everything outside and out of my dining area.  But for at least the next 6 weeks, the seedlings and I will just be hanging out waiting for the earth outside to come alive again. 

I just finished reading The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett and want to share this passage in which Dickon describes Spring:

“Just listen to them birds—th’ world seems full of ’em—all whistlin’ an’ pipin’,” he said. “Look at ’em dartin’ about, an’ hearken at ’em callin’ to each other. Come springtime seems like as if all th’ world’s callin’. The leaves is uncurlin’ so you can see ’em—an’, my word, th’ nice smells there is about!” sniffing with his happy turned-up nose.”

Now isn’t that nice?  It’s almost here!

A February Kind of Project

Inspired by the salad mixes I’ve seen in the grocery store lately, I thought I might try to grow some herbs indoors to add to salad greens.  I especially like some cilantro thrown in to a salad, and since I use parsley and basil weekly anyway, they seemed like nice additions too.

My initial idea was to plant them in the cans I had leftover from my recent mega batch of chili.  Then, over the weekend while perusing a magazine, I saw this:

Herb-in-a-Can project on the pages of this month's Birds and Blooms.

Well, I guess someone else had the same idea.  At least I know it works!

And so I’ve recruited my kids to help.  Here is our herb project in photos:

Empty cans are a nice size for growing some herbs.

Not pictured is my husband using some sort of power tool to make drainage holes in the cans.  It’s important to provide a place for water to drain out of, and into.  Once these cans are planted, they will be put on a tray with pebbles or marbles underneath them to allow for proper drainage.

Next, let your child play with the cans. (This step is optional!)


We filled the cans with a soiless seeding mix.

Prepared for the mess, I covered our workspace in newspaper.

Cans are filled with mix, water is added and then some more mix to fill. Sure glad I put the newspaper down!


Seeds selected for this project: parsley, cilantro and bush basil.

We labeled the cans before we put the seeds in, just to be safe!

My son sprinkles the seeds on, we then cover lightly with the soiless mix.

Finally, the seeds are given a spritz of water.

Ready to germinate.

My next step will be to add the pebbles to this tray, then stash it in the bathroom until the seeds germinate.  Wait–did I just say the bathroom?  Indeed!  It’s the warmest room in our house and we always take advantage of the heat in there to germinate our seeds.  I do not have to use heat mats or grow lights to start seeds.  Bonus: the emerging seedlings LOVE the steam from the shower.

I’ll be sure to keep readers posted on this project!

Photos from the fourth week of January.

Seeds and a new magazine subscription arrived in the mail this week.


Seed organization. As packets arrive I file them in this box.

Tomato Picks


So many tomato transplants, so little space.

We live in the city which can be very convenient.  Who wouldn’t want to be 5 minutes from downtown dining, professional sports, museums and theatre?  Not to mention our proximity to Lake Michigan… I can walk there in ten minutes!  But what city dwelling lacks is gardening space, and for a gardener that can be kind of annoying. 

I am learning to work with my space.  And I’m learning restraint.  It’s time to order tomato seeds, and while I am drooling over the gorgeous photos in the seed catalogs, I’m reminding myself that my garden can only handle 4-6 tomato plants.  So don’t go ordering all those tomato seeds!  It’s hard to resist the countless varieties that all hold their own promises of flavor, texture and beauty.  I want them all.

Here’s the plan for 2011, which is (as always when it comes to gardening) subject to change at any time.  I will put four plants into my raised vegetable bed as I did last year.  It’s easy to access the plants on the corners of the raised bed.  I will put two additional plants in nearby pots, and hope for the best.  I’ve planted in pots before with mixed results.  The key is consistent watering.  Same thing with the Topsy Turvy, but I’m not going there this year.

These descriptions are straight off the websites from which I’ve purchased the seeds.

Italian Heirloom (Seed Savers Exchange)
Outstanding heirloom from Italy. Plants are loaded with red fruits weighing over a pound. One of the most productive varieties we have grown at Heritage Farm. Excellent full tomato flavor. Ideal for slicing and canning—very little waste and easy to peel. Indeterminate, 70-80 days from transplant.

Nebraska Wedding (Seed Savers Exchange)
The “ultimate love apple” according to Amy Goldman’s colorful story in The Heirloom Tomato. Nebraskan brides reportedly still receive these seeds as a wedding gift. Listed in the 1983 SSE Yearbook by Dorothy Beiswenger of Crookston, Minnesota. Reliable producer of stunning 4″ round fruits with glowing orange skin. Well-balanced flavor. Plants typically grow less than 36″ tall, but benefit from staking. Determinate, 85-90 days from transplant.

Tommy Toe (Seed Savers Exchange)
Exceptionally vigorous plants yield hundreds of large red cherry tomatoes throughout the season. The superb flavor won it top billing over 100 other varieties in an Australian taste test. Indeterminate, 70 days from transplant.

Wisconsin 55 OG (Seed Savers Exchange)
Bred by JC Walker at the University of Wisconsin in the 1940s. Excellent all-purpose tomato, great for canning. Does best on rich soils. Remembered as one of the best home and market tomatoes in the Madison, Wisconsin area. Indeterminate, 80 days from transplant.

Green Zebra (Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds)
One of my favorite tomatoes. Beautiful chartreuse with deep lime-green stripes, very attractive. Flesh is bright green and very rich tasting, sweet with a sharp bite to it, (just too good to describe!). A favorite tomato of many high class chefs, specialty markets and home gardeners. Yield is excellent. The most striking tomato in our catalog, a real beauty. Around 3 ounces each.

Chocolate Stripes (Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds)
NEW! One of the most amazing tomatoes we have ever grown. For both color and taste this variety excels. Fruit is deep reddish-brown inside,
the outside is covered with beautiful orange and lime colored
stripes. One of the most unique looking tomatoes we have ever tried. It is very sweet and yet has a full-rich flavor, and this is the reason this tomato places very high in taste tests. A favorite here with the staff at Baker Creek. Fruit is medium to large and are of a slightly flattened globe shape.

Wow!  Sounds like a delicious summer is ahead.  These tomato descriptions make my mouth water.  I simply can’t wait for that first taste of a garden tomato. 

For quality seeds and incredible variety:  Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds or Seed Savers Exchange.