Manor Moments

Trailside Organic Farm – February 2022 Update

February 2022

Submitted by Ian Frederick, Farm Manager

What if I told you that February is one of the most exciting months for growers and vegetable farmers? It may not sound right, but it is: February is the start of the greenhouse season! At this time of year, cold crops such as onions, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, lettuce, and spinach are sown in greenhouses in our region. Few experiences in life are as pleasant as spending time in a warm, humid, translucent cocoon. It’s filled with green but surrounded by snowy earth. A wintertime greenhouse climate is a doorway to warmer months.

In light of my excitement about the Trailside Organic Farm’s imminent greenhouse growing, I’d like to offer some encouragement: February is a great time to start your own seeds in a greenhouse or inside your home! Perhaps the most enticing perk of seed starting is the ability to choose the perfect plant variety that may not be available as a pack of transplants at your local garden center. Vegetables, fruits, flowers and herbs continue to be selectively-bred. Improvements in growth, resilience, appearance and yield is the result of this breeding. Online stores offer an excellent selection of proven varieties, but ordering early is often necessary since popular seeds tend to sell out quickly.

If you’ve made the decision to start your own transplants indoors, I first recommend considering your soil mix. At Rodale Institute’s Kutztown greenhouses, we have observed favorable growing results while mixing our farm-produced compost with an organic approved growing medium (peat moss, coir, and perlite). We typically mix a ratio of 40% screened and pasteurized compost with 60% growing medium for the soil mix. A sprinkle of organic fertilizer with roughly equal parts of macronutrients nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium may also be added to promote growth once seeds germinate.

Once you choose a soil mix, select a seeding tray and fill each cell. A cardboard egg carton makes a suitable seeding tray in a pinch. From here, create an indentation or dibble in each cell at the proper depth for the seed in question. Small seeds require only shallow dibbles, but large seeds prefer to be sown deeper. Keep in mind, germination occurs when a seed gets ideal levels of moisture, heat, oxygen, light and soil contact. Seed packets typically state preferred conditions for germination as well as other instructions for successful growing. I included a photo of a sunflower seed packet below as an example.

Generally speaking, seeds with hit-or-miss germination should be sown with multiple seeds in each cell. Perennial herbs typically require this, but may also require thinning later. Additionally, please be mindful that many seeds will germinate in darkness but some seeds prefer a very thin soil or vermiculite covering to allow light penetration for germination. Vermiculite is a flaky growing medium used for moisture retention and ensuring proper seed-to-soil contact.

In light of a seed’s germination needs, I recommend three tools for indoor seed starting: heating pads, humidity domes and full-spectrum grow lights. Heat pads warm the soil and humidity domes cover the soil to retain moisture. The result is quicker and more-uniform germination. Once germinated, sprouts require ample sunlight to become healthy, stocky plants. Supplemental lighting is always a good idea to avoid legginess. Portable full-spectrum LED grow lights are a relatively inexpensive and energy-efficient way to start seeds. These are especially helpful if you’re growing in your home. Additionally, choosing a consistently warm spot that allows for easy soil clean-up is a good idea. Your laundry room or a corner of your kitchen may be great options. A windowsill may be a suitable location for growing once seeds germinate, but choosing a warmer and less drafty location to start seeds is preferred.