Gardening Basics: Starting Plants I

I made this quick ink sketch of a 6-pack of lacinato kale seedlings last Sunday (January 27). I started with a rough pencil sketch, refined the best lines with ink, and then erased all of the pencil lines. 

A six-pack of kale seedlings. © 2013 Fred Montague

A six-pack of kale seedlings. © 2013 Fred Montague


I "started" these seedlings (that is, I planted the seeds) on December 17th, 2012. This pack, along with five others (broccoli, kohlrabi, Brussels sprouts, bok choy, and Swiss chard), has spent the past month in a flat under a bank of florescent lights in my greenhouse-- a humble lean-to structure along the south side of the garage/print shop.

I usually "start" this set of plants every four weeks, during the waxing crescent moon. Whether or not there is scientific evidence for moon-phase planting, the moon's magic does provide a convenient and regular prompt for planting activities. I plant two seeds per cell (with a pair of forceps). Germination is usually not 100%. In the pack I've illustrated, nine seedlings germinated (75% germination rate). And you can see there is some variability in the time of emergence and in the rate of growth of the seedlings.

Some of these seedlings will be transplanted progressively to larger pots in the greenhouse, then to the greenhouse beds and to 5-gallon buckets.  Some will find their way in early spring into the cold frame and then into the outdoor garden beds. These varieties, along with spinach and a variety of leaf lettuces, are the core plants of our 12-month kitchen garden.

There is another tray of six 6-packs under the lights now with the seeds I planted on January 17th.  And, we are currently harvesting food from greenhouse plants that were sown as seeds last September and October. Succession planting (regularly repeated planting) and sheltered growing spaces (cold frames, greenhouses, sunny kitchen windows, etc.) are key elements in growing food year-round (in temperate climates).