When Do We Start Seed Trays?

It’s just about that time of year to begin plans for seeding vegetables into trays.  I was out in the shed pulling out some ’72 trays’ (they have 72 cells in each tray – the best size here for most transplant production, compared to trays with 50 cells, 128 cells, etc.) and clear plastic lids.  There’s a whole lot of trays and pots of different sizes that we have accumulated over the years.  I even found an old wooden tray labeled ‘Univ. of Wisconsin’ from my days there doing research in botany.  I also made sure we have enough potting mix for the upcoming season (we use Promix BX, available in most garden centres).  And of course, we will need our seeds.  Word is that seed companies are already getting overwhelmed, so don’t delay in your ordering!

Even though its snowing outside today, there’s 6-8″ of snow on the ground, and night time temps are well below zero, seeding time is here for some crops – starting under grow lights, for later transplant into a greenhouse.  Its a timing issue.  If you begin seeding in the second half of February, be sure to use a grow light, and be sure that you can move them into a greenhouse (or cold frame as a minimum) by the second half of March.  Letting seeds germinate on a window sill is usually a recipe for disaster, because they will stretch towards the light and become weak-stemmed or leggy (the botanical term is etiolation).  You need the light intensity of a grow light to eliminate this problem.  I set mine on a timer for 16 hours of day length.

Two days ago, I started the very first seed tray – our ‘ultra-hot chill’s’ – red ghost, red 7-pot, bhut jolokia and orange habenero (all with scoville units over one million!).  These seeds are finicky.  They need at least 29-30 degrees to germinate in high humidity.  I have them on a heating pad, under a clear plastic lid which has a temperature sensor inside.  That way I can monitor their conditions, and try to keep a uniform temperature in the 30-32 degree range.  Even at that temperature, they may take up to two weeks to emerge.

Next week, we will begin seeding onions and other varieties of peppers, including sweet bell peppers.

We will not begin to seed most crops until mid-March.  In that way, we can grow them out directly in the greenhouse without the need for grow lights.  These will be mostly the cold hardy spring crops – more on that in upcoming posts.

Spring is coming soon!  All the best, Bob

Late Winter Harvests

It mid-February at the Transition Garden.  We just celebrated Chinese and Tibetan New Year’s on February 12th and now its almost Valentine’s Day.  There’s 10 inches of snow on the ground from the last storm and night time lows are in the range of -6-12C. The bees are tightly clustered in their bee hive and sipping the honey that keeps them warm.  Two deer came through last night rooting around for any vegetable stems to chew on that they can find under the snow.

We spread some wood ashes from the woodstove on some of the beds to provide nutrients and help lower the pH.  Calcium is the most abundant element in wood ash. Ash is also a good source of potassium, phosphorus, and magnesium. In terms of commercial fertilizer, average wood ash would be about 0-1-3 (N-P-K).

While the outside garden is fully dormant, we have been at it in the greenhouses. The lower greenhouse has 3 beds of over-wintered spinach still ripe for picking.  In another short few weeks, it will begin to awaken from its winter slumber and begin actively growing again.  Its seems impervious to the cold and always yields some harvest. The workshop greenhouse is undergoing a thorough cleaning in preparation for the upcoming transplant production season which begins in March. Its also time to inspect our extra bee equipment, as we may need to rebuild some honey frames or hive boxes in preparation for spring nectar flow.

Of course, winter is also the perfect time for sprouts and micro-greens production in order to keep salad fixins in the fridge.  One of our favourites are the micro-green mixes from Mumm’s Seeds, soaked for 6-8 hours and then planted into 1/2″ of potting mix on a cafeteria tray.  Be sure to drill a few holes in the tray for drainage and keep them under a strong growlight.  It takes about 10 days for a great crop which can be harvested with scissors.

Stay tuned for more regular updates as we get into the growing season!

Spring turnips

Wow, we picked our first spring turnips today! Little young ones with a turnip about 1/2″ in diameter.  In another 1-2 weeks they will mature out to full size spring turnips of about 1 to 2″ in diameter.

These are fast varieties – almost like growing radishes.  We use either Hakauri or Market Express varieties which have a growing season of about 40-45 days.  They were planted in mid-March in our unheated greenhouse.

We like them really young, and tend to harvest them early.  We very lightly steam the whole plant (tops and all) and add a bit of soy sauce for seasoning.  Yum!

Spring spinach

In the Transition Garden, we planted spinach in late September in our unheated 20′ x 24′ greenhouse.  We were picking this spinach in late November and early December, and let it rest in January and February in a dormant state.  Despite unknown varmints (perhaps voles) that got in there over the winter and dug up many of the plants, many others survived.  We began picking again in mid-March onward as the plants began to come out of dormancy and grow again.  In early May, now they are growing like crazy and we are picking a lot.

However, spinach knows when its time to think about seed production, and we are now seeing the first plants beginning to put up their seed stalks.  The plants are aware of the increased day length and warmth.  In the trade, this natural phase of ‘going to seed’ is known as ‘bolting.’  Its also sign that our continuous harvest time of leaves is drawing nigh.   We can see the seed stem beginning to elongate in some of the plants. The leaves have also gotten smaller and are more arrowhead shaped.

In another week or two, it will be time to do one last thorough harvest and pull out the plants to make way for summer crops like tomatoes, peppers and basil. We will leave a handful of these spinach plants to continue their process, go on to flowering and produce seed. We will then harvest the stalks and save the seed late in the season.

Food Security in the Bay

Check out the Facebook Group discussing food security in St Margarets Bay:


It’s only a few weeks old and there are well over 100 active members.  Let’s keep the conversations going about food.

Its becoming increasingly obvious that our highly aggregated and centralized food supply chains are vulnerable to continued disruption.  For example, a recent Bloomberg report pointed out the problem that has been developing for decades:

“…The problem is consolidation, and with Tyson, JBS SA and Cargill Inc, three mega-corporations that control 66% of America’s beef, as much of it is processed in just a few dozen meatpacking facilities across the US. Only a few companies also dominate pork and chicken.

There have been at least 12 closures of meatpacking plants in April because of virus-related issues among employees. This has resulted in at least 25% of pork and 10% of beef processing capacity coming offline in the last several weeks,…”

Grow you own, and know who grows the rest for you.  It’s the most resilient system that has been proven by history.

The early spring greenhouse

Think about getting a greenhouse of some kind, if you don’t already have one.  Building infrastructure like that is an important part of scaling your food production.  While there is an upfront cost, it will pay off extremely well in the years ahead.  Just think about the cost of vegetables for the grocery store or farmers market.  You can spend quite a bit very quickly, and these costs will only increase.

With a greenhouse, you can get both a significant jump on the growing season by producing transplants early on, and you can use the greenhouse during the warm summer months for production of the heat-loving plants like tomatoes, peppers, eggplant and basil.

This is our early transplant greenhouse (approx 8’x16′), with double wall polycarbonate glazing.  By mid-April, it is already full of seed trays and pots of all kinds of things.  In another two weeks, some of these transplants will begin to go out into the garden – cold hardy leaf lettuces, bok choy, cabbage, broccoli and onions.  We will continue to grow out the tomatoes and peppers, which we started in mid-March.

Some years we have produced as many as 7,000 transplants out of the smallish greenhouse!

If you don’t have one yet, visit others, talk with the owners, look at vary types and decide for yourself how you might proceed based on your budget and space.

Happy greenhousing!


Its potato planting time


Mid-April is a good time for planting potatoes.  Even though we may be still 3-4 weeks away from the last frost, the planted potatoes will slowly emerge from the soil during this time in a frost hardy manner, giving them a good start to the season.

Potatoes used for seed need to have an ‘eye’ or a bud.  This ‘eye’ will grow into the new plant.  You can cut up potatoes and plant the pieces, but make sure each piece has at least one ‘eye’. Our seed potatoes, red chieftains and Yukon gold, sat out at room temperature for the past month so that these ‘eyes’ could start growing ahead of time.  We will also be planting a few varieties of the fingerling potatoes.

We like to plant our potatoes in the bottom of a long ditch filled with compost, with each piece about 12″ apart.  They need lots of room.  As the potatoes grow, we will begin to fill in the ditch in mid-June, and then even pile more compost around the stems in mid-July.  This helps the plants produce even more potatoes.

You can harvest the first ‘new potatoes’ some time in July.  A good indicator when the first new potatoes are ready is when the first flowers begin to show up on the plant tops.  Dig in carefully from the side and remove some new potatoes without damaging the rest of the plant, and it will keep producing more potatoes for fall harvest.  With your new potatoes, get out the frying pan, some butter, a little thyme and parsley, get cooking and enjoy!!

Garlic – one of the first out of the starting gate

Garlic is a wonderful crop.  In addition to it being an essential cooking ingredient, it also have amazing anti-viral and other health properties.  It has very few pests.  I’ve heard a few reports of deer munching on garlic, but very rare (and they must be an Italian variety of deer!).  And, it is a prized and valuable farmers market item, holiday gift item or great for bartering for other things you need.  So, grow plenty.  There are usually 400 or so cloves planted here every year.  Keep in mind that you need about 25% of the harvest for next years planting.

Plant your garlic in last October or early November, like you would a fall flower bulb.  Garlic will then ‘get its feet in the ground’ before freeze up and be staged and ready for spring.  It is one of the first out of the ground, as soon as the ground thaws and warms a bit.

These photos were taken on April 14th, and the garlic is coming up nicely through the straw mulch.  By mid-May it will be at least knee high, and by mid-June up to your chest.  It is a heavy feeder, so give it lots of compost.  It also like a lot of sulfur in the soil to make it as garlicky and spicy as possible.