It’s that time of year! When many of our customers are starting up their personal gardens. We’ve grown seedlings for sale ever since we started Broadfork Farm. Last year (in 2016), we also started selling seeds for our customers to plant at home.
Not all seeds or plants can be set out when there’s still a chance of frost…. crops like tomatoes, basil, peppers, eggplant, beans, zucchini, etc. But there are quite a few that thrive in the cooler weather.
First things first, healthy crops grow in healthy soil. The phrase that organic farmers and gardeners repeat is “feed the soil, not the crops.” This means that you’re thinking about the ecosystem, or community, underground. There are so many different beings whose home is a healthy soil. And many of them are big fans of compost. I mean, check out that picture above….that looks pretty darn soft and fluffy!
We’d recommend adding some compost, some worm castings, and some seaweed to your garden.
Different seeds have different requirements. It can be confusing so I’ll try to make it easier. In terms of spacing….envision how big the plant will get (along the ground) and give it about that much space. Sometimes, some seeds get eaten by a bird or a bug or they get too wet or dry out….and they don’t end up sprouting. So, it’s best to plant seeds a bit closer than they need to be…..and then you can always pull out a few plants later (and eat them!) to give the others room to grow.
And make sure you label where in your garden you’re planting things….it is super easy to forget as time goes on!
You also need to make sure that you don’t bury the seeds too deeply. But that all depends on the size of the seed you’re planting. Look at all those different shapes and sizes of seeds in the photo above! The bigger ones will need to be buried with more soil. The smaller they are, the less soil they need…..really small seeds barely need any or sometimes none at all.
The rule of thumb is that seeds should be covered to a depth of 2-3x their size.
You want to make sure that the spot you planted your seeds stays moist…but not soaked. Seeds that get wet will start to grow even before you can see them above the soil. If they start to grow then the soil dries out, that’s a critical period when they could just curl up and die.
You also don’t want them to stay super wet…they could rot.
On dry, sunny, windy days, you’ll need to check on your garden more than on overcast days. Obviously on rainy days, your work will be done for you.
Salad Mix/Lettuce Mix: One of the seed packets we sell is our popular lettuce mix. This is a mixture of a bunch of different lettuces to be planted quite close together and then harvested while they’re still fairly small. When harvesting, cut the leaves but leave the bottom part and they’ll grow back for you to cut again. Lettuce seed is really slender so you barely need to use much soil to cover the seeds. And they can be planted as far or as close together as you want, no need to be fussy with this one. The closer you plant them, the more slender the leaf will be and it will probably get taller faster (to reach up to the sunlight).
Sweet n Spicy Mix and Arugula: These both have seeds in the same family and they’re seeds look really similar: round (as are radish, kale, broccoli, cabbage seeds). We don’t mix Arugula into our Sweet n’ Spicy Mix because not everyone loves arugula, but those that do, often want a lot of it! But, they are grown the same way. Plant them densely, because they can both be grown tightly spaced. Cut them back at any size (just make sure to leave the bottom of the plant in the ground) and they’ll keep growing back. However, neither of them like really hot weather so at some point, they’re likely to “bolt” which is when they plant starts to send up a flower stalk. You can still eat them at this stage but you’ll probably want to soon pull the whole plants out and plant something else.
- you leave them to flower….it will be pretty PLUS the beneficial insects will be thrilled. You’ll be providing yourself and then pollinating insects with a crop that is valuable to each of you.
- you could go a step further and let them make seeds. These aren’t seeds that you could sell because there would have been all kinds of crossing of genetics since you didn’t isolate them BUT the seeds would still be viable and produce some kind of cool plant that would be edible.
- once you save the seed heads, (and even if you don’t) there will be dried stalks left standing in your garden….you could leave these up all winter to provide some habitat and maybe a food source (if there are still seeds left) to beneficial insects and birds.
Radish: radishes aren’t super big so the seeds can be planted pretty close together, but they need more room than the salad greens. Other than that, plant the same way you would with the arugula and sweet n’ spicy mix.
Kale: Depending on whether you want large-leaved kale or baby kale, your spacing just needs to leave room for the size plant you want. If you want both, you could plant the seeds fairly densely, then as you eat the baby kale, pull the whole plant out and leave wider spacing for certain plants to get bigger (anywhere from 8” to 18 “ apart).
Carrot seeds take a bit longer to sprout then most of these other seeds. Since carrots grow deep down, it’s nice to take a digging fork before planting and loosen up the spot that the carrots are going into and take out any rocks in the soil. Then, with a rake, smooth out the top. Many people plant carrot seeds pretty densely, and then thin the plants out once they’ve started to grow. Bonus: you can eat the young carrot seedlings that you thin out. Many people think you can’t eat carrot tops but you definitely can. We like to use them just like we would parsley. They have less flavour than parsley but they’re still very nutritious.
Rainbow Chard/Swiss Chard: You can plant these seeds as closely as far apart as you like. Given more space, these plants will grow quite big and tall and you can just keep harvesting them all season. You can also plant the seeds tightly and you’ll get smaller leaves that you can cut as baby greens for a salad or stir fry. The seeds of Swiss Chard are larger and lumpy, because they’re actually a few seeds clumped together. So, each “seed” you plant will actually give you a few plants.
Beets: Beets and Chard are the same species, though beets were bred to develop a nice sweet root and chard plants have been selected to have tender, luscious leaves (though of course beet greens are also really good, especially when the plants are younger (though they taste more “beet-y” than chard leaves do). Therefore, the seeds look alike and have that same quality where each “seed” is multiple seeds in one. Beets are often thinned after the plants pop up out of the ground. You can thin them based on the size of beets you like. If you prefer baby beets, you don’t need to give them as much space as you would for large, storage beets. And make sure you keep those thinning to add to a salad!
Cilantro and Dill: Both of these delicious herbs are usually started by planting the seeds directly in the ground. For people who want to have a good supply for as long as possible, plant a small amount every 2 or 3 weeks in your garden. Because both of these herbs will grow nice and leafy, then start to flower (in both cases the flowers are edible and delicious AND attractors of beneficial insects!), then go to seed (both of their seeds are also edible and easy to collect either to use in your kitchen or to plant out in your garden next year). Cilantro seed is also known as Coriander.
Hopefully, this helps you in your gardening endeavours. If you have any other gardening questions, feel free to ask us as the season goes on.
Your farmers, Shannon and Bryan