Planting Seeds

Sunday, March 23rd, 2014
Stock tank garden-to-be Stock tank garden-to-be, waiting...

I'm not planting outdoors yet. For one thing, my steel front and side deck, where my kitchen garden will live in two galvanized stock tanks, isn't finished.

For another, it's still sub-freezing at night here at 7,036 feet elevation in the southern Rockies. But it is time to start my garden indoors.

I grow my own tomato, oriental eggplant and basil seedlings, rather than buying them at a local nursery or the farmer's market. It's a bit more work to start my own plants, but I'm addicted to the beauty and flavor of the heirloom varieties and the joy of tending my plants from seed.

Tomato seed packets from Renee's Garden Seeds Tomato seed packets from Renee's Garden Seeds

I blame Renee Shepherd, plantswoman and chef extraordinaire, and the founder of Renee's Garden Seeds, which specializes in heirloom and new edibles and flowers selected for their beauty, taste and ease of growing.

(They're also sustainably or organically grown, and do not include GMOs.)

I was perfectly content to buy ordinary tomato seedlings until I discovered Renee's offerings. Who could resist varieties like Black Cherry tomatoes (tiny, purple and smoky), Marvel Stripe (rose with yellow marbling and sweet), huge orange Persimmon (citrusy), or Stupice (dense and rich)?

You can see how easy it is to get hooked.

Seed packets and seedling pots, filled with organic potting soil. Seed packets and seedling pots, filled with organic potting soil.

I grow seven varieties of tomatoes, plus Italian Pesto basil (a large-leafed kind perfect for what its name indicates), along with three varieties of Oriental eggplant (small with thin, edible skin and a lovely nutty flavor).

I usually plant the seeds indoors in mid-March, but I'm behind this year. Yesterday I got out my tray of seedling pots and set it on the bench in the little sunspace/workshop off my garage.

I sorted my seed packets, found the bag of organic potting soil, and started filling pots.

My garden bench, in the south-facing windows of my workshop. The tray of seedling pots on my garden bench, in the south-facing windows of my workshop.

Once all the pots were brim-full of soil (it compacts as soon as it's watered), I began sowing seeds, beginning with the Oriental eggplant varieties, then the seven varieties of tomatoes, and finally, the basil.

I put two seeds in each pot (just in case, although I usually get 100 percent germination with Renee's seeds). I allocated one row of five pots for the eggplants and two rows for the basil, which left me five rows (25 pots) for the seven varieties of tomatoes.

Did I mention that my stock-tank container gardens can accommodate just seven tomato plants, one of each variety? And that I just planted 25 pots with two seeds each, a potential of 50 tomato plants?

I go just a little overboard planting tomato seeds every year.

One afternoon's tomato harvest from last year, plus a few Oriental eggplants. One afternoon's tomato harvest from last year, plus a few Oriental eggplants.

It's partly that I really love seeing those feathery little cotyledons sprout as if by magic. It's also partly because having extra tomato plants feels like riches to me: I can share them with friends, who then get the benefit of those sun-warmed and delicious fruits.

And then there's the practical aspect: My smallest seedling flat holds two trays of twenty pots each. So I have 40 pots—might as well fill them!

As I finished seeding each row of pots, I labeled the row with a post-it note so I'd remember what variety was planted where. Then I set the flats atop the wicking mat in the tray (the mat holds water, encouraging the roots to grow downward).

Newly watered pots on their sunny window seat Newly watered pots on their sunny window seat

I carried the whole thing into the house, along with the heat mat that goes under the tray, set it on my south-facing window seat in the living room where it'll get lots of sun, and watered mat and pots.

This is the first year for my stock-tank kitchen garden, the first year I won't be transplanting tomato plants into the beautiful raised beds of the extensive kitchen garden Richard and I designed and built at Terraphilia.

Like everything else in my new solo life, that's a bittersweet first. I don't particularly miss the house or the garden—I loved them while we lived there, but both are much too big for the one of me.

Photograph of love, couple, Carpenter Ranch, The Nature Conservancy Sunset at Carpenter Ranch on our last trip together....

I do miss the man though. I expect I always will.

Perhaps especially when the living room smells of moist soil and the promise of spring.