Garden report: Spring and starting seeds

Today, on the first day of spring, I planted seeds for tomatoes, oriental eggplants, pesto basil, and two kinds of flowers for pollinators, all bound for the kitchen garden this summer. I’m about five days late according to my garden journal, but then again, the journey with Richard’s brain cancer has proved a mite challenging until just here recently. I’m taking advantage of the hiatus in medical crises to catch up.

Which is why, late this afternoon, I went out to the garden shelves in the garage and unearthed the two flats of self-watering seed-starting pots, the heat mat that goes under the tomato flat to warm the soil and coax them into germinating faster, plus the organic seedstarting soil mix. Then I gathered my packets of tomato seeds, eggplant, basil, and alyssum and windowbox dahlias. I laid newspaper on the floor by the six-foot, south-facing sliding glass door in our bedroom, our informal winter greenhouse, found a small pad of post-it notes, a waterproof pen, tape, and scissors, and set to work.

(The flats of self-watering pots, organic seedstarting soil mix, and the heat mat for warming the soil for the finicky tomatoes all come from Gardener’s Supply. I’ve used the mat and flats for five years; I buy new soil mix every year. I’d prefer to buy the seedstarting mix locally, but so far haven’t had any luck. Some year I’ll experiment with making my own. I get most of my seeds from Renee’s Garden Seeds because I love Renee’s commitment to making delicious and beautiful heirloom and modern varieties available to home gardeners, her pioneering interest in garden-to-table food production, and her use of sustainable, non-genetically modified seed. I’m also testing out some seed from Botanical Interests, a family-owned Colorado supplier of seeds with a similar philosophy.)


Self-watering flats make starting seeds really simple: the pots sit in a tray with a water-wicking mat underneath them, which not only keeps the soil evenly moist, crucial to germination, it also encourages the baby plant roots to grow downward, an advantage for transplanting. The process is straightforward: Fill each pot up to the flared collar with seedstarting mix, set the pots back in the tray, and soak the wicking mat.


Then it’s time to plant. I use one whole tray of 48 pots for tomatoes, and the other for oriental eggplants, basil (lots of basil!), and container flowers that need to be started inside.

I start with eight varieties of tomato, most heritage. Yellow pear: tiny, early, and a sweet burst eaten fresh off the bush. Cherokee purple: an old slicing variety from Cherokee country in eastern Oklahoma, rich flavor and deep red-purple flesh. Pompeii roma: early and prolific, one of the best cooking and paste tomatoes around. Chianti rose: never a heavy producer, but one of the most beautiful and flavorful of the slicing tomatoes, intensely sweet and deep pink flesh. Black krim: one of the heritage Russian varieties, beefstake-type with black tops and sweetly rich dark red flesh. Persimmon: Huge beefstake-type with shocking orange color and brilliant citrusy overtones. Costoluto: A flattened, ribbed heritage variety with intense flavor. Super bush: a new variety optimized for containers, fruits early and copiously.

Then, two varieties of oriental eggplant: Little prince, tiny round fruits on a bush optimized for pots, and Long purple, a thin-skinned nutty variety with edible skin. I plant three whole rows of basil: Italian pesto, with large, aromatic leaves. The last two rows go to flowers: Summer peaches alyssum and watercolor silks dahlias, some of the many flowers I plant to attract pollinators and beneficial insects to our organic garden.


Now it’s dusk, and the just-past-full moon will be rising in an hour or so, still at perigee, outrageously huge and only slightly off-round. Our bedroom smells like moist soil, the rich aroma of life waking up. Spring is here–at least inside.

It feels like spring in Richard’s journey with brain cancer too. He’s continuing to recover his ability to do the ordinary things we often take for granted: to successfully scramble a couple of eggs, write an email, sort through receipts for taxes, to juggle. (Okay, most of us probably can’t do the last!)

Spring. Renewal. Life waking anew. I’m so ready for all of that…