It is Seedling Season here on the farm. The starts house is filling up with trays of tiny, growing plants that will soon be planted out into our fields.
At the turn of the year I gather up all the new seed catalogs and chose the crop varieties I want for the year. I consider what grew well, what sold well, how to mix things up so any one failure would be balanced by another success, and what strrikes my fancy. Looking at my records of what we grew in the past years, I make the decisions on what to grow and how many of each.
As the seeds arrive, I check each bag and packet to make sure I receive exactly what I originally planned to order. There is always one or two varieties that run out early and I have to make a choice of a different variety to grow in its place.
We grow seven different Jack O Lantern varities so we will have all different sizes, plus another half dozen fancy and heirloom pumpkins in different colors and shapes. We grow 16 distincly different winter squash varieties just because.
We start almost all our pumpkins, winter squash, herbs, vegetables, and flowers in our starts house instead of directly seeding them out into the fields. One big reason is that this gives the plants a big jump on the day we can harvest. Here in Western Washington the summers are not the best suited for long season crops like pumpkins. We can really tell the difference in the response of pumpkins in an usually hot summer when compared to our more typical beautiful summers, full of pleasant days. Transplanting starts also gives our crops a jump on the weeds. Since we are not spraying herbicides we control the weeds by hand, so any advantage we can gain is important.
We start the seeds in trays, called flats. Each flat is divided up so each seed gets its own pocket of soil mix. We plant big seeds in flats with 50 or 72 cells. Tiny seeds are planted in flats with 98 or 200 cells. You can see the cells in some of the photos here. We grow so many different vining crops I have to spread out the start dates over five weeks so that we can keep up when transplanting time comes. Since each seed has a small amount of seedling mix it is critical to get the seedings transplanted before the plants get rootbound and slow down. We want the plants to be actively growing when we plant them out.
Many of the herbs and vegetables are slow to germinate, so we start them the first week in the starts house. Next we start the gourds and winter squash, since they have a late maturation date. The following week we start the pie pumpkins and the big fancy pumpkins. Then comes the first half of the Jack O Lantern pumpkins and more herbs. This week we will start the second half of the Jack O Lanterns and a second round of flowers and vegetables. Finally we plant the miniature pumpkins and replacements for any problems.
Most of the vining crops sprout in about a week. It is always a thrill to see the first of the seedlings poking out of the soil mix. These pie pumpkin seedlings look tiny now, but they will create a lot of excitement during our pumpkin farm tour seasonin October.
Meanwhile, the starts house is bursting with potential as we follow through on all the planning and preparation. Planting Season comes next, and then Weeding Season. If you come to the farm in July, you should see some little green pumpkins out there in the Pumpkin Patch.
If you have your own flower or vegetable garden, there are lots of good reasons to start your own seeds. Give it a try!