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What does this even mean “as soon as the soil can be worked”???

As the snow melts and the ground thaws, many folks are ready to transplant, to seed and start the growing. I have the itch myself after what has seemed like a hard Alaskan winter.

Nature is giving hints that our time is approaching. Flowering bulbs are pushing through the soil with some even blooming in warm microclimates. Certain perennials are beginning to put on their new growth. Fruiting trees are are showing leaf buds and insects are making their first appearances.

With all these signs of life and the desire to awaken our growing spaces…there are still many other indications that we need to have some patience.

Nightime temperatures are still in the “killing frost” zone for many cultivated plants. Areas of the soil are still frozen below 6″. Soil life is just beginning to emerge and make new economies for trading resources.

We are still covered in feet of snow albeit melting quickly. Soil is nature’s water catchment…soil needs time to allow the water to infiltrate and turn mud into a thriving ecosystem to support plants.

So what is “as soon as the soil can be worked”? There are specific plant scenarios but we will stick with a broad focus to include as many plants as possible.

Soil temperatures around 50F – not only is this nearing the optimal temperature for soil life but it is a great indicator that those seeds that appreciate a cooler soil temperature (peas, cilantro, spinach and others) will germinate more evenly and timely. If we seed too early there is potential that the soil is too cold for germination. Seeds will sprout with the soil temperature and soil moisture nurture life.

Soil is dry (ish) you can squeeze a ball and it is not dripping wet. If we seed too early…for those seeds that do not have a hard coat (carrots, lettuce, arugula) they can rot with too much soil moisture. If we transplant too early into heavy mud, roots can rot as well. Soil life, air, water and nutrients need to move freely throughout the soil. Think “would I want to grow in this soil”?

Nightime temperatures consistently in the 40s for cold hardy plants (caution here…too cold and broccoli will button instead of crown). Our current temperatures are perfect for perennials and biennials to emerge from their sleep. They are extremely hardy and are prepared for what lies ahead.

As for the warm loving plants (squash, pumpkins, tomatoes, zucchini, peppers, dahlias, zinnias, eggplants and others) many will suffer tissue damage at 45F. It is truly best to wait until night time temperatures are in the upper 50s to transplant. This may be the first week of June for Southcentral.

Many folks may be new to gardening or new to Alaska. I will say as my 15th Spring that anything goes…it is the wild! When in doubt look to when the trees leaf- around the second or third week in May. This is an excellent time to grow!

 

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What seeds are we starting this week?

Cabbage!

Cabbage seeds are small and should not be planted deeply. 1/4″ depth is perfect for them. Germination temperature is vast: 45F-85F…try to stay within this range. The more consistent temperature/moisture is present the more consistent and timely germination is possible.

Cabbages are heavy feeders- they are large plants with a long growing season. As we are providing all of their needs indoors, remember to feed them often.

Not all cabbages are alike…some are great for rolls, wraps, wilted veggies bowls and fresh shredding. Others are perfect for sauerkraut and long term storage.

Cabbages are large plants and take their time to grow. The target indoor start date is between 8-10 weeks of killing frosts (28F). One thing about my favorite cabbage is that it is exceptionally cold hardy and has overwintered in the field.

The cold hardiness allows it to be transplanted out earlier than other types. It can withstand really, really cold temperatures and with just a little protection can be set out as soon as the soil can be worked.

What does as soon as the soil can be worked mean? When the snow and ice have melted, your boot isn’t covered in soil mud AND you can no longer wring the water out of the soil. Using a soil thermometer is another tool that can help guide us to know if we are at/above 50F (the ideal soil temperature for cabbages).

Brunswick Drumhead cabbage is my favorite! This cabbage is perfect for kraut, storage, rolls, fresh, wraps and wilted.

We do have seeds available: https://seedsandsoilorganics.com/product/brunswick-cabbage-brassica-oleracea/

Alaska sown-Alaska grown

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Seed Starting- Simply

The excitement is near! The large push for indoor seed starting has arrived. What a wonderful time of year of planning, designing, creating and sowing.

Let us share some simple and easy ways to make your seed starting a success. We have started seeds in every way possible so let us share our experience and knowledge. Our seed starting classes offer even more in depth information to make your garden dreams come true.

There are many ways to arrive at the same goal- we honor expertise of all kinds.

First: Materials

What type of container will you use? There are many options available…using what you have on hand makes seed starting cost effective and accessible for all. Drainage is the most important aspect here. Trays, cell packs, soil blocking, recycled yogurt containers (the possibilities are endless). Drainage is the key!

What medium are you going to use? We are a long way away from outdoor transplanting where plants can mine the nutrients, fertility and water needs naturally. You must supply all of these needs for the next roughly three months. Choosing a growing medium that is sterile will require the addition of fertility. Growing mediums that have fertility built in may still require additional nutritional needs. Purchase what you can afford and support local. Make sure that the medium you choose offers a guarantee as many growing substrates can harbor unwanted living materials…also keep your receipt.

What is the light source? Plants must have light…where is the supplemental light coming from? A window? Grow lights? There are so many options to choose from. For years we used good old fashioned T5’s purchased locally. If you are using a window, you may need to turn your trays several times per day. Determine how much time, effort and energy you have to dedicate and then decipher your light source.

Second: Location: Providing a micro climate for your seedlings to thrive! Seeds needs the right conditions to germinate: moisture, temperature, light (for some) and proper seed planting depth. A “warm” location with air movement is ideal. Where within your home can you place your seed tray away from cats, pets, kids and spouses? Scope out the ideal location that offers protection and the proper amount of air circulation.

Third: Days to maturation: Starting the right seeds at the right time… plants should be transplanted at a specific size that is not too big nor at critical points of growth if this can be avoided (flowering and fruit set). Certain plants grow VERY slowly depending on their type. A quick example: Certain Brussel Sprouts require 180+ days to grow. This seed would need to be started indoors in the darkest days of winter for a fall harvest. On the other hand, some cucumbers finish their lifecycle in 60-70 days and grow very quickly. If we started cucumber seeds for our garden now, the plants would be too large for indoor growing and would be transplanted during a critical point of growth. Cucumbers are a seed started closer to our target transplant date. Look at the days to maturation, plus the days to germination, plus some time for plants to adapt to transplant shock: that is your goal seed starting date.

Fourth: Depth Seed depth is critical for success. Think of how plants disperse their seeds naturally…many lay on top of the soil until the conditions are just right for germinating. Others pass through the digestive system of animals and spend their time in dung waiting for the optimal time. Seeds know what to do! Give them their best chance of success by planting them at the proper depths. Unless you are growing VERY large seeds, most seeds should be planted at 1/8″, 1/4″ and 1/2″ and some just lightly pressed into the soil (the smaller the seed, the more shallow the planting). If you plant too shallow the seed cannot use the depth to remove its hull and could break. If you plant to deep the tiny seed doesn’t have the energy to push through that much depth. When in doubt 2x the height of the seed is a good measure. Certainly seeds have to have light for germination…your seed packet should outline this clearly.

Fifth: Needs: Indoor growing requires all the input to be placed on the grower. The food, water, shelter and air must be supplied by us. Feeding seedlings and transplants is a part of this! We use granular or liquid amendments that have a low scent, a mild amount of fertility and are “natural” in nature. Making your own countertop composts (stay tuned for that growing guide) is another simple solution.

Happy growing!

Alaska sown-Alaska grown