Starting seedlings is a great activity for young children. It is can be inexpensive (critical when you have a plant habit like the two of us). It brings spring to your home just a little sooner than the Idaho climate does. If you shop seed catalogs, it brings more diversity to your garden than you can find in local greenhouses. It expands the growing season in Idaho and allows you to eat fresh sooner.
Honestly though, starting seedlings can be discouraging when you don’t have a flat full of nursery quality plants and instead have wilty, spindly, pale yellow strings that are struggling for life. It happens to us too, especially when we attempt new kinds of seedlings we are not familiar with. There are tons of blogs out there on how to properly start seedlings…here are just some of our tips that have made us more successful, especially in Idaho and our busy lives.
1. Designate a safe area. More seedlings have succumbed to toy tractors driving through their soil, helpful little fingers “weeding” out the ones they didn’t like, curious minds looking at the roots, balls bouncing through the area… My kids get their own flats and seeds to plant. The youngest kid gets peas or beans that are easy to handle and oldest his choice of favorite vegetables. Remember that brightly colored seeds (pink, blue, orange, red) have chemical on them to prevent disease – your children should NEVER handle these seeds!
2. Let them have light. My biggest challenge has always been finding high quality light conditions in my home. I should have bought the $10 grow lights years ago! You can see right away if your plants are looking for light as they start to bend and get spindly just a few days out of the soil. Rotating their direction can help minimize the effects but a light-lacking plant will always be spindly and not have the strong main stem of a happy light-filled plant. Spindly plants are also harder to harden off and transplant to the garden. Some starts, like tomatoes, can be planted differently in the garden to overcome this growth but others cannot.
3. Not all potting mix is created equal. We prefer a mix specifically designed for starting seeds. They are typically a finer texture and help us get good soil to seed contact. A good soil mix will have enough nutrients to maintain almost any seedlings growth until it is ready for transplant unless you are delayed in getting larger starts out of their pots or you are over-watering.
4. Think outside the pot. Don’t get locked into the traditional image of what a seedling in a pot looks like. Check out these sites for ways to use items around your house as pots. Some of my favorites that I have used (and still do) are solo cups, old egg cartons, apple cartons from Costco and Rubbermaid bins.
5. Hold the flood. We are bogged down in mud and standing water right now and hating it. The plants do too! It is so tempting to encourage plant growth by giving them more water. Sometimes the answer is to just let them grow. Depending on the pots you have chosen to grow your seedlings in, water encourages mold and fungal growth or just drowns the seedlings. Seeing fuzzies on the top of your soil, time to back off on the water and let them dry off. Depending on how much humidity is in your growing area, a fan may be useful in drying off foliage and also is a great start for preparing your babies for the Idaho wind.
6. Prepare them for Idaho. Idaho springs are a tough environment to handle seedlings. Winds, frosts all the way into the end of May, hot days at the beginning of May…you need to be prepared for everything. I lost all of my seedlings one year when I set them outside and forgot about them while I was cleaning house, a wind came up and they were crispy before I could rescue them. Hardening plants take patience and a good location to slowly expose them to the elements over time. Always start this on a day when you will be home and check them often!
We hope you are getting your veggies from us this year BUT we also want you to enjoy a garden at your house as well. Start some flowers for containers. Make sure you always have your favorite herb on the kitchen counter. Grow some flowers for cutting.
What else is on the list this time of year? I am starting to clean out the shed from the fall and winter accumulation of “stuff” that didn’t get put away. I am hoping to do a re-arrange to make the pickup location more open and welcoming. There are handles to replace on shovels, harvest knives to sharpen, compost to spread, the hoop house to setup for March plantings and a new section of garden to break in. We really are expanding! It will be great to get back outside as soon as the mud becomes bearable to work in!
We are not salesmen. I turned down a profitable position with a local agro-chemical company because I couldn’t imagine myself sitting down with a farmer to discuss his fertilizer needs and closing the sale. These first couple months of the year are difficult as we market all of our produce for the year. Closing the deal doesn’t come naturally, we just expect that you will see the value of our product and decide to buy. Some of you will. Some will buy to support us as friends and family. Thank you! Others aren’t familiar with our gardens and have never met us. Some of you are comparing the benefits of our CSA with others in the Magic Valley. Hopefully these points will help you see the benefits of our CSA and help you decide to become a member of The Country Gardens in 2017.
So here is the sales pitch!
Your CSA pickup can be a quick in and out on the way home or a chance to chat with some like-minded veggie loving people. In one easy box, that we help you carry to your car, you get the diversity of produce without the multiple stops throughout the market. We also know what is in your box so we have recipe ideas to help you make the most of your purchases during the week. Some CSAs sell their extra produce through a stand at the market. We are committed to the CSA first and only. We don’t take extra produce to the market but split it among our members while balancing the need to not overwhelm members with too much produce. I love the farmer’s market and we go some Saturday’s just to get a flat of fresh fruit or a homemade pie and eat a homemade donut. But the reality of carrying all of my purchases and corralling a couple kids is never as idyllic as the vision I have in my mind.
A commitment to a healthy lifestyle is more than talk but taking concrete steps by changing your eating and exercise habits. We feel strongly that food doesn’t always come in a box. Don’t get me wrong, I do have a love for boxed mac and cheese, Cheerios, and Fig Newtons. My kids have a love for Arctic Circle and Wendy’s. But, a nutrient dense, preservative and additive free diet makes me feel healthier than other choices I can make at the supermarket. As a mom, I have noticed that eating choices are a habit that I have real influence over. I can become lax and my kids will ask for the packaged fruit snacks, crackers and spaghetti for every snack and meal. By saying no and offering the choices of fresh fruit, vegetables and whole meat roasts I influence their choices and they quit asking for the less healthy options! Your decisions influence their present and current health.
I learned how to plan meals from my mom. Involve your children in meal planning and set the example for how they will feed their families. The CSA box gives you a great opportunity to discuss healthy options and encourage them to participate in the kitchen cutting and washing vegetables. Talk to them about recipes and let them select new ones to try. If your kids are old enough, set aside one night a week when they are responsible for cooking the meal. Very few members are going to join a CSA without having to alter their menus and habits to some extent. This is daunting to some members but a great way to challenge and commit yourself to making you and your family healthy in 2017. CSA memberships are a step in the direction of a healthier you.
Hopefully this will help you get to know us just a little bit better and some of the thoughts that go into how we manage our business. We have a passion for vegetables and a desire to share that with our community and neighbors. Please don’t hesitate to reach out for additional information.