Monday, January 7, 2013

our homestead: planting a winter garden on my windowsill

It's that time of year again: the time to start tomato seeds. A Pacific Northwest tomato's life cycle is kind of interesting if you think about it...or at least my and my family's involvement with the whole process. Seeds are started in January, then planted out to the greenhouse in March. From late June through October, fruit is eaten, shared and canned up. The greenhouse goes to bed for the next few months. Then, as soon as the New Year rolls around, it's time to start thinking about tomatoes yet again and the cycle repeats itself. I'm not quite sure what I'd do with myself if I stopped starting tomatoes in January. It's just something I do and hope to continue up through when I'm an old great grandmother with cataracts and a bicycle.
Normally I start and grow at least three or four varieties of tomatoes, but this year I'm scaling back a little since I already foresee a busy summer. I did, however, want to grow my saved tomato seeds from the funky, fruity rainbow chocolate tomatoes I grew unexpectedly this year. It will be an adventure seeing what these babies turn into. I plan to keep on selecting from their fruit to tweak my own variety. Science! Anyway, every year I fill a few simple, black seed starting trays 3 inches deep with Dr. Earth Organic Vegetable Garden Planting Mix. It gets the job done.
Then I mix in some sexy microbes. You can read more about these super heroes here.
Once the soil is good and ready, I gently draw 4 shallow rows across per planting tray and carefully drop a tomato seed every half inch to an inch or so.
Then I smooth over the dirt, making sure to cover each seed with just a little bit of soil and sprinkle all of the trays with filtered water. 
This year I'm also experimenting with growing a tray of lettuce for micro-greens. Hopefully it'll work and my husband and I will be able to enjoy a little bit of a fresh baby lettuce in a few weeks. I get desperate for fresh, local greens in the cold winter. I'm not seeking huge results. No leafy giant salads. Just a few tender, sweet leaves to eat as part of a garnish perhaps. 
And furthermore, I have the best success with starting tomato seeds if I use seed heating mats. I found all of my heating mats at my local hardware store. They gently warm the planting trays to encourage the little seeds to germinate. Tomatoes will grow on a windowsill without a seed heating mat, but it can take up to a month for them to sprout and emerge from the soil. I expect to see tiny tomato starts in about a week or so since I'm using the heating mats. 

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