I grew up right on the border of the Midwest and the South (Cincinnati), where bulbs have been shooting up through the soil for a few weeks now, and anytime you get 3 inches of snow is a big deal. One of the things I’ve noticed in myself and heard from others is that you really do forget what spring and summer feel like when there are 2-3 foot drifts of snow outside, which I think is partly a mechanism for maintaining our sanity through the short, dark and cold days of winter, as much fun as snow can be. Then you get those days in January or February where it hits 50F for a few hours and there’s this flood of memories of what spring feels like – the smell of it, the texture of the soil, the feel of the cool, moist air. And when plants start growing, that’s spring to me.
Well, we are still covered with half a foot of snow (which we are very thankful for; this will help replenish the water in the drought-parched soil), and spring is technically a few weeks away, and the little plants definitely got some coddling, but seedlings mean spring! We’ve got our first little onions coming up, with a few thousand more to sprout in the next couple of days, when they’ll move to our greenhouse for the fickle spring weather, before going into the field come May.
Getting plants going this time of year requires a little creativity (and space in your basement), but isn’t too hard with a few pieces of equipment. One of our long-term goals is to make our own seed-starting mix, which doesn’t mean buying all the ingredients from the garden supply warehouse, but actually producing those ingredients or getting them from a nearby source. I could write a whole piece on how ridiculous potting mix is (peat moss from Canada, vermiculite from Russia, compost from Vermont), but that’s a story for another time. If you’re just getting bags, those are easy to work with and store. We get one BIG bag (almost taller than Anne, and she’s 5’6″) weighing about 2000 pounds. Of course, it’s a rock, frozen solid. So we’ve been thawing the top few inches using seedling heat mats (which we later use for heating flats of seedlings) and transporting it in 5 gallon buckets to our basement seeding station. We use heat mats to get our plants germinated, and then later when we have more flats than mats, heat up a room with a space heater (ideally insulated). You can make some mini-greenhouses of your own using straw bale sides and topping it with a window pane or sheet of clear plastic, or building a small wood frame (straw bales still help insulate it). Check out our friend Rob’s blog on building your own cold frame. Keep those plants warm for a few days to germinate and then watch them grow!