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April 21, 2010

Greenhouse, Green Yard

Since, weather-wise, it's such a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day, I thought it a fine occasion to share a quickie little happy-happy-springtime project I finally got around to completing last weekend.

As you may know, when we bought this house almost three years ago(!), we inherited an amazing backyard with an amazing organic vegetable garden that I swore I would do my best to consider an asset rather than a burden. One of the things I said to Simon when we signed the closing papers was "Are you ready to make gardening one of your hobbies?" and although his "yes" was enthusiastic enough in the moment (SOLD!), I can't say either of us have really embraced it fully. Or so says the fact that as soon as the rains come each winter we drop our gardening tools where we stand, retreat indoors, and leave everything to the mercy of the invading sourgrass.

Gardening, so the legend goes, is supposed to be healthy and relaxing and rejuvenating for the soul, and although it usually is for me, eventually, it, like exercise, is sometimes hard to get excited about because it's just SO MUCH WORK. Inevitably, once we get out there and get dirty, both Simon and I can weed for hours in contented silence, meditating on whatever deep thoughts float through our open-like-a-sieve minds (om), and so the real trouble isn't the actual work itself but summoning the motivation to get started in the first place when the task list seems endless and the reward still so far off. (We also have a 32-inch complication of a junior gardener to contend with this year, which (and who) certainly doesn't help.)

And yet, as soon as the weather warms up and my mouth tingles with a craving for fresh tomatoes, I look outside and know what must be done. I see the flush winter weeds all plump with rainwater and I groan. I think about sticking my hand into the gardening gloves that have been left outside on the potting shelf, and I imagine the nest of spiders surely nestled at the tip of each finger shaft. (I'll never put on a glove without shaking it violently first.) I look at the garden, then back at the couch, then back at the garden, then back at the couch, then back at the garden.

So this year I decided to ease in a little slower than normal by starting seedlings indoors--partly as a way of motivating myself (what's more inspiring than the season's first veggie sprouts?) and partly out of necessity because we really screwed up last year. What happened was we left a box full of seed packets outside during a rainstorm, and because I'm really just that cheap, instead of throwing them out (because wouldn't they germinate? or mold? or something else bad?), I brought the seeds inside and then spread them and their envelopes out to dry on paper towels, hoping they might be salvagable for next year. Fast forward to next year (i.e., now), and I want to see if the seeds will actually work before I go to all the trouble of sowing them in the ground.

Here's how I built my seedling greenhouse.

Did you realize the bottom half of an eighteen-count carton of eggs fits (with a little trimming) inside an upside-down plastic spinach box? It does!

Fill the carton cells with the potting mix of your choice (or just dirt from the garden, if you're me, being careful to pick out twigs and rocks and stowaway critters).

Mark the carton so you know which end is up.

Decide which seeds you want to use, either by flipping through your alphabetically organized store-fresh packets or by crossed-finger deciphering of the paper towel envelopes you stupidly labeled with a Sharpie last year.

Sow the seeds into the cells and make sure to write down what went where (using the arrow you marked as a guide).

(On the backside of the map will be this year's garden plan, once it's finalized. Here's the draft of last year's plan. I like drawing the little icons because it's fun.)

Then water the cells, close up your greenhouse, put it in a sunny spot, and wait.

Two days later I had a cucumber sprout, and five days later I have spinach and chard too.

Unfortunately, some of the sprouts look a little...fuzzy, but I'm not sure whether that's because there were spores in the soil, the egg carton, or the container or because the seeds themselved were moldy. (Anyone?) What this means is that I won't be transferring any of these sprouts to the garden this year, but at least now I have an idea of what seeds are still viable, not to mention I have a fun project to share with those of you who will do this the right way to begin with--that is, with fresh seeds, disease-free potting soil, and the wherewithal to get the whole thing going in time to have fresh veggies to grill on Memorial Day rather than Labor Day.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to go out in the rain to rescue a brand new packet of carrot seeds I left on the deck yesterday.


I am excited to see updates your progress. I'm hoping to make some progress in the gardening area myself this year, after last year's totally botched gardening-with-a-tiny-baby experiment.

And I also envision giant, salivating spiders waiting to bite me in the tips of my gardening gloves. I not only shake the gloves vigorously before use, I also stomp the FUCK out of them.

I started indoors the first year and THAT was a lot of work. Now I buy pre-started plants and use a sprinkler hose on a timer, and I can basically plant it and forget it until harvest.

Also, if you start indoors you have to do a very tedious "adjustment" period of carrying the sprouts outside for longer periods each day until you plant them. You can't skip the process either or the plants burn up. Such a pain.

As for the fuzz you probably just left the cover on too long/tight... once the seeds germinate you can uncover them. That might be a problem with using an egg carton for different seeds... some germinate faster than others and those ones need airflow.

If the mold dissipates now that the sprouts are uncovered I'd say they're still fine to plant. The spores almost surely came from the soil, not the seeds or egg carton, so you're not contaminating your garden by returning the spores. Also the plants are not poisoned or anything.

Paul and I would looooveeee to have a house someday soon for the express purpose of having a yard and a garden . . . but I bet I'd feel much the same way you do if I actually had one. They're just so much WORK! Fresh tomatoes though . . . that'd be almost worth it!

Can't help but laugh, because I've been negotiating with myself all spring. Usually, the great plant sales in our area inspire me. But, I decided not to do much planting this year for a variety of reasons. So, its really all about the chores. I find myself bargaining that I'll just go out and rake for 1/2 hour, but like you I happily work for hours once I'm out there.

OOH! PLEASE keep writing about this - we have a wonderful, big back yard now and I really want to make a vegetable & herb garden, but I've no idea where to begin. This is so inspiring & hey! I can manage this! :) All I need now is for someone out there to write about the first steps to getting chickens...

We actually have a chicken coop in our backyard, and after seeing a recent "Martha" episode about raising chickens I aaaaalmost considered getting some. But then I came to my senses because chickens are pretty dirty and gross (I hear), and do I really want to bring more mess and chaos into my life? NO. So good luck with that!

You can microwave your garden dirt to make sterilized potting soil. I've never done it myself but I've heard that it works.

I love this idea! You so crafty!

I'm so jealous! I would love a space big enough to actually garden in the ground and not in pots on the deck. It's works its just not really gardening as I would love to do it.

Very usefull blog. i will follow this blog. keep up the good work.

Hey do you have a facebook group for this blog? It would be cool to keep upto date the latests posts

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