Seed Starting in 2021

Giant of Italy Parsley is sprouting and ready to go under the light.

The Singing Squash Farm nursery is in full seed starting mode. I actually started the first seeds in early February. The first seeds to germinate were Black King Pansies. As I understand it the genus Viola has 4 subgroups of which the pansy is listed as B1. I thought this background on the name pansy was interesting so I wanted to include it here, from Wikipedia: The name “pansy” is derived from the French word pensée, “thought”, and was imported into Late Middle English as a name of Viola in the mid-15th century, as the flower was regarded as a symbol of remembrance. The name “love in idleness” was meant to imply the image of a lover who has little or no other employment than to think of his beloved. The name “heart’s-ease” came from St. Euphrasia, whose name in Greek signifies cheerfulness of mind. The woman, who refused marriage and took the veil, was considered a pattern of humility, hence the name “humble violet”. In Italy the pansy is known as flammola (little flame).

Black King Pansies. Seeds and image courtesy of from Baker Creek.
These are my pansy starts as of a few weeks ago.

Pansies were started early since they will tolerate cool temps. I decided this would be a good test for our new grow light and to test my seed starting skills. I have been researching seed starting since last year so I’m just happy to see healthy plants. For the most part we’ve purchased starts because we never had enough light for growing indoors. Early this year I bought a Spider Farmer SF-2000 LED grow light and I love it so far. I’ll share my review much later in the season once I have more experience with it. Here are a few pictures of my basement seed starting setup and PVC grow tent.

You can see through the Mylar from the outside but not from the inside. This pictures doesn’t do the brightness justice. The kids helped me put the PVC frame together. Now get down off the table 😉
Start small

One good thing I can say about this light is it comes with a ratcheting mechanism that allows for easy height adjustment. This is very important to growing success. Right now mine is at about 25″ from the top of the cells. I’ll be experimenting as the season progresses. Too far away and you’ll have leggy seedlings and too close they might burn. I’m tracking everything in a journal so I can see what works and refer back to it in future seasons. I highly suggest starting a journal.

I’m very excited to grow this celery!

Nearly 2 weeks ago I started celery next to my pansies. I love the look of this pink celery but I’m not sure if I’ll like the taste so I started mostly Utah tall celery along with some of this to add some color to the garden and try a new taste. I’m mostly using 50 cell trays with a bottom watering tray underneath because I think it’s a good compromise of cell count with a decent amount of time to up-pot. Is that even a word? One curious thing about celery is it needs light to germinate. I typically cover my soil and seeds with saran wrap and let it sit on a heat mat until the seeds sprout. In this case I just set half of the tray with celery under the heat mat to let my pansies stay cool. Celery is sprouting already!

My research tells me that celery typically takes 2-3 weeks to germinate so it feels good knowing things are going right. I check my plants every day to see if they need more moisture. Letting seeds dry out is a death sentence at this point. If I had the space and the lighting I wouldn’t start different plants in the same tray or even the same plant at different times because it can be difficult to make the conditions perfect for both. I may use 6 cell trays next year so I can isolate for specific needs better. The pansies have already been fertilized with half strength Alaska fish emulsion once before I added celery but next time I can’t bottom water the entire tray with fertilizer because sprouting celery doesn’t need it. This means I will have top top water the pansies and celery. I’m also keeping an eye on how many plants I start because some of these plants will need larger pots before they go outside. I don’t want to run out of room in the tent. I think I have enough room for 6 trays in the tent but I’ll probably limit it to 4 starter trays. Plan ahead. Plan ahead! I’ll share one more crop I started with you before I wrap this up. Look how awesome our little Mary Washington asparagus are doing.

Asparagus is a 3 year commitment before harvest but they can produce for decades which is pretty awesome. I stratified my seeds for a few weeks in the refrigerator before starting them to simulate a cool cycle. Asparagus seem to take a long time to germinate and to get 50 plants I probably planted 100 seeds so I may need to try something else next time. Hopefully there won’t be a next time and these stay alive through the next few winters. Perhaps I buried them too deep or didn’t stratify them long enough or maybe I just need to wait longer. Each day I’m still seeing new spears still.

Quinoa Sprouting

I also started Spanish onions a few weeks back and they’re growing well. Codi and I started Rainbow quinoa and tomatoes over the weekend. Quinoa took less than 48 hours to germinate! I’m excited to see how this goes but not very excited about removing the seeds from the quinoa. We’ll have to figure out the best way before the time comes. I know a few methods already but what is the easiest way? Let me know how your seed starting is going and feel free to ask about the plants I’ve shown in this post. Spring starts this week and March 20th is our 19 year anniversary so I’ll take a break from the garden for her;)

Luffa Gourds

Homemade Pots. I explain why below.

It is the end of February and I realized I didn’t even post last month. I’ve been busy sprouting seeds! It’s still cold here in Utah but spring is only 3 weeks away. I’ve started more than luffa gourds but I’ll limit it to one topics in this post. I promise you’ll thank me for keeping it short;) I’ve driven my family a little crazy with my preparations this year but they’re good about helping me prepare for our big season. Luffa or dishcloth gourd looks like a zucchini that can be eaten as an immature fruit but has another use when it becomes old and bitter. I suppose they’re a little like me. This Washington State Extension article explains the stages of the luffa gourd very well. “The xylem tissue within the fruit forms a dense fibrous network that creates a support system for maturing seeds. If the hard outer skin and the seeds are removed from the dried luffa, the dense network of fibers functions as a natural scrubbing tool.” It doesn’t come from the ocean after all. Here are a few pictures:

Order them here

As I write this on 2/27/2021 Baker Creek is sold out but keep checking. You’ll have to get the seeds soon if you want to make it work in 2021 especially if you have a short growing season like we do here in northern Utah. This is our first year growing these but my research indicates that starting in February I might expect dried luffa by September or October depending on when our frost comes! If a frost hits I’ll need to clip them off and hang them to finish drying. That’s why I started this month. But wait, there’s more… I’ve heard luffa doesn’t do well if you disturb the roots too much. I don’t know if that means transplanting them from a starter pot to the ground will kill them but I’m trying to be careful with them. I made thin brown paper pots so I can just place them in the ground and back fill the hole. So far these pots seem to dry out pretty well so hopefully mold won’t be an issue. I filled them with Promix and set them on wood mixing sticks in a plastic container left over from a rotisserie chicken. Then I water them carefully and let the soil on top and paper dry out before I water again. I have 10 weeks before they go outside so wish me luck! These things are growing very strong in the first week. I’m shocked! I buried them an inch deep and it took 4 days to see this.

I might be in trouble 😉

Look at that opaque sheath hanging off the cotyledon. I suppose that’s some sort of divider or seal inside the seed coat. Comment below if you know exactly what that is. The hypocotyl is really sturdy on these young plants. The other pot has 2 seeds as well. I only want 2 plants total based on a story from another gardener 2 plants filled up 16 feet of hog panel. These plants definitely have my attention. My wife and I are both thrilled with the idea of growing these this year. But wait, there’s more! I’m growing these seeds on paper towels in condiment cups. Would you like to see day 5 and 6 of growth? Have a look at nature in all of it’s wonder.

Day 5
Day 6!

Look at the transformation in just 24 hours! I’m so glad I’m able to see what is going on below the soil. Look at the fine details in the root development. It’s just doing what a seed does but there are moments in the garden that cause me to sit and wonder about my place in the universe. Gardening can be filled with spiritual moments if we will slow down enough to appreciate them. This seed knows it needs time create seeds so it absolutely races out of the starting gate when it’s placed in moist warm soil. I placed the pots under the grow light this afternoon. I bought a Spider Farmer LED light for seed starting this year. I’ll tell you more about it after our garden is planted in May. My impressions are good so far but I’m trying to learn how to use a relatively powerful grow light still. I know one thing, pot growers know a lot a lot about the subject so I’m trying to learn a little from them as it applies to my vegetables. I’m also keeping a gardening journal this year. I have asparagus, onions, and pansies started along with the luffa. More on that later. I’ll be posting more frequently over the next 10 weeks. As far as I’m concerned gardening season began a month ago. I expect a shipment of 19 chickens next week so I’ll have a few things to say about that. Let’s just say I don’t actually need 19 more chickens;) Comment below if you’ve grown luffa gourd or if you think I’m crazy for starting them indoors so soon. I wish you all the best in your gardening efforts. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself and treasure the spiritual moments of the garden.

UPDATE 3/15/21 – True leaves are growing strong. I’ve noticed some curling on the first leaves so perhaps I’m giving it too much light. I move it up to the main level to keep it warm at night and then back down to the cool grow tent during the day. Soil temps are in the low 60’s down there without a heat mat. I’m trying to only water when the soil dries to keep their paper pots mold free. I fertilized them with half strength Alaska fish emulsion last night so we’ll see how that goes. I want these to be in good shape when they go out in the yard. I have a small fan moving air through the grow tent to reduce the chance of mold and acclimate the luffa to outdoor conditions.

UPDATE 1/5/2022 – Sadly the luffas didn’t make it. The luffa grew up the fence and flowered but only just before the end of the season. It is a beautiful flower but I really wanted a luffa. I certainly started it early enough so what happened? I think I started it too early actually. By the time the luffa was ready to take off it was still too cold to put it in the ground so I believe I stunted it’s growth by starting it so early. The size of the pots might have played a role as well. Although it didn’t die it grew very slowly once we planted it in the ground. Growing luffa in a short season area is a challenge but I’ll try again this year;) On the other hand our apple gourds really took off which was fun to watch. I’ll include a picture in the 2021 Year in review post.

We had a visitor;)

The clock is running

Texas State Flag

In my last blog post I promised to share some exciting news. Singing Squash Farm is moving! I think a better way to say it would be to say we are telling the world about our dream/goal to relocate. I think saying it out loud and being open about it will help us realize that dream. I would love for all of you to be our accountability partners in any way you feel is appropriate. Where are we moving? We feel called to relocate from northern Utah to northeastern Texas. After much prayer and research we keep coming back to Texas. Our final destination will likely be very close to the Arkansas border. We’ve looked all over the country and Texas seems to check a lot of boxes for us. Why are we moving? We want to buy larger property where we can start a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) subscription service to help support our family and bring people closer to their food source. A longer growing season will help us achieve this. We want to get out of debt completely which is possible with the right property and preparation. We don’t have any car loans or credit cards but we do owe on our home and we owe a chunk to the IRS. The property values and cost of living appear to be much less in northeastern Texas than where we are now. We want to have room to keep more animals. We want our children to experience living on a homestead and learning how to be as self-sufficient as possible. We teach them about this now but there is no replacement for experience. When are we moving? Our target is to be living on the new property by October of 2021. Wish us luck because it isn’t going to be easy.

How are we going to accomplish this? The first part of the puzzle is to get our home ready to sell and then use the equity in our home to buy the new property. Fortunately we never borrowed against our home so we are in a pretty good position with regard to equity. It sounds simple enough but there’s much more to the story. We need to take care of some tax debt and cover some home repairs to ensure we get the most from the sale. Our tax burden is a bit crushing at times but we’re going to get it out of our life soon. We also need things to go well in our business between now and October. Even if we can’t pay off all of our debt in the transition we are trying to reduce our debt as close to $0 as possible by the end of 2021. Since we run a home based manufacturing business and home school our children we really have the freedom to move anywhere without concern for job and school. We’ve had this flexibility for years. Now we’re going to do everything we can to realize the dream of living in a more simple way, closer to the land. We may still be living in a home and using electricity but we plan to grow the majority of our own food by the end of 2022. Without knowing much about the property, soil condition, weather, and pests that is a very optimistic goal! 2020 has shown us how important self-sufficiency is and it has awakened a real love of gardening. We certainly aren’t expecting to pull this off without hard work and even some set-backs. We are a family of seven with two parents, four boys, and one girl. It’s going to be a team effort to pull this off but we have faith that if this is the right move for us the Lord will help us make it happen. Wherever we end up we hope to make new friends and make the squash sing 😉 If you know anything about this region please post it in the comments. I will update everyone as we move closer to realizing the dream.

Dealing with loss on the farm

RIP Little Lady

We recently faced some very sad news. The day before Thanksgiving our 11 year old started rounding up our chickens to put them to bed. He found most of them but couldn’t find one of our Plymouth Rock birds. We’ve seen a beautiful pair of owls flying over the farm since early summer so we were worried that one of them may have stopped by for dinner. We’ve had 7 chickens since April-May and we’ve been able to keep them safe until now with one exception. One of our chickens pecked our Australian Shepherd in the eye during a family BBQ. He reacted quickly and that was the day we learned how to butcher a chicken. It was a sad day but we didn’t want the bird to go to waste. She was a gentle bird who was laying well. When we noticed the missing bird last week we started looking over our fence and calling neighbors. Unfortunately our lovely lady decided to climb on top of the feed can and fly over the back fence into a yard with several dogs and one of them killed her. That is our best guess because these birds aren’t great flyers. We like to let our chickens run free except for the garden. We realized it was time to clip each chicken’s wing. I really thought they were safe from flying over the fence but experience has proven otherwise.

They didn’t love the clipping process
They’re grounded.

We were all very sad on that day. So we clipped most of the flight feathers on each chicken’s wing so the girls will be thrown off balance and stay close to the ground. If you clip both wings they may still be able to get over the fence. It’s the imbalance that stops the flight or that is my understanding. We left the feathers that keep our girls warm at night of course. I’d rather not clip their wings but I certainly don’t want the dogs to get them so that is our solution for now. We later heard from a friend that it helps to hold the chicken breast side up and they fan out their wings while you cut naturally. Of course we learned that trick after we were finished. Through our experiences in the garden and with animal husbandry I’ve learned to be patient with myself and embrace the failure a little more so I can get through the problem more quickly. Sitting around being sad or mad at yourself isn’t productive. One interesting thing I catch myself doing is over or under estimating what we can do. Things are hardly ever as easy or as hard as I think they will be. It sounds so obvious but I think learning not to set expectations might be one of the most helpful advice I would offer to a new gardener. I’m still a new gardener so take that for what it’s worth. We plan to order a few more chickens in the spring which will be exciting. Stay tuned for my next post for details on some big plans we have for 2021. I can’t wait to tell you all! Well I think I only have a half dozen subscribers but that’s ok.

She is the reason our garden works

Codi holding the first 2020 Cabbage

I have a confession to make. I love gardening but I don’t actually garden. You might be thinking that sounds strange since I write a gardening blog. The truth is I make my wife do everything in the garden while I supervise. Although we both spend nearly the same amount of time out by the garden I let her do all the digging and bending over. She’s better at that sort of thing anyway. I just love watching her sweat while I wait for those beautiful squash to grow. There are few things in this world as nice as sautéed yellow squash on a summer evening. The best part is I don’t even have to cook it! Before you head to the comments with an angry comment I need to let you in on something. For the last dozen years I’ve been living life in a wheelchair. Hopefully that lowers your blood pressure after reading this far. I have Muscular Dystrophy so my movement in the garden is limited. My chair doesn’t fit between the rows anyway. One day we will have enough room to build raised beds with paved spaces for my wheelchair but not yet. Just because I’m in a wheelchair doesn’t mean I can’t be involved in the gardening process. Having a wife who loves to garden as much as I do certainly helps me experience the joys of gardening. I couldn’t manage a large garden by myself that’s for sure. I’m grateful to her for all of the things and extra things she does for me. She’s stronger than she knows. The garden is OUR happy place.

So what in the world do I do if I never enter the garden itself? RESEARCH. I read and watch a lot of video about gardening. I suppose you could say I’m kind of like the conductor at Singing Squash Farm. When things go wrong in the garden you can usually blame me or our chickens for it. I’m happy to take on that role. Codi loves to make things happen and see the results of her efforts. And we both love to eat fresh vegetables. I  think one of the things that has made our 18+ year marriage so strong is our ability to embrace the roles we are best suited to. If it’s very clear one of us is better suited to something why would we fight it? I would love to work side by side with her but until I can I fully embrace my role. I am the one who tirelessly hits refresh on the Baker Creek web site waiting for that special winter squash seed to show “in-stock”. I am the one who throws down my hat when my corn doesn’t get pollinated. If I ask Codi about soil moisture content again she might just throw it at me from the garden. I try not to let things get to that point. When it’s 90 degrees and you’ve been working in the garden for two hours the last thing you want to experience is a guy sitting on my side of the fence sipping lemonade asking if that spacing was correct. At the end of the day we both sit on this side of the fence listening to our squash sing. Gardening is full of ups and downs but it’s worth the effort. If you are drawn to growing your own food or even a flower garden don’t let fear of failure stop you. You can do it!

2020 yellow squash and eggplant the chickens missed

Have you seen the price of wood lately?

7 new raised beds waiting for compost

Our little farm looks a little depressing without any plants in it. This day turned out to be the coldest day of the fall season. Wind was the main problem. Sometimes you just have to work with what you have. We are so excited for the 2021 season that we built these beds now. Well that wasn’t the only reason. Even though we used non-treated Douglas Fir these 8″ garden beds, a few 4″x4″x10′ posts to cut down to be used as corner reinforcement, and high quality coated 3″ deck screws cost about $550 including tax. We purchased the materials in November 2020. Our good friends picked them up with their trailer so this price does not include delivery. Home Depot would have delivered for $80 extra. Each bed is 3′ x 16′. It might have made more sense to wait until spring to buy the materials since the wood will be exposed to the elements for no good reason. I plan to order a few tarps to help increase the life of our beds. My main concern with waiting until spring to build beds is that the materials might cost even more. I’ll check back with you in the spring to let you know if it was worth the gamble. I wanted 10″ tall beds but that was too much money. In a few of the beds we will dig down a little before adding compost. Some crops need a little more depth such as tomatoes and carrots. This was a compromise that I think makes sense. We are located in northern Utah, USA for reference. We had a temporary fence around our 2020 garden to keep chickens out. Now the garden is open for them to run around and enrich the soil. We’ll build a more permanent hog panel fence next spring. Here is an image of our garden in August of this year.

This was just after we hung the lights up. We spent many warm and relaxing moments sitting under the stars enjoying our garden. One evening we invited some friends over and roasted yellow squash over the fire pit. Marshmallows are OK now and then but fresh cut squash slices roasted over the fire with our friends and kids under a full moon was a night I will always remember. Don’t get me wrong, if we had marshmallows the kids would have preferred them but we might have missed out on a real treat. Sometimes going without something is an invitation to blessings you weren’t expecting. You might be wondering why we have a blue door leaning against the fence in the image at the top of this page. That is what remains of our last garden from 2013. I couldn’t bring myself to throw that door away so now it’s a decoration. I think bringing elements from old gardens into our new garden will be a fun tradition to adopt. We extended our garden boundaries quite a bit this year but we really enjoyed the process. We harvested about 70 squash from 4 plants this season. Our yellow squash produced much less than our zucchini. I’m really excited to see how our raised beds improve production next year. P.S. that watermelon on the lower left of our 2020 garden image actually ended up spreading out a lot and producing many little watermelons as well as one watermelon with a delicious red center. This plant was added late after we had a few crops fail. I’m glad we tried. What crop did you add as a backup plan that did well for you this year?

UPDATE 1/15/2021 – WE HAVE COMPOST! A big truck just dumped 8 cu. yards of green compost on our driveway. We had a slight miscalculation on the compost footprint. We folded it in half 😉 Since it was such a nice day (low 40’s) Codi and the boys loaded up the new beds. I decided to get it now to avoid any supply issues later in the season. Maybe Covid turned me into a better or more anxious planner. Since it had already been breaking down for a few months in a much larger pile it was still warm. The company I bought it from said they would deliver it the day after I called them and for a good price. I also asked about topsoil for the rest of the yard but that was still frozen.

Compost over 100 F in January! It will be ready when we need it.
Almost full!
We even had extra compost for this Zinnia/Ground Cherry bed as well as the front flower beds. Look at the color difference. We live in the high desert.

In case you were wondering the load cost me $200 delivered from Tuckers in Utah. We’ll be top dressing the beds with chicken manure and a few other soil amendments so the beds aren’t completely full. Plus the compost has settled a bit since January. Our chickens have been wandering all over the beds all winter as well so I’m sure that will add to the soil fertility.

UPDATE 3/15/21 – I decided to look up how much this project would have cost me today and we saved nearly $90 building these in 11/2020. Gardening win! I’m learning that looking ahead to the next season is very important thing to do. This time we saved financially.

Garden Date Night

2021 Garden Plan Watercolor

What do you do when the season is over and we’re not even close to seed starting? Paint some vegetables of course. We painted this a few weeks ago and the plan has already changed slightly. We’ll we changed tomato varieties and we’ve decided not to plant potatoes, and I bought a few more seeds to fill in some gaps. Of course we’re not planting all of these at the same time. The cold weather stuff will go in early. We’re not painters but Codi and I took turns painting each one of these while we waited for sugar cookies to come out of the oven. It was worth the cost of a cheap watercolor set but watercolor is definitely more challenging than I thought! I wanted to pass this on to my gardening friends. This activity doesn’t require a significant other but it sure is fun. Give it a try. And if your spouse isn’t a gardener perhaps this is a way to change that. Some people like to use an app to plan their garden while others prefer graph paper and pencil. I use a CAD program to lay everything out but I can’t stand to keep the plan digital. I need it to exist on papar for it to be real. I have 3 other plans for the rest of the fence line but we haven’t painted those yet. Wait until you see what we have planned for the rest of the yard! What do you do when you need a garden fix after the freeze? BTW, I plan to post here once per week every Thursday so please subscribe to be notified when I post. Here’s a thought for you to chew on until I post again. Is your garden more like a child or a parent and why?