Carnage in the cold frame

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We almost didn’t go to the seed-starting workshop put on by the Cape Cod Organic Gardeners. I mean, really, you put the seed in the little pot, and give it some water and sunlight. It’s the stuff kindergarten projects are made of.

But we were willing to acknowledge that there might have been agricultural innovations since our kindergarten days, so on a recent Sunday we headed out to the Kelly Farm, where its owner, the venerable Jean Iverson, was going to teach us how to start seeds.

As long as you don't look too closely ...

We learned a lot. We learned that it’s important to use a soil mix designed to start seeds. We learned to keep seeds moist but not wet. We learned to keep them warm and dark until they sprouted, and warm and light thereafter. We learned to be ruthless in our culling. We learned that a cold frame could extend our growing system, and how to build one.

We went home empowered, and started our seeds. Kevin built our cold frame. Everything sprouted just fine. When it looked like freezing nights were behind us, we moved our seedlings into the cold frame. And that’s when the trouble started.

At least I thought that’s where the trouble started. I learned later that the trouble started when I decided to start cucumbers so early in the spring.

“Oh, no! You can’t start delicate plants like cucumbers this early,” said my friend Christl, whose gardening skills border on the mystical.

cukerow

The middle row is -- well, was -- the cucumbers

As tragedies go, the Great Cucumber Die-Off doesn’t hold a candle to, say, the Spanish Flu of 1918, but it’s notable for its 100% success rate. Every seedling succumbed.

Not all is well in other parts of the cold frame. The fennel looks like it’s going to go the way of the cucumbers, and the beets are barely hanging on. In fact, many of the plants in our cold frame seem to be afflicted by Failure to Thrive. They’re not dropping dead, but there are way too many yellowish leaves and leggy stems for me to be optimistic. There’s also a general air of dispiritedness, which I’m convinced is contagious.

Last year, we didn’t bother with seeds. We simply waited for June and bought plants from local farm stands and garden stores. We put the plants in the ground, made sure they got water and sunlight, and they rewarded us amply. Remind me – what’s wrong with that?

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Comments

  1. Tamar,

    Nothing is wrong with buying started plants.

    But with started plants, you get to pick which started plants are available, not which seeds from about the state, the nation, and the world seem to make the best sense for what you want to raise, process, and eat.

    Relying on started plants is fine, unless you treasure the tomatoes, or carrots from this year, and want to plant them back again (assuming you started with non-hybrid, open pollinated plants to start with – many ‘heritage’ varieties are).

    Planning ahead properly, you can start your own seeds at a time that makes the best use of your garden and harvesting schedule. Weather permitting, of course.

    I started some seeds in front of my bedroom window, on a card table last year. I also used a cheap 13 watt flourescent ‘grow light’. Some things did well – peppers, tomatoes – others not so well – watermelon, hollyhock. My biggest challenge was getting the garden ready to plant, and getting the starts in the ground.

    Blessed be!