Starting seeds in small containersFor the last several weeks I’ve had a nerdishly exciting time picking out seeds for Arcadia Farms’ 2012 crops. In order to successfully implement our succession planting strategy, I have an elaborate spreadsheet that provides the optimum start and transplant dates to meet my harvest date goals. Last Saturday was our very first seed-starting date so Owen and I joyful started broccoli, cabbage and some herbs. Since my blogging-promise is to bring you along on our journey, I knew that I had to provide you with the scoop on our inaugural sowing experience.

We have a greenhouse. A beautiful, little (6′ x 6′) greenhouse which we purchased last Fall for starting seeds in February through early Spring. Through a process of events I’ll likely blog about later, we determined that our cute little glass house just wasn’t going to cut it for starting seeds this early. It’s just not warm enough. Perhaps in April it will warm up enough to be our seed-starting haven. I have some experiments in mind to warm that pooch up sooner, but meanwhile, we needed an alternative ASAP!

Since the greenhouse was not a suitable option, we decided to turn our spare bedroom into a greenhouse instead. It’s in the southeast corner of the house and gets lots of sun. Of course central heating for the house eliminates the “not warm enough” roadblock. Bringing a humidifier in from the garage provides extra warmth and moisture. Plus we hardly use this room. It’s usually overflowing with laundry, unsorted paperwork and boxes of donations that never seem to make it to their intended destination. The only time this room is in use is when I skirt the mess away to inconspicuous hiding places throughout the house so that my mom can sleep on the air mattress when she comes to visit. Seemed like a good fit.

Location – check! Next it was time for supplies. When I did my initial cost analysis for the farm, I decided that buying Jiffy pellets and those handy mini-greenhouses was going to cost too much for the volume I wanted to plant. (We used these for starting seeds last year. My in-laws have a greenhouse attached to their home so we were able to keep the seeds there. Seeds we started at home we simply placed them in a sunny window area and everything turned out great.)

My alternative? Yogurt. Well… not the actual yogurt. The containers really.

starting seeds in small containers           starting seeds in small containers

I eat at least two deliciously protein-rich containers of Chobani Greek Yogurt each day. Being the recovering-hoarder, er, resourceful person, that I am, I always felt like the size and shape of these babies would make them good for something. And it’s true: With holes drilled in the bottom for drainage and filled with organic starter soil, they make excellent seed-starting vessels.

Drilling holes in the bottom of a yogurt container

Yogurt containers with holes drilled in the bottom for drainage

Filling yogurt container with organic starter soil

Filled yogurt containers in front of a window; Greenhouse in background

There’s our snow-dusted greenhouse in the background

As we plant the seeds, we simply apply a piece of scotch tape to the container and use a permanent marker to record the plant type and date. This makes them reusable.

Yogurt containers labeled with plant type and start date

And thanks to my yogurt-eating habit, I’m pretty sure that I’ll be able to obtain enough of them to meet all of my sowing needs. (So far I have 158 of them. Shout out to my friend Marrilee who also loves greek yogurt and has been supplementing my stash!) Three cheers for rocking the “reuse” part of the three R’s! (Go ahead, give a little shout right there where you are… I know you want to.)

Supplies – check! To date, the only remaining need we’ve identified is additional light. My handy husband put together a contraption that keeps two $10 plant-growing lights about 6 inches away from my seedlings for proper lighting. We still need to create more of them, but have figured out how to make them modular. When stacked together, we should have a 2′ x 3′ tower in front of the window capable of starting a few hundred seeds at at time! (More on that in future posts.)

One of the overarching goals of the farm is to find sustainable (read: no electricity) methods to do all of our farming activities. We have some experiments to conduct that I think will land us at sustainable seed-starting for the 2013 season. Meanwhile, I’m pretty pleased with the way we’ve developed a system for starting seeds in February that makes use of the resources we already have. What’s most inspiring is to see how excited Owen is to plant seeds, and to check back each day to observe their progress. I love the look of wonder on his face. We’re growing plants, but we’re also producing memories.

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