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The Garden Genesis

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Nurturing the seedlings at Huckleberry Tent and Breakfast Nurturing the seedlings at Huckleberry Tent and Breakfast

It may still look (and feel) like winter, but gardeners everywhere are planning for the harvest

 

Although the view outside still says winter, eager gardeners throughout northern Idaho and western Montana are busy planning for the fall harvest, setting up lights and heat mats and poking tiny seeds into rich dirt. Home gardeners and local businesses alike will spend the next two months nurturing this young growth, getting it ready for a home outside, or a home in a pot for you to pick up and purchase if you didn’t already start your own seeds. The River Journal talked with a trio of people in the business of growing out seeds: Kootenai's All Seasons Garden Center's John, Nancy, Marcy and the rest “always begin planting in February with the “P’s”: pansies, petunias and peppers, in that order (and) reseed every week so there’s always new plants coming in,” explained John Hastings. By the time you’re reading this (around mid March), they’re starting tomatoes—about 50 different varieties of them, all of which, John laughs, “grow well here... usually.” (Tomatoes being dependent on a lasting summer; frost in August, or even early September, can take out your crop.)

An old standby they always plant is “Early Girl tomatoes,” says John, but only due to customer demand. “People have been growing them for generations and you’ll always get red tomatoes, even here in North Idaho. But I would never put them in my garden. The taste is just mediocre. There are so many equally dependable and much better tasting tomatoes, like Manitoba, Matina, and Stupice. These varieties should become the ‘old standbys’ for the next generation. I guess an old standby around here that is deserving is Kentucky Wonder bush bean. Big, delicious pods with strong plants that keep the pods up off the ground for easier picking. I love ‘em!” he said.

A little-known growing wonder John is fond of is Rhodochiton, a flowering vine commonly known as Purple Bells. “It grows prolifically in hanging baskets and has this amazing tubular flower,” he said. “ It will cascade a good 3-4 feet in a normal summer and I’ve seen them go 10 feet if we get a lot of heat.” For the veggie gardener looking to try something new, his suggestion is, “tomatillos, particularly the purple variety. They are incredibly easy to grow, making even the novice gardener feel like a pro. They are the main ingredient in a salsa verde, but will make even red salsas so much more complex in flavor, particularly if you roast them.”

Out at Clark Fork High School, a smaller growing operation begins in the greenhouse (funded by a donation to the school) in March, under the direction of teacher Mike Turnlund (of River Journal, “A Bird in Hand” fame). The entire freshman class has been recruited to help, and Mike points out that “CFHS originally got into the greenhouse business as a way to raise money for extra-curricular student groups and as a way to introduce students to raising plants. The vast majority of our students have never planted a seed, let alone transplanted plants from one pot to the next.”

This month they’re starting flowers, tomatoes and peppers, all of which will be available for purchase some time in May. “Because we’re growing for customers, we tend to stick with the tried and true,” Mike said. That means Beefsteak and Brandywine tomatoes, and Straight-Edge cucumbers. But for those looking to stretch their food horizons, he also plants Purple Cherokee tomatoes. “They have a great taste—reminds you why homegrown tomatoes are so much better than store bought, regardless of the price you pay.” This is the first year the greenhouse is expanding to offer flowers, which will include Verbena, Silver Falls, Coleus, Petunias, and Echinacea.

At Huckleberry Tent and Breakfast, they don’t plant for public purchase, but this year Christine Dick has ventured into seeds, and her self-packaged seed varieties are available in a variety of locations, including online at their website (huckleberrytentandbreakfast.com). “(Husband) Tim and I have been gardening at our mountain homestead outside Clark Fork for over 17 years. We live off our garden’s bounty so we can’t afford to lose a harvest. Through trial and error, we have found great vegetable varieties that consistently produce well in our cool, short growing season,” she said, and it’s those varieties she’s offering under the Huckleberry Tent & Breakfast label. “Right now I’m starting my tomatoes and peppers,” she said. “If I was starting celery from seed this year, I would also be planting it. By the end of this month, I will be starting my Basil and petunias.”

Her “old-standby” plant is carrots. “Our family loves carrots: raw or cooked. We start thinning and eating the baby carrots in July. In the fall, we wait for a couple of frosts before the final harvest. With each frost, the starches in the carrot turn to sugar and they get even sweeter. We layer the carrots in sawdust and store them in our root cellar where they will stay good until next July when the fresh carrots are again available in the garden.”

Lettuce is another standby plant. She plants a small patch every 2 to 3 weeks in order to have fresh lettuce spring, summer and fall.

If you haven’t tried growing it yet, Christine recommends planting Kohlrabi. “First of all because it looks like something they would eat on Star Trek and second, hardly any bugs mess with it. You can eat Kohlrabi raw (texture is similar to Jicama) like carrot sticks or grate it to use as a substitute for cabbage in coleslaw, or you can stir fry it. It has a mild cabbage flavor. It is space sensitive! So make sure that you have 4-6 inches between each plant or it won’t form its “bulb.” Harvest when the bulb is baseball size, peel the hard outer layer and you’re good to go.”

Whether you’re starting plants now, or looking to buy plants come May, gardening, Christine says, is worth the effort. “Growing a garden not only provides your family with the freshest, healthiest vegetables, it is also an economical way to stretch your food dollars. For example, buying two packages of carrot seeds for around $3, my family of five can grow enough carrots for ALL year! By freezing, drying, canning, root cellaring as well as eating fresh vegetables, your garden can provide healthy and inexpensive food year round.”

All Seasons Garden Center is located on Hwy. 200 in Kootenai and is open Monday through Saturday from 9 to 5. The Clark Fork High School greenhouse, located on the school grounds in the heart of downtown Clark Fork, will be offering plants for sale in May. Huckleberry Tent & Breakfast’s “tried and true” seeds can be purchased in Clark Fork at Evergreen Supply, and in Sagle at Peck’s Feed Store. In Sandpoint, find them at The Co-Op, Carter Country, Winter Ridge Natural Foods, Sandpoint Super Drugs, and The Garden Store on the Cedar Street Bridge.

Top 5 Seed Starting Tips:

From Mike Turnlund

 1) follow the directions on the seed pack!

2) Only use top-quality potting soil -- no discount material. Success and failure is often tied to the potting soil initially used.

3) Don't stress the sprouts. Monitor moisture -- not too much, not too little.

4) Overhead light is better than simply using windows for lighting, as the sprouts will get spindly. A set up at home with overhead lights specifically for starting plants is best. And I have found any florescent lamp is as good as any specialty growing lamp.

5) As much as it pains you to do it, you got to thin your sprouts when they begin to come up, whether planted in the garden or in the tray, e.g. carrots. I hate murdering the little guys, but giving the largest sprouts the most room will give you the most produce and best results during the growing season. Remember, sprouts are not people -- cull away! 

From Huckleberry Tent & Breakfast

 

#1--Buy seeds that will do well in our area. Look for cool weather, short season varieties for best success.

#2--make sure you germinate your seeds in a warm area. We heat our home with a wood stove so our temperature varies throughout the house. After planting my seeds, I set them on my clothes drying rack near the wood stove--not too hot, not too cold. When they sprout, I move them by south facing window for light.

#3--Keep soil moist until germination. Place a piece of plastic wrap over your soil to help keep in the moisture. As soon as the seeds germinate, remove the plastic. Make sure to regularly water your plants. Those little pony packs dry out quickly.

#4--Give your plants enough light so they won't get leggy. If using grow lights, keep the lights 2 inches above the plants--moving as needed. Did you know that tomatoes love to be touched? It helps their stems get stockier. So remember to "pet" your tomatoes daily  

#5--Harden your plants by setting them outside for a few hours at a time over several days before you transplant them in the garden. Keep an eye out for those surprise frosty nights that can kill off your tomatoes, peppers and other heat loving plants. Have blankets, garden cloches, plastic milk jugs, etc ready in case you need to protect your plants overnight.

From All Seasons Garden Center

 

1. Don’t start too early. I should have the cap locks on for that. The most common mistake people make is

getting excited by a few warm, sunny days and start plants that shouldn’t be set out until mid-June. They end up growing

too long and leggy, fall over from not being able to support themselves, and you have to start over. Now you can avoid

this by having full-spectrum grow lights, but otherwise, follow directions and accept that most warm-weather plants

shouldn’t be put outside here until we are getting 50 degree nights.

2. Don’t over water. Growing indoors is a great environment for molds, bacteria and viruses that attack plants.

To prevent this, water plants only when the top of the soil is dry and the only way to know this is to stick you finger in

the dirt. If it’s dry – water it; if it’s not dry – don’t. It’s really that simple. It’s also best if you have your plants in some

sort of water tight container so you can water them from below. This way the foliage stays dry and molds have less of a

chance of getting started.

3. Don’t start too much. After your seeds develop true leaves, they will respond well to being transplanted.

I will start 300 tomato plants in 2 square feet. By the time they have been transplanted in to gallon containers, which

is what they will be sold in, they will require 72 square feet an increase of 36 fold. Remember this when starting your

seeds; do I have 36 times as much space available for them to grow before I can put them out. Flowers would probably

only need a tenfold increase, but still a lot of space. This is probably the number one reason people start contemplating a

small greenhouse at home.

4. Use sterile soil and sterilize any container you use. This will also help with the mold, bacteria, and virus

problems mentioned above.

5. Seeds are relatively inexpensive; don’t be afraid to try staring your own plants, even if you have no

experience. Mother Nature is very resilient and can overcome many of our mistakes. And worst case scenario, I know of a

lovely little nursery that can supply you with any replacement plants you may need.

 

 


 

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Landon Otis

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Homepage, Headlines, gardening, Clark Fork High School, Mike Turnlund, All Seasons Garden Center, Huckleberry Tent and Breakfast, John Hastings, Nancy Hastings, Christine Dick, Tim Dick, seedlings

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