Adventures in Seed Starting

Embarrassingly, given my job title, I’m terrible at starting seeds indoors. I blame it partially on my travel schedule and not being able to give the little seedlings the love and attention they deserve. It could also be because I have not been willing to buy the proper setup to start seeds. Maybe it is because I am not a perfectionist, and some indoor seed starting can be a bit tedious. Or it could be because I’m short on time. 

I do pretty well throwing seeds in the ground (direct seeding) once the soil is warm enough. But my direct seeding technique would also benefit from more precision in that I would need to do less thinning and would likely have more productive crops overall as well. I’m looking at you carrots!

I am also a good customer at our local greenhouses and happily (mostly) pay for the cost of transplants, knowing it has saved me a lot of time, effort and failed attempts.

But this year, I wanted to give preseason seed starting my best effort. I tried four ways of starting seeds, first planting them on April 3rd because that’s when I had time.

  1. Traditional seed-starting soil with a heat mat
  2. Peat pellets
  3. Hydroponically (Aerogarden)
  4. Winter sowing
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Herbs—Easy to Grow, so Many Ways to Use

In the summer, there’s no reason to settle for dry, colorless herbs that may have been in your cupboard just a little too long. Simply trot out to your backyard herb garden, ideally as close as possible to your kitchen, and snip your herbs as needed. Another advantage? They’re a great thing to grow in a small space.

a variety of herbs planted, bordered by rocks.

In the winter, herbs are one of the easiest edible plants to grow indoors as well. You’ll need grow lights and some type of aeroponic or hydroponic system also helps.

What herbs lack in calorie count and volume, they make up for in flavor and variety. In addition to a wide range of herbs like basil or Perilla (shiso), there are many, many varieties of each herb. For example, there are sweet basil, purple basil, lemon basil and on it goes.

purple basil with blooming orange flowers

Here, purple basil is interplanted with calendula and fox glove. Purple basil is tasty, but pesto made with purple basil is very unappetizing looking.

Give herbs similar growing conditions that you would give vegetables—neutral pH, sunny location and well-drained, fertile soiland they will thrive. But there are several ways that herbs differ from growing vegetables. One big difference is that you’ll generally only need to grow one or two plants, unless it’s something like basil that you like to eat a lot of. Continue reading

Greenery and Your Mental Health this Winter

Winter solstice is around the corner. Maintaining mental health in the dead of winter in Interior Alaska is always a struggle, but even more so given the added stress and limitations presented by COVID-19.

Research shows that greenery, both indoor and outdoor, offers a protective factor against the stresses and anxiety caused by living in a time of uncertainty, limitations and challenges. One study asked people about their emotional well being on one day after new restrictions were announced, doing various, daily activities. Exercising, particularly outdoors, going for a walk and gardening topped the charts in terms of promoting emotional well-being. The value of spending time outdoors is not news. In Norway, the term friluftsliv, or open air living, captures their cultural enthusiasm for nature and getting outside whatever the season or weather Spending time with friends as well as children was also associated with positive feelings—but not if it involved homeschooling! Interestingly, interacting with your spouse was also associated with negative feelings. While spending time indoors with friends is discouraged now, socially distanced outdoor recreation is a safe way to connect with friends. Continue reading

Indoor Edible Gardening

Big strides have been made in the techniques and technology used for indoor gardening. From automation to LED lights to the proliferation of simple, functional hydroponic setups– indoor gardening in Alaska is more attainable than ever. With our short growing season, why not take advantage of the winter and grow something you can eat?

The most practical and productive things you can grow indoors would be microgreens, lettuce, herbs, cucumbers and tomatoes. For non-fruit bearing plants (greens, herbs, and lettuce), you don’t even need special grow lights, regular fluorescent lights will do. Some microgreens mature in as little as a week while many other types of greens mature in as little as three weeks.

Ripe and unripe lemons on an indoor-grown lemon bush.

Lemons ripen on my mom’s indoor-grown lemon bush. Photo by Maggi Rader.

While not as productive or practical, here are some of the indoor edibles on my wish-list are:

  • Kaffir Lime Tree
  • Lemon Grass
  • Bay Laurel
  • Brown Turkey Fig
  • Calamondin Oranges (small, bitter oranges)
  • Passion Flower
  • Tamarillo Tree

I want to grow my own kaffir lime and lemon grass they are not readily available in town and the Thai recipes I cook always call for them. Fresh bay leaves are extra flavorful and since you need herbs in small quantities, I think I can produce enough to satisfy my need. One of my favorite pizza’s combines fresh figs, fig spread and bacon. Fresh figs are also difficult to find. Calamondin oranges are bitter, but more productive when grown in an indoor environment. Have you seen a passion flower? It’s a wild and beautiful thing that I would not mind having in my living room. Tamarillo trees are basically wild tomatoes. They take about two years to mature so of course they could not be grown outside. Fruits and vegetables that are closer to their wild ancestors tend to be more nutritious. Unfortunately, these exotic edibles are not as easy to grow as many houseplants, but maybe, some day, they will reward you with a tiny morsel to savor. Plus–bragging rights! Continue reading