Sunday, February 26, 2012

First Seeds of the Season

You hear so much about how kids don't like to eat vegetables, but neither of us ever fit that stereotype. That was probably in large part due to being around a garden and actively helping in the kitchen to see where our food actually came from. But it also can come from the mindset you have about food. When Greg was a little boy, one of his favorite veggies was broccoli, and he still loves it to this day. As a kid, he would pretend the broccoli were tiny trees, and he was a giant dinosaur, chomping the tops off them. We can't promise that he doesn't still do that.

Naturally, this means we're going to plant some broccoli in our garden this year, and this weekend marked the start of the process. Broccoli is a cool-season crop, and if it gets too warm it starts to bolt, or grow flowers. We've had some trouble with this in previous years. So basically what you want is to have a healthy seedling that you can put outside early in the spring. To do that, you need to plant the seeds indoors around this time of year.

Here's everything we used to get our broccoli started. We have some potting soil, a heat mat, a seed tray, some of those six-pack seed container thingys, and of course, the broccoli seeds. Potting soil is a bit of a misnomer, since it's actually soil-less. Storebought stuff is a mix of mostly peat and vermiculite, or you can make your own using those same ingredients. Ours uses coconut coir in place of the peat, since it's more environmentally friendly and sustainable. Either will work, but don't use actual soil, because it contains micro-organisms that can break down the seeds before they germinate.

Broccoli seeds are tiny! That's a handful of our Burpee Green Goliath seeds that we've been trying to grow for the past few years. We've never had a great harvest so we can't vouch for how tasty this particular variety is, but we're game to give it another shot this year.

Planting the seeds is super easy. We just filled our six packs with potting soil, made a small (1/4 inch, per the packet) indentation, and dropped in one seed per pod. Here you can just barely see the reddish brown broccoli seeds nestled into our little divots.

We topped each seed with a little soil and gave them a good drink of water. The seeds need water to germinate, so we'll be keeping an eye on them and adding water as needed. We set the six-packs into the tray, and set the tray onto the heat mat. We're using a heat mat because broccoli's ideal germination temperature is 80 degrees. Don't worry if you don't have a heat mat, because broccoli can germinate in soils as cool as 40 degrees. Finally we put a plastic cover on the top to retain warmth and moisture.

Burpee thinks these will take up to ten days to sprout, but last year we saw seedlings as early as two days after planting. Once that happens, we'll switch off the heat and focus on providing light. Then in another four to six weeks, we'll hopefully have sturdy little broccoli plants that can handle going outside or at least into our cold frame. And then, if all goes well, it's only a matter of time until we can harvest our tiny trees. CHOMP!

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