Michigan gives us a glorious six months to garden. Unfortunately, that simply is not enough time for some of our favorite vegetables to be direct sown into the garden. This gives you two options: either start your own or purchase starts from a farm or nursery. If you have a few seasons under your belt and feel confident starting your own here are a few tips and tricks to get you started.
First, start off with a quality seed starting mix. Potting soil, topsoil, or soil out of your garden bed simply will not do for starting seeds. You can purchase premixed organic seed starting mix or you can mix your own. We mix equal parts coconut coir, sand, and vermicompost for successful plant starts.
Next you want to ensure you have fresh seeds from a reputable source. The older your seeds, the less likely they will germinate. To test the viability of your seeds place 10 seeds evenly spaced between two wet paper towels, roll up the paper towels and seal in a plastic bag. Check seeds in two days to two weeks depending on the seed variety.
Finally, timing is everything when it comes to starting seeds. If you start too early your plants can become root bound. On the other hand if you start too late, your seeds will not have the head start they need to reach their full potential. Here is a snapshot of what plants we will start and when here at Good Sweet Earth.
Peppers (sweet, hot, and every kind in between): 2/22
Tomatoes (cherry, paste, slicing): 3/7
Annual Flowers: 4/4
Remember, some vegetables and flowers are best grown by direct sowing including cucumbers, peas, green beans, zucchini, sunflowers and lettuce. Our cool weather crops will go in the ground mid-April depending on the weather. The remaining plants will go in the ground after the last frost on May 16.
Michigan is 2 weeks into winter and all this snow has me daydreaming of Spring. The beautiful seed catalogs that are steadily landing in my mailbox definitely help me think warm thoughts, as well as plan my upcoming garden.I am often asked where I purchase seeds and transplants, so I thought I’d share a few of my favorites. I order from a variety of places for a variety of reasons, and all seeds I order are non-GMO and preferably organic.
Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds-I love, love, love their catalog! If you haven’t received their free catalog you are missing out on a work of art! Seriously order the catalog now! I have ordered seeds from Baker Creek most year and will do so again. They offer unique seeds and have great germination rates.
Johnny’s Selected Seeds-An old stand by for me at seed ordering time. Selection and variety are similar to Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds. Customer service is excellent and their growers library is very useful.
Seeds Now-This is a new find for me this year, but I have to say I am impressed with the selection. My favorite part of ordering from them is the sampler packs. For 99 cents to $1.99 you can purchase a smaller number of seeds. For example, Brandywine Tomato seed sampler pack gives you 15 seeds for 99 cents! This is perfect for a backyard gardener who wants to start a variety of tomatoes instead of a dozen of the same type of tomato.
Once we actually get close to planting, you can find quality transplants readily available locally. Here are three local sources we love:
Grand Shire Farm-Available at the Fulton Street Market in Spring. I have purchased herbs, lavender, and chamomile from them with great garden success. They have a variety of each and are knowledgeable about which variety will suit your needs.
Well House-We love the mission of Well House and started attending their yearly plant sale last year as a vendor. The farmer, Alec, grows thousands of transplants to sell at the sale and proceeds benefit the gardens for the Well House residents. This is more than a ho hum plant sale! There is food, music, and great vibe as well as a nice variety of plants.
Three Acre Farm-Lori from Three Acre Farm started her flower from in 2017. If you haven’t made it out to cut your own bouquet you are missing out on pure beauty! In the Spring she also offers tomato, pepper, and herb transplants. I didn’t make it out to Three Acre Farm last year, but some friends did and boy did they rave about their tomatoes!
This is by no means an exhaustive list of the only places to purchase quality seeds and transplants, but they are my favorites. Do you have a favorite that didn’t make the list? Share in the comments section below.
Caring for 160,000 composting worms is a year-round job and requires more time than one might think. In ideal conditions, our worms are eating 80 pounds of produce and bedding per DAY. Ballpark figure: That’s about a ton of food per month! And to keep the worms eating at a healthy rate, we need to keep the temperature moderate, the pH relatively neutral and the moisture balanced.
So what are our guys eating to stay healthy, and produce healthy Worm Compost? For starters, locally-sourced rotten produce. Why rotten? That’s the way worms like it. When they eat, they don’t draw nutrients from the produce, but rather from the mold and microbes rotting the produce. Their bodies take what they need from the molds and fungi, and excrete their castings with many of the nutrients still intact from the fruits and veggies they just digested. That’s what makes vermicompost so much better than traditional “hot” compost: It actually contains nutrients and minerals that your plants need.
While we’ve always used rotting produce for our worms (as opposed to animal manure or landscape waste), this past year we became much more selective about what we fed our worms. In the past, we would utilize any rotting fruit or vegetable as worm food; now we only feed them produce that is 100% seed-free. This means you won’t find a rogue seed or sprout in the finished Worm Compost. No more tomatoes, melons, cucumbers, strawberries, pumpkins, peppers or apples, which means we’ve doubled up on things like lettuce, spinach, celery, potatoes, mushrooms, kale, carrots, cabbage, yams, broccoli, cauliflower and radishes.
We also source coffee grounds from local coffee shops (100 pounds or so per month), coco coir, clean newsprint, and crushed egg shells.
All-in-all, these worms are chowing down 365 days a year to produce our Living Worm Compost.
Keeping things a comfortable temperature for the worms is vital—in both summer and winter. Worms like temperatures around the same level you and I might. If you’re cold, so are the worms; if you’re hot, so are the worms. That means in the summer, we keep fans blowing across the bins to cool things down. But in the winter we have to set up heating systems to keep the worms happy and hungry (and mating).
We’ve also vermin-proofed our workshop (chicken wire, traps, barn cat), as winter is the time of year when these worm bins becomes prime real estate for mice—warm environment with an all-you-can-eat buffet being restocked on a regular basis.
Like any other farmer, we need to make sure our livestock are safe, healthy and fed, and that means constant year-round attention. When the thermometer drops, that means more work for us to keep them happy, but it also means that the colder it gets, the more we’re “thinking spring.”
Good Sweet Earth is offering a new service for West Michigan gardeners looking to take their garden to the next level this year: Your own personal gardening consultant to work with you, from the planning of your crops through the harvest.
You'll have your very own Master Gardener to walk you through the entire growing season! Need help with your garden? Want to maximize your harvest? Looking for someone to answer tough questions as they pop up during the growing season?
We got your back!
Whether you do container gardening, raised beds or have a quarter-acre of yard space ready for planting, we can help! Here's what's included in your season-long Gardening Consultant Service:
1. An on-site assessment of your garden space-- we'll check your soil, sunlight, irrigation, space, etc.
2. A personalized plan for when and where to plant your seeds and seedlings. We'll sit down with you to go over the fruits, veggies and herbs you and your family most enjoy, and we'll map out your garden to maximize your harvest. We'll also make recommendations on different plant varieties based on your level of gardening experience, West Michigan climate and your personal tastes.
3. Season-long guidance. Questions always come up, but with Good Sweet Earth, you'll have an expert at your beck and call as you encounter pests, unproductive plants, fertilization questions, and any other curves nature can throw at you. We'll walk you through it all season long, from planting in the spring to wrapping things up in the fall!
4. Discounted soil test and analysis. We'll knock $10 off of our soil test and analysis. Testing is done at a Michigan State University lab, and analysis will give you guidance on how to effectively amend your soil for maximum results! Regular price is $50; discounted price is $40.
This package is only available to West Michigan residents (Kent, Ottawa and Allegan Counties), and is only available for purchase during the months of September-April, so that we can have adequate time to come out and assess your garden space and prepare your customized garden plan for spring. Best part? It only costs $100, but the food you'll harvest will be worth it!
Questions? Email Corey at Corey@GoodSweetEarth.com.
Ready to purchase? Sign up here and we'll be in touch to schedule an on-site assessment of your garden space!
How do you know when it’s time to start planting? Our weather has been more spring-like here in Michigan than wintery and if you are anything like me you have your seeds ready to go.
Is it too early though? A major deciding factor is what you want to plant. It is by far too early for summer crops like tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants, which shouldn’t hit the ground until mid- to late-May. But for the spring crops*...it depends.
For those marvelous spring crops that we all love to plant as soon as the ground thaws and the sun kisses the air? The deciding factor is the soil-- the soil's moisture and the soil's temperature.
First, grab a handful of soil and squeeze it into a ball. If the soil becomes tight and holds its shape too well, then it's too wet to plant. Rototilling soil this wet or even walking on your crop rows at this point will compact things unnecessarily. However, if your handful of soil becomes a light ball that breaks apart easily, your soil's passed the first test of spring.
The next consideration is your soil temperature. Cool weather vegetables need the soil to be at least 35 degrees for your seeds to germinate. An inexpensive addition to your gardening toolbox is a soil thermometer. A good strategy when you are unsure if the temperatures will remain warm enough is to plant only a section of your crops, then wait a week and plant more. This way, if temps drop too far, your entire crop won't be lost. Staggering your sowing also spreads out your harvest a bit-- an added bonus.
Now before you put your seeds in the ground don’t forget to prepare your soil. Ready to purchase your Living Worm Compost? Click here. It's never too early or too cold to stock up on compost. Not sure how much you need? Email me at Corey@goodsweetearth.com and I'd be happy to help.
(*For the record, these are really the only things you should be putting in the ground in the early spring: spring cabbage, garlic-cloves, kale, onions, peas, radishes, shallots, spinach and turnips. Those are your spring crops that are able to handle a little extra cold.)
Corey Veldheer is the owner of Good Sweet Earth and has been Master Gardener Certified through Michigan State University.
Steve & Corey Veldheer are organic yard & garden specialists in west Michigan.