• Sami Zanfagna

Seed Starting 101

Last spring, it was nearly impossible to order seeds - the demand was so high as the threat of food scarcity started to rattle people in the US. While perhaps lockdown didn't reach the apocalyptic food shortage perceptions some had thought, the threat of food scarcity is always real. This is a very real fact of our food systems. Benny works for an organic superfoods importer, and shortages of ingredients are constant and ongoing, because when we depend on food coming from halfway around the world, it is vulnerable to everything: drought, natural disasters, insufficient labor, high transportation costs, complete lack of transportation, laws impacting imports & exports, tariffs, and on ...

The only way to build true resiliency is to commit to 100% (or, nearly) food independence - whether you grow it yourself or build relationships with local producers (like local farms). That's our goal: 95% food independence by next year (the other 5% is our coffee and chocolate, which may or may not be possible to grow in Maine, and which we will mourn dearly in an apocalyptic scenario).

If you are choosing to grow your own food, there are so many benefits of starting from seed. 1, you get to choose which varieties you plant - I go for heirloom varieties, which tend to be more nutrient-dense than the hybrids we've bred for high sugar content. Plus, you want to avoid GMOs. 2, it's way cheaper. 3, you don't have to depend on local growers and their seed-starting practices (like whether they use chemical fertilizers).

Here's some of what you'll need to start your seed-planting operation:

1) A south-facing passive solar window, or a whole lot of grow lights. Most plants, once popped, need 12-16 hours of light per day (not likely in most New England areas, unless you have a window like mentioned above). Here's a link to a grow light I'm loving

2) Some baby green houses, or a humidifier. This is because you want to keep the humidity level up. I recommend getting a little thermometer (like this one) to keep an eye on it. Our house isn't conducive to having a humidifier running (it's old and squishy enough as is!) so we go with the baby greenhouses inside.

3) Seed starter soil. Rather than just compost or dirt from outside, it's always best to go with an organic seed starter to ensure the seeds have the nutrition they need to get growing. Most blends also contain mycorrhizae, which helps with rooting.

4) Some heat grow pads - these are necessary for cold nights and seedlings that require constant warmth (like squash, melons, and cucumbers) if your house gets down to 50-60 degrees, like ours does : Heat Grow Pads

4) Your seeds! Here's some of my favorite places to order from:

Sustainable Seed Co

Strictly Medicinals

Seed Savers Exchange

Now that you've got your materials, it's time to choose what to grow. I recommend starting with 10-20 varieties of your *favorite* foods (make sure it's stuff you'll eat!) and researching the best varieties for your area: are they cold-hardy? Do they tolerate heat? How much sunlight is required?

It's also a good idea to get your soil tested before planting straight into the ground, so you can determine whether your soil is going to needs some doctoring to make it more plant-friendly: by increasing nitrogen content, phosphorus content, or making it more acidic or basic, etc. You can have soil testing done professionally or pick up your own kit somewhere like Home Depot. Any soil amendments can be done with organic and natural materials!

Cold-hardy crops (like broccoli, brussels, cauliflower, celery, kale, lettuces, and cabbage) will need to get planted first so they can get a few weeks of cool whether in the ground. Veggies like beets, radishes, carrots, and other roots don't translate well, and should be started outdoors - right around now, so get on it!!

There is so much more to discuss when it comes to seedlings, but I hope this guide helps you get started! What are you most excited to try growing this year?


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