For most conventional farms in this part of the world, there’s not much going on in January. The livestock still need fed and cared for, but the fields are slumbering underneath snow and freezing temperatures. Arguably the most exciting thing that happens for farms in January is ordering their seed for the coming growing season.
For farms like mine, though, the growing season is just beginning. Before this year, January was the time for ordering my seeds. Some of the best sales would happen at the end of January or beginning of February. The panic-buying of seeds in 2020 has changed all that. Most seed companies’ supplies are severely depleted. I was lucky: nearly all of the seeds I wanted were in stock, and for most of those that were out, there were substitutes I could order. Others have not been so lucky. On top of that, expensive seed types, like potatoes, and transplants are almost impossible to find.
As a result, I’m putting a lot more work into starting my own transplants this year. And that means that I’m already getting started!
This early in the year, the crops that are starting are slow-growing herbs like thyme, parsley, and rosemary. These seeds require cool, but not quite freezing, temperatures and moisture to prepare the seed for germination, conditions mimicking winter in their native climate (many of these herbs are Mediterranean in origin). In other locations, this can be created artificially by a refrigerator in a process called stratification. This is my first year using this technique.
Setting up stratification is very simple: in a sealable container, you mix the seed with a medium that retains moisture, add a little water, and pop the container in the fridge. Make sure to label your containers!
I do a single seed in each cell, because most of the herb seeds are nearly indistinguishable from the vermiculite I’m using. When it’s time to plant the seeds in the greenhouse to start growing, it would be nearly impossible to find just the seed. By putting only one seed in each cell, I can put the entire contents of the cell in my soil blocks and know that the seed is in there somewhere. You can, of course, put multiple seeds in each container or cell if you feel confident in being able to locate the seed when it’s time to plant.
I’ll be planting each seed in a 2-inch soil block, which I’ve made using the 3/4-inch square dibbles, which leaves enough room to hold the teaspoon of vermiculite that the seed is in, ensuring that the seed is roughly centered in the soil block. These blocks will go into my germination chamber, which is held at about 75°F, until they germinate, at which time they’ll be moved under lights for growing.
Lamb’s ears, lavender, parsley, rosemary, St. John’s wort, and thyme are the seeds I stratify in January.
I also started my angelica, which requires a process called scarification: using extreme temperature changes – from below freezing at night to 70°F during the day – to crack the outer hull of the seed that is otherwise water-resistant and doesn’t respond well to stratification, a situation which often results in poor germination rates. They are already planted in soil blocks, which I move outside overnight and into my greenhouse during the day.