February 2021 – What’s growing

What a weekend! Here on the Saanich Peninsula (just north of Victoria, BC), we enjoyed nearly full sun and a luxurious 12C. There is a pending cold-snap – in fact, it’s here: woke-up to -2C. All that sun and the need to prep a few things for the cold meant that it was time to get in the garden.

If you’re like me (which you likely are if you’re reading this) when you get the garden fever, you get it bad! And it feels like a febrile speed to which I went about my seeding. It’s week 7, so my planting schedule is completed up to week 6. Here’s what I have so far and how I did it.

Despite the impending freeze, Spring appeared to be here already

Week 5:

Indoors (20C): Celery, parsley, cilantro, alyssum.

I don’t need much of these. Parsley is slow growing, so it starts early. I like to have a few for either a big harvest for a parsley dish, (tabouleh) or just a few nibbles for things like flavouring soups and sauces. Celery was a huge hit for our farm stand in 2019, but not so much in 2020. So after growing nearly a whole bed of it last year, we’ve dialled it all back. Unlike parsley, some of these will be harvested “grocery store style” and sold as a whole, but most will be “cut and come again” for when I need a few stalks. A few plants are all I will need. As for cilantro, I grow it for several reasons: the leaves for flavouring dishes, the flowers for attracting beneficial wasps, and the seeds (for next year and for the spice.) And, because these plants bolt quickly, I’ll be sowing these regularly throughout the year, unlike the parsley and celery. Alyssum is purely a companion plant for my garden. It flowers constantly, which is a nice feature for the vegetable gardens and attracts beneficial wasps, flies and bees. It’s often planted below taller plants or at edges of gardens to help shade the soil, cooling it and retaining moisture. I’ll be seeding another tray of these when they can go from plug to garden, so for this planting they are just filling empty plugs.

Alyssum from middle to left. The cilantro, parsley and celery on the right. Propped up on buckets to be closer to the light.

(Additional note on the photo above: Alyssum is showing “shade avoidance behaviour.” While this has previously be considered a response to low light, new studies show it is a response to low ratio of Red light to Far Right. Red light is best for photosynthesis, but it is the far red in relation to the red that is needed to trigger the response. Thus, lots of studies are being done to find how to better grow a variety of plants. But, don’t try it at home. Short Day vs Long Day plants, flowering plants…etc all have different requirements. White sunlight is best. Don’t care about the “unused” part of the spectrum. Those parts either play a role we don’t understand yet, or are helping other things like predatory insects. Only when artificial light is a major cost in commercial growing should wavelengths be excluded to save money or focus on the others. My solution to the alyssum was to place them closer to the Hight Intensity Sodium light, which will result in more Red light.)

This entire tray was seeded with ProMix germination mix: which is generally just fine peat and a wetting-agent. I fill a bucket with the mix, and open a hose up into it (just water). I give it a stir and then leave it a few hours until it’s saturated. Cilantro seeds were pushed down to a depth equal to their diameter, but all others were dropped on the surface and covered with a sprinkling of the soil media. For the sprinkling, I usually use dry media, because it sprinkles easier, and then I mist the trays to wet the surface media. This tray is then covered with a clear plastic lid and left until sprouting. The alyssum came up first. It was thinned to one plant per plug and the lid of the tray was offset so as to cover only the remaining plants. A week and a half later, all had sprouted, and the lid was removed.

Because it’s early in the season, these plants will be transferred to 4″ pots, then acclimatized by placing them in my cool greenhouse before transferring to the garden (around 7 weeks from now, mid April.)

Alyssum and Brassicas being transplanted. Germination was ok for a cold frame with no additional light.

Outdoors: Nothing was directly sown this week.

Coldframe: 0-18C (weather dependant) Spinach, lettuce, sunflower, arugula, nettles.

I followed the same seeding procedure for these, with the pre-wetted promix in plug trays. But instead, these went uncovered into my cold frame greenhouse.

As above, it’s too early to set these out, so they will be transferred to 4″ pots before being set-out. If I’m anxious or in need of getting them out early they can survive a light freeze (sometimes) so they don’t have to wait until mid April.

However, the spinach and arugula (and maybe the lettuce) can be directly sown within a few weeks, so starting these now is just a way of hedging my bet and maybe getting a head start on healthy home-harvested greens.

Quite a bit growing already. I’m nervous about the weather. I may carry these all indoors for this week. (Painstakingly)

This is my first time growing stinging nettles. Their seeds are so fine that I couldn’t get an appropriate amount into each plug, so at first sign of sprouting I’ll be thinning them out with tweezers. I haven’t even decided where in the yard they are going to go. I have kids, so I am going to hope they don’t come across them, by planting them away from things they’ll pick, like berries and peas. They also prefer poor soil, so that eliminates many of my beds anyways. This is also my first time starting sunflowers early. I usually grow them later in the year in 4″ pots and put them into the garden around May. However, every year a volunteer sunflower (a dropped seed from the year before) comes out earlier and with a much thicker stalk and seems like the healthiest of all sunflowers. So, my assumption is they like that cold and slow start (they are native to North America, after all.) I will likely direct sow some of these as well next week to compare.

Week 6:

Indoor (20C) Nothing this week.

Coldframe (0-18C) Shelling Peas, Snap Peas, Sweet Peas.

I used the same soil media as above, but instead of in plugs, I used rays of 10 2″x3″ cells. For each cell I planted 5 peas: Three down one side, and two off-set down the other in order to maximize root area. I will direct sow some peas after this cold snap to compare as well.

My pea sowing pattern

This year, I will grow these peas on supports that dissect my beds. So, they will be planted in a row. I’m thinking these cells will allow for this, (somewhat) but also allow us to sell the unused cells at the stand. The sweat peas don’t have a designated space yet. I’ll likely keep them away from the others, so kids don’t pick them as well. But, then again, it should be easy for them to understand “don’t eat the fuzzy ones.” They’ll be used to make the yard look and smell nice, and as cut flowers.

Direct sow: Bread seed Poppies

In a few beds that will have warm season crops, my winter covers were eaten by slugs and they remain bare. For these beds, I prepared a mix of poppy seeds and sand and sprinkled them over the bed. I did this now, as poppies like to freeze before sprouting. With this cold snap coming, they should be happy. The sand helped my spread them, but I hope it also hides them from hungry birds, and (this time of year) can help them stay moist.

Poppies went in here.

I was supposed to direct sow some barley, but with the cold coming and hungry birds all over my yard, I’ll wait until the next rain is coming. Apparently they like a cold start too, but I haven’t grown them this early before. They’ll primarily be used for cut flower arrangements, but anything left may turn into a beer!

Poppy seeds mixed with sand for easy sowing.

Current Week 7: Nothing will be direct sown this week (especially because of the cold), but there will be lots more planting. Warm starts will be Peppers (all varieties) in plugs, onions in 4″ pots or plugs (I’ve had success with both), and China Asters and strawflowers (first time for both). In my cold frame I’ll be starting three varieties of amaranth (my favourite, purple, and then white and a rainbow mix….should be awesome!)


For a few weeks I’ve had several “experimental” cold starts in my cold frame. Just like the seeding of plugs as mentioned before, I sowed spinaches, beets, lettuces, mustards, brussels, broccoli, kale, cabbage, and alyssum. Germination was fairly poor, except with the brassicas. However, they seem to be struggling in the low light of winter. This weekend I transplanted the most successful plants into 4″ pots. Today, I will bring them all indoors for the cold snap. Into 4″ are “seaside” spinach, some kales and cabbages (they didn’t do as well as the other brassicas) and the broccoli and brussels. I even took a few mustards. The mustards were of mixed varieties and it was obvious that some germinated while others didn’t. An interesting trial, anyways. And hopefully a good head start for some of them.

Speaking of this weekend. Here’s a picture of my daughter eating a Meyer Lemon directly off the tree. (Surprisingly, she actually ate two whole lemons!) The Meyer is now covered with a burlap with incandescent “Christmas” lights draped amongst the branches. If I can keep them from freezing, it’ll be a fantastic year. Otherwise, anything that freezes will die back. My olives apparently will survive just fine, which is great, because a week or two from now and they’ll all be nice and ripe.

Fresh Lemons on the West Coast in February! What a treat.
This Leccino lemon is freeze tolerant. Here on the coast they bloom in may and olives ripen Feb to March

We also installed some new cabinets in the garage to make my brewing space more official (and just to tidy up all the tools.) I also found time to prepare one of our ornamental beds with new soil and a cover of stones, brew a nice Pilsner and bake this sourdough for dinner. What a weekend!

Loving the new space, and the kiddos in it!
Making the house smell nice!

See how it’s going: March update

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