Posts Categorized: Things

Seed Starting 101

SeedsTopPhoto

Seed Starting: Get your plants growing like a pro
By Kristine Jepsen • Photos courtesy River Root Farm

It begins mid-winter, when the seed catalogs start landing in your mailbox. Any gardener knows all that green abundance is as riveting as, well, porn on those cold nights of frost.

But for all their seeming perfection, the strength of those lovely fruits or flowers was determined months ago through the successful germination and early care of the young plants, says professional grower Katie Prochaska.

River Root Farm familyKatie – alongside her husband, Mike Bollinger – starts thousands of microgreens and vegetable and flower varieties every year at River Root Farm in Decorah.

“There are about six things you really have to address,” says Katie. “Soil, type of container, light and warmth, watering, and, well, human error – or, just paying attention.”

Katie, a Luther College grad who first dug into gardening as a sustainable farming volunteer in the Peace Corps in Mali, West Africa, has had plenty of opportunity to dial in those basics. She and Mike put in time with the Seed Savers Exchange garden crew, managed the one-acre sustenance garden at the Good Life Center, founded by Helen and Scott Nearing in rural Maine, and later the four-acre market garden of Four Season Farm, the Maine showplace of organic innovators Eliot Coleman and Barbara Damrosch. Before moving to Decorah to start their own farm, which features moveable greenhouses pioneered by Coleman and engineered by a sister business, Four Season Tools, Katie and Mike managed gardens and programming for the Chicago Botanic Garden.

“Don’t think I was born with green thumbs, though,” Katie jokes. “In our first garden – in the yard of the house we rented on Broadway Street in Decorah in 2004 – we planted our broccoli in deep shade and failed to realize you have to separate onion starts from the clump they come in to get actual onions. And, we dug up a telephone line just tilling up our little plot. Our only success that year was one – ONE – Mexican Midget tomato plant.”

Here’s how to master the six keys to seedling success:

SOIL

By nature, seeds contain everything they need to sprout, so they don’t require nutrient-dense, bulky soil for germination. Choosing a potting medium that’s light and fluffy makes it easy for roots to find traction and sprouts to push up into the light of day. “Sterile” mixes are best to prevent mold or disease, Katie says. “A lot of times, people might use soil from outside, or compost from their garden, but these are too dense – literally overkill.”

Once emerged, plan to “pot up,” or transplant, seedlings into a combination of sterile potting soil and homemade or purchased compost, or a purchased soil with fertilizer mixed in. The goal is to give your starts easily accessible nutrients – baby food – for 4-6 weeks, prior to planting in the garden, Mike says.

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TYPE OF CONTAINER

“Use any old container – just make sure it has holes in the bottom for drainage,” Katie says. Plants won’t need more than 3-4 inches in height or width before they’re planted outdoors, so keep containers small. Individual yogurt cups work well, in addition to biodegradable peat or coconut containers that can be planted directly in the ground. When setting up your seed starting area, it’s a good idea to put all containers in a shallow tray because you’ll want to bottom-water them once the seedlings send out roots,” Katie suggests. (More on that later.)

In planting the actual seeds, use the size of seed as a rule of thumb, she says. “I often see people ‘burying’ seed, when most need to be only as deep as they are long – hardly covered with dirt, in most cases.”

Another key tip: moisten soil before planting. “It should be uniformly damp but not soggy or dripping,” Katie says, “more like a rag that’s been wrung out.”

SeedlingQuote

WARMTH & LIGHT

“Warmth and light are the biggies, and they go hand-in-hand,” Katie says, nodding solemnly to make her point. For most seeds, germination doesn’t require any light at all, but gentle heat is necessary to keep things at a constant 70 to 80 degrees until the seedlings emerge. “You can put them on top of the refrigerator, above a radiator, on top of your dryer. Or, you can buy an electric heat mat designed for starts.”

The trick, she says, is to keep the soil uniformly moist and warm until seeds “pop,” which is why many seed-starting kits include a plastic dome that fits on top. You can create this ‘greenhouse effect’ yourself by covering containers in plastic cling wrap, Katie says. “We sow [seeds] in trays on freestanding shelving, then cover the whole thing in a clear mattress bag.” Just be sure to keep the soil surface moist using a hand pump mist sprayer, or even a hand-held bottle with squeeze sprayer, Mike adds.

TomatoesWhen the tiny seedlings poke through the soil surface – this is pivotal – you MUST move them into bright, full spectrum light before they’re 1/2” tall, often within just hours of emerging. If covered in plastic, seedlings will suffocate as they use up the oxygen sealed into their ‘greenhouse,’ and they will stretch and get spindly or ‘leggy,’ searching for daylight. The result is irreparably weak plants, Katie says.

“If you have a really sunny south-facing window, that can work, but honestly, the best thing is to put plants under standard shop lights,” with one cool white fluorescent bulb and the other giving warmer/orange light,” she explains. “You want the plant to be within 3-4 inches of the light source as it grows, which means setting up your growing area so the light can be moved up as the plants get taller.”

This phase of growth requires less heat – most plants don’t need more than 60-70 degrees. It’s important to honor nature’s cycle of light and dark, too, Katie says. “Give them 16-18 hours of light to mimic the length of day in warmer climates, where these seed varieties are native. Then, turn it off. The plants need ‘nighttime’ even though they’re not outdoors yet.”

SeedlingsGreens

WATERING

Bottom-watering, or letting soil take up water through holes in the bottom of containers, is recommended once the seedlings pop up, Katie explains. This cuts down on soil splash, or the splattering of potentially fungus-bearing soil onto the stem and leaves when watered from above. In addition, bottom-watering does not shift the fragile plants around at the soil surface.

Seed Starting

PAYING ATTENTION

“A lot of your success comes in just paying attention – starting with reading the seed packet,” Katie says with a laugh. “The information might vary from company to company, but it’s there for a reason, and each vegetable or flower is unique in its own way.” To plan your garden’s productivity, look at the number of days to maturity. Is it given from seeding or from transplant? And keep in mind that some species really do best with direct seeding outdoors, as suggested, including beets, beans, cucumbers, squash, and pumpkins.

Another important directive? Thinning. “Don’t be afraid to thin,” Katie says. “I understand the temptation: people see that they’ve grown this little green thing, and they don’t want to kill it, but plants need space to grow. Always plant more than you need so you’ll have your target number of the strongest plants after thinning.”

And then there’s the importance of good lighting, again. “Check on your germinating seeds a couple times a day,” she repeats. “Stuff will pop up and be an inch tall in the blink of an eye.” Then, when seedlings are under bright lights, make sure plants don’t burn by growing tall enough to touch the bulbs.

Within just a few short weeks, your greenlings will be ready to join the profusion of plant life known as the growing season in the Midwest. “Moral of the story? Keep at it,” Katie says. “We learn something new from the garden every year.”

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Kristine_Winter15_16After whole decades of tangled tomatoes and limp lettuces, Kristine Jepsen has finally thinned her gardening proclivity to the handful of things her family will readily eat fresh from the garden. She is otherwise happy pay local professionals for their expertise. Read more of her misadventures at kristinejepsen.com.

 

Paper Project: Homemade Envelopes

Homemade envelopes

Everybody loves receiving something special in the mail, but with the convenience of text and email, a lot of us have let the handwritten letter fall by the wayside. Send some inspiration this winter! Homemade envelopes are an easy and fun way to add a personal touch to snail mail and give your favorite magazine pages new life. Download and print this template to get started!

What You’ll Need:

Scissors, glue stick, pen/pencil, a variety of magazine pages with images that you like, and our envelope template.

Materials for Homemade Envelopes

We chose some of our favorite pages from past issues.

Magazine Pages

Trace the template on the backside of the magazine page.

Trace Template

Cut out the envelope.

Cutout Envelope

Crease the side flaps and the top triangular flap of your envelope.

Fold Side Panels        Fold Top Triangle

Glue time!

Glue time

Place some glue on the side flaps and fold the bottom square portion of the envelope over them. Press and hold until the glue dries.

glue side flaps

Once the glue dries completely, your envelope is ready to be filled with holiday cheer!

Finished Envelope

These envelopes are a perfect fit for 3×5 index cards so you can send a letter or your favorite recipe! The standard size means that your envelope can be processed by the postal service without any additional stamps, but we recommend writing  address information on a white background (white sticker labels work great) so that they can be read easily by the USPS machines.

We promise, you can’t make just one of these. Make envelopes for all occasions!

Perfect Fit for Index Cards   Make more envelopes   Envelopes
Kristin AndersonKristin Anderson had a blast putting this winter’s paper project together! She is a Luther Grad from Des Moines where she designs graphics, paints, eats, and dreams of owning a vegetable farm. To see more of her work check out her webpage!

Smithsonian Water/Ways in Lanesboro, MN

Photo courtesy Smithsonian . Pakhnyushchy/Shutterstock.com

Smithsonian Institute’s Museum on Main Street exhibit, “Water/Ways” lands in Lanesboro, Minnesota, January 7 through February 19, 2017. The exhibit showcases how water forges bonds more complex than ‘H’ to ‘O’.

By Kristine Jepsen

Water. It hauls 108M tons of freight annually within the banks of the Upper Mississippi River alone, makes up 84 percent of any Honeycrisp apple and carries every single molecule of metabolized carbs and protein to each cell in – you guessed it – your body.

But stats alone cannot tell the story of water’s universal importance to life, nor inspire anyone to take action to conserve it. Driving home the awareness that water is a resource we must respect, honor, and absolutely protect is at the heart of Smithsonian Institute’s Museum on Main Street exhibit, “Water/Ways.” Lanesboro, Minnesota was one of six locations in Minnesota that was chosen for this national exhibit. It is installed in Lanesboro January 7 through February 19, 2017, and there’s with a huge variety of corresponding events scheduled throughout town – from Lanesboro Arts Center openings to Commonweal Theatre plays to film sets to moonlight snowshoe hikes. (See below for full event details.)

Historical photos of Lanesboro – ranging from 1876-1950 – courtesy Lanesboro Historical Museum

 

Designed in collaboration with state humanities councils, the project weaves the science of water conservation together with individual experiences of the power and poetry of water. Lanesboro’s narrative will, naturally, feature the Root River and its impact in the development of the region, from its meaning to Native American tribes on through to the more recent life threatening flooding of 2007-08 and 2016.

“Rivers move. They’re alive. They have this flow to them that just is fascinating,” says John Weiss, outdoor reporter for the Rochester Post-Bulletin for nearly 40 years. Project technology coordinator and award-winning ethnographer Erin Dorbin recorded the interview with Weiss as they hiked along the Root River, one of several audio pieces produced for the exhibit.

Top: Fishing on the north branch of Root River, 1950. Bottom: A more recent view of the Root River Valley.

“You gotta love water. You gotta protect water. You got to cherish water. But never, ever, ever trust water,” Weiss continued. “You got these two sides of it – the beauty and the beast. Moving water, as everybody knows, is dangerous. You have to respect it.”

Water/Ways was brought to the area by state sponsors like the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and a variety of local organizations – see sidebar for a full list. Credit for Lanesboro’s selection as a host location goes to Nancy North, who initiated the town’s application. She is principal at the Lanesboro-based communications and design firm, NewGround, specializing in environmental education and outreach. Partnering organizations have been planning the exhibit and related events since its announcement in June 2015.

Alongside Smithsonian’s Water/Ways is a companion exhibit specific to Minnesota, We Are Water. This interactive story-collecting showcase includes recordings from Minnesotans – including Lanesboro locals – who reflect on the meaning and experience of water. There are also opportunities for exhibit visitors to share their own stories and images. We Are Water MN connects visitors with ways to take action in water conservation, including in-depth resources for youth educators, regardless of whether they visit the exhibit in person. Visit mnhum.org/waterways for details.

The scientific side of the exhibit is spearheaded by Friends of the Root River, a non-profit advocacy coalition, and Eagle Bluff Environmental Learning Center, which brought on a Minnesota GreenCorps staff member to train local docents for the Water/Ways exhibit. Friends of the Root River organized several Science Sunday public lectures in downtown Lanesboro, such as “Contaminants: What the Data Show” given by Terry Lee from the Olmsted County Water Quality Lab. The Eagle Bluff Center itself, located on the bluff northwest of town, will host candlelight snowshoe hikes, several themed dinners, and a family sled dog day.

Stephanie Davidson

“Talking about water strictly in the language of scientific research and conservation can get dense,” says Eagle Bluff fellowship coordinator Stephanie Davidson. What’s inspiring is that a lot of water quality sampling, especially in the Driftless Region, is done by citizen scientists, she says. An introduction to water sampling is offered year-round through Eagle Bluff’s “Stream Lab” unit for students grades 4-8. Adults and/or parents of children interested in office training can sign up with Minnesota Pollution Control Agency: www.pca.state.mn.us/water/citizen-water-monitoring.

“Literally, grade-school students can be eyes and ears for streams in their backyards,” says Davidson. “You can collect valuable information on the pond you pass on your way to work. It’s one reason our watershed has some of the broadest and longest-standing water data in the state.”

Adam Wiltgen

Lanesboro’s installation of Water/Ways differs from other Smithsonian stops across the country – locations ranging from Rock Springs, Wyoming to Okeechobee, Florida – in that the exhibit’s home-base isn’t a science center or historical society, though both are integrally involved, says Adam Wiltgen, program director at Lanesboro Arts, a key collaborator.

Instead, viewers will find Water/Ways rooted in the historic St. Mane Theatre and Commonweal Theatre, both on Parkway Avenue, Lanesboro’s main drag. There, viewers will gather for educational events, film screenings, and musical productions. The resident Commonweal Theatre Company will present dramatic readings of locals’ most striking memories of water, as well as creative short plays, written and produced by Commonweal staff and alumni.

One script pushes the envelope on water scarcity, says Commonweal executive director Hal Cropp. In the future it imagines, a bottle of water appears in a museum exhibit – because it no longer exists as we know it.

St. Mane Theatre will also debut the work of student videographers Olivia Obritsch (grade 12), Jared Peterson (grade 7), Nora Sampson and Mai Gjere (grade 8), whose short documentaries on Lanesboro history and culture were funded by a nationally competitive Youth Access Technology Project grant. Just six communities received the award.

Dorbin, who directs graduate-level ethnographic programs for the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, conducted four months of field training with the students. “We covered everything from interviewing skills to research and editing,” she explains. “At one point, their assignment was to approach people on Main Street and ask, ‘When was the last time water made you laugh?’”

The result, Dorbin says, is some of the best work she’s seen. “I have loved seeing their exploration of their environment and community and their growth as citizens, uncovering history and realizing that they are also creators of history and can influence local decision-making.”

Mai Gjere, who studied Lanesboro’s economic history and plans to attract young people in the future, put it this way: “Our community won’t get better with chance. It will get better with change,” she concluded in her documentary, citing the town’s need to supplement thriving eco- and arts tourism with professional employment in more sectors. “Hopefully, my generation will be the one to change it.”

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Kristine Jepsen writes for magazines and the Web and enjoys grant writing for small businesses. She’s grateful for awesome educational resources, like Water/Ways, available in the Driftless – particularly as she embarks on homeschooling with her young daughter. Read more of her work at www.kristinejepsen.com.

The Lanesboro Water/Ways + We Are Water schedule is subject to change, so if you’re thinking of heading to one of the events listed here, please check mnhum.org/waterways/lanesboro for any updates.

January 7, 4-6 pm — “Currents of Change” – Visual Art and Historic Photograph Exhibit Opening Reception + Water Bar! Lanesboro Arts and the Lanesboro Museum at the at Lanesboro Arts Exhibition Gallery (Exhibit will run throughout the Water/Ways exhibition)

January 7 & 8 — “Ripples of Reflection” theatrical performance, Commonweal Theatre

January 8, 2 pm — Science Sunday, River Sojourn Film Screening with Sara and Ken Lubinksi, Friends of the Root River at the St. Mane Theatre

January 13, 7:30 pm — “Our Mighty Mississippi” with Steven Marking, baritone, St. Mane Theatre

January 14, 5 pm — Dinner on the Bluff, Protecting our Waters with Dr. Joshua Lallaman, Phd., Assistant Professor at SMUMN, Eagle Bluff Environmental Learning Center

January 15, 2 pm — Science Sunday, Wild Caving with Bill Brueck, Friends of the Root River at the St. Mane Theatre

January 21 – Giant bass snow sculpture will be created today! Downtown Lanesboro

January 21, 5 pm — Fish Fry, Lanesboro American Legion

January 21, 5-9 pm — Candlelight Snowshoe, Eagle Bluff Environmental Learning Center

January 22 — Science Sunday, Contaminants: What the Data Shows with Terry Lee from the Olmsted County Water Quality Lab, Friends of the Root River at the St. Mane Theatre

January 27, 6:30 pm — Grand Premiere Film Screenings: Youth Access Technology Project, Lanesboro Arts

January 28, 1 pm — Grand Premiere Film Screenings: Youth Access Technology Project, Lanesboro Arts

January 27-28 — Lanesboro Ice Bar, High Court Pub

January 29, 2 pm — Science Sunday, Swimmable, Fishable, Fixable? with Cathy Rofshus from the MN Pollution Control Agency, Friends of the Root River at the St. Mane Theatre

February 4, — Family Dog Sled Day, Eagle Bluff Environmental Learning Center

February 4, 5 pm — Dinner on the Bluff, Eagle Bluff Environmental Learning Center

February 5 — Science Sunday, Improving Water Quality with Land Conservation with Kevin Kuehner, Field to Stream Partnership, Friends of the Root River at the St. Mane Theatre

February 11, 4 pm — Chasing Niagara, Lanesboro Arts and the Frozen River Film Festival at the St. Mane Theatre

February 11, 7:30 pm — Aqua Adventure Film Set, Lanesboro Arts and the Frozen River Film Festival at the St. Mane Theatre

February 12, 2 pm — Science Sunday, Ironwood Landfill with Gary Peterson, Friends of the Root River at the St. Mane Theatre

February 16-18, 7:30 pm — “H20 Ten” eight 10-minute short plays about water, Commonweal Theatre Company

February 18, 5-9 pm — Candlelight Snowshoe, Eagle Bluff Environmental Learning Center

February 19, 2 pm — Science Sunday, Mysteries of the Driftless Film with Co-Producer George Howe, Friends of the Root River at the St. Mane Theatre

Contribute your story to Water/Ways or listen to oral histories collected in your area through Smithsonian’s app for smartphones.

Water/Ways and We Are Water are made possible by:
Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service (SITES)
US Environmental Protection Agency
National Endowment for the Humanities
Minnesota Humanities Center
Minnesota Pollution Control Agency
Minnesota Historical Society
Minnesota Department of Natural Resources
Minnesota Department of Health
Minnesota section of the American Water Works Association
Minnesota Public Radio
Lanesboro Arts
Commonweal Theatre Company
Eagle Bluff Environmental Learning Center
Lanesboro Museum
Friends of the Root River