Where did we get the seeds?
We purchased seeds from Bountiful Gardens, Baker Creek and various garden stores we've stopped in over the last few months. We even saved some pepper seeds from the farmer's market last year. We put together a long list of local and organic seed suppliers on our resources page if you are looking for more ideas.
Months ago, as the first step in any permaculture design process, we articulated our goals. We wrote down what we wanted to eat and why to make sure we didn't take on too much to manage. Sure we still bought some seeds that we probably won't plant this year, but referring to our goals constantly allowed us to ask, do we even eat artichoke? Let's not plant it right now. Based on our time and experience constraints, we aren't able to create a permaculture paradise with hundreds of varieties in one season, especially our first.
We mapped all of the seeds we bought out on an excel sheet (in total 54 packets!) to track what conditions they like, how long they take to germinate, and when we should plant them in our climate. There are so many apps and websites out there that tell you what to plant when, but we've found some conflicting information on average last frost dates and what we should be planting, so we've gone mostly with seed packet directions, our best guess, and a general sense of what other folks we know are doing. If we can't start to trust our instincts now, then we won't be able to learn from our mistakes. Out of all of the sites we've found though, we like best what Mother Earth News has put together.
Some need to be cold-stratified...
What does that even mean? We didn't know this process even existed before now, but the seed packets came with pretty clear instructions (Bountiful Gardens even provided a more detailed info packet to go with it!). We started cold-stratifying some shrubs and trees in the fridge several weeks ago, and they're about to come out tomorrow! We stored them in damp cotton balls and marked them with names and dates in plastic sandwich bags. We didn't soak overnight in water which some people recommend, so we'll see how well they do when we put them in some soil and get them warm. Some seeds need to be scarred in addition to cold stratifying, which was noted on the seed packets too.
Two weeks ago we started tomatoes (3 varieties), jalapenos, tomatillos, asparagus, strawberries, peppers (3 varieties), kale, scallions and eggplant (seeds we identified as priorities in our goals) in seedling starter kits we bought for about $5. We decided not to start them flats and then have to transplant them, and went right for small little containers that we soaked in a bath of water and a little dish soap filled with organic potting soil. We made labels by cutting up a sour cream container and writing permanent marker. Pencil works too since the lead won't degrade.
What do we use for grow-lights?
We put the seedlings inside on a shelf underneath fluorescent lights approximately 3" away from the top of the soil. We bought shop light fixtures for $12 and installed one warm and one cool bulb in each fixture for about $9 for a pack of 2. The ideal is to have one 2700k - 3000k bulb (warm) in the red spectrum which promotes flowering and one in the 5000k to 6500k bulb (cool) in the blue spectrum which promote overall green plant growth (this information can be found on the package).
So far we are getting so excited watching life emerge that will soon become a food source for us, and I think that excitement transfers over to them. The kale has been the most exciting, since the seedlings look super strong and powerful popping out of the soil. We are almost surprised that they are growing so well considering how semi-stressed we were planting them, wondering if we were doing everything right.
We've done a full water once a week, and gently mist the top when they seem dry. We've had a pretty good germination rate and haven't added any fertilizer. We do test the water for pH before adding it since they like a slightly acidic pH of around 6.8 (just under neutral). We have highly alkaline tap water from the municipality where we live (upwards of 9), so we have been adding General Hydroponics pH down to adjust it. We've thought of lemon juice as a more 'organic' to bring the pH down, but we already have the stuff the aquaponics system, so went with onsite resources.
Transplanting into the design...