It has always felt like a miracle at our house, when a seedling we planted turned into a plant – because sometimes they do, and sometimes they don’t. Never having had any official lessons on sowing seeds, we’ve done different things at different times – really pressing the earth down so the seed felt secure, putting it deep, putting it shallow, watering daily or every other day, keeping them inside or outside, always with great intention and promise. There are so many options really. Thanks to Anastasia Cole- resident farmer and our guide at the Brooklyn Grange (an incredible roof top fruit and vegetable farm and oasis in Queens, NYC), our family has tangible confidence about the seedlings we will plant this season.
With our Spring Food & Garden Experience group, we labeled our beds with a stick bearing the name of the crop, the date, and where the seeds came from. We sowed seeds of sorrel, and little gem lettuce in rows left to right, top to bottom – just like you read a book (this is an important part of early literacy, knowing how to follow words on a page). We made very small indentations in the dirt – because seeds don’t need to be deep. In fact, if they are sown too deep in the soil and grow tall too quickly in their search for sunshine, they will be weak forever. Their roots won’t be developed enough to absorb the needed nutrients of a bigger plant so young. So just under the surface we placed them, one seed per square. Then we sprinkled new soil on top of all of the seeds and watered them, much more than the sprinkling I wanted to give them. No intense stamping of the soil needed – new seeds need room and a good amount of water to take off their seed jackets, to grow up to their potential. New seeds and young children have a few things in common it seems.
They seedlings will be kept indoors for a few days or weeks depending on the weather – they need to be kept warm and get good sunlight. Windowsills are perfect! Little green sprouts should be visible within a week or so, depending on the seed. However, if two weeks have passed and you don’t see anything, you probably never will. Another good reason to label your seed beds with the date and seed seller’s name.
One of the students with us this week for our Food & Garden Experience shared his surprise at meeting Anastasia. She isn’t the image that many of us have of a farmer. She isn’t a man with a name like Jo or Bill or Old MacDonald. She is young and smart and beautiful and energetic, and she inspired trust and hope in our crowd. As we walked among the planting rows, with snow and rain falling from the sky (farms happen and farmers work in all types of weather!), and the sub-irrigation system below the dirt was highlighted, this same student asked a serious question. Is there enough water in the world?
All eyes were on our farmer. What would she say?
She spoke truth and offered opportunity. We don’t know. The Earth is changing all the time and we don’t know what our resource needs will be in the future with water for our growing population. What we do know, is that we need to manage the water we have, better. Our sewer system is not set up to handle all of the rain that falls on our city. When it rains one tenth of an inch in NYC, (measure that out with your fingers) it backs up our sewage system that overflows into Jamaica Bay (click here to learn about the work to better this system).
Farms, on sea or roof level however, absorb water and turn it into produce and plants that clean our air and provide us with sustainable sustenance. More farms, means less water overflow. More farms, more gardens. This is something tangible we can all do to support a sustainable water system in our city. In all cities.
It is time to sow seeds. If you are new to the world of seedlings, start with what is comfortable. Basil, lettuce, hot peppers and kitchen herbs are easy to grow. Start with one. If you live near a farm, consider volunteering for an afternoon to get comfortable with the idea. You may discover that there is a bit of farmer in you too.