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  • Jenny Hill

Garden Tips

As we watch the snow melt, then rain come and go, and then the snow start all over again, many of us have fallen for the siren call of seeds. The colorful packets hold such promise, so much potential encapsulated in small packages. Can there be flowers in our futures? Delicious vegetables and herbs?

At Happy Dancing Turtle, our garden team of Dave and Anna have been making calendars, ordering seeds, lining up supplies and mixing soil. Here are some tips they’ve shared about what they are doing and how you, whether you're a beginner gardener or a more seasoned one (is that a pun?), might get started with your own garden plans.


Easy Starts


Like so many worthy pursuits, planning and paying attention to the details really pays off when it comes to starting seeds. Just like a good news story, you will want to know the who, what, where and when what you would like to grow. Here is a chart of some of the easier vegetables to start from seed and corresponding tips.

Seed packets also provide a lot of information, so be sure to consult those! If this is the first time you are starting seeds, you might prefer to buy a prepared soil starter kit.


Light ‘Em Up


Having grow lights over the seeds you are starting are an important step to success. Gardener Dave says, “LEDs work great because the energy consumption is low.” He points out that also because they are very bright, they don’t need to be right on top of the seedlings. They do not get as hot as fluorescent lights, so there’s less risk of burning plants or drying out the potting mix they are planted in.



Picking Pots

I recently learned it is best to plan ahead so that you are only transplanting seedlings once, ideally to their permanent growing location because transplanting always requires recovery time. According to Dave, if you do have to trans-plant to a larger pot it is best to do so before the roots take up too much space, ideally when the root hairs are just at the edge of the soil in the pot.


For plants that wind up with the roots bound up, Dave said “They should get pulled apart, loosened and or trimmed so they can be planted by spreading or fanning them out so they can grow down and out properly. Transplant shock can set the plants back on their length of maturity by 2-3 weeks before they start to grow again. So iif you direct seed things they can catch up to others of the same variety that were transplanted because they don't get the transplant shock.”


Mixing Soil

Maybe you’ve used a soil starter kit before but this year you want to try mixing your own. Great idea! Isn’t half the fun of gardening getting to play in the dirt? Below are some photos and notes from Gardener Dave about how he mixes soil for seed starting


Dave said, “If using peat instead of the coco peat we would add Pel-lime to raise the P.H. of the peat."


What is Pel-lime? You may ask (I did!). Dave explained that Pel-lime, or pelleted limestone, is limestone that is crushed down to a fine powder and then processed into a small pellet. “The advantage of using Pel-lime is that it broadcasts/spreads uniformly, breaks down quickly, and is more water soluble because it's a fine powder.” Dave went on to say that lime raises the P.H. of the soil and makes it less acidic. “Like the old farmers term "Sweetens the soil" vs. acids which are sour like lemons. “


Note: If all of this soil talk feels like a glimpse into a whole new world, check out the monthly Zoom discussion group, Change Exchange, which is focusing on soil for gardens and agriculture at the February 21 meeting.


Mapping It Out

If your garden habit includes a map, good for you! Notes on what grew well (and what could have done better) that has the added information of where it was grown gives you a lot more data when starting a new garden season. For the campus garden, Dave and Anna keep a map and use it, in part, to help them track rotating crops for improved soil health.


Aquaponics Aspirations?


If you are ready for more advanced garden information, it can be fun to learn about aquaponics. This beautiful photo below was from January 30 and are vegetables Dave and Anna grew using aquaponics. I asked them if the length of time to grow was similar to traditional methods. Dave said, depending on the type of seed grown, “We can harvest our loose leaf lettuce after about 3-4 weeks. it is similar to growing in soil, weather dependent. Each seed variety will have its own days-to-maturity number which is the time it takes to grow into maturity from the time it is planted.”



Romaine lettuce, which forms a head, takes longer than loose leaf lettuce–up to 45 days till maturity. “But the harvest date can vary depending on if you want baby lettuce, so you could harvest earlier. Growing in our aquaponics/hydroponics system is in a controlled environment agricultural system, also known as ‘CEA’ where we can optimize the growing conditions for the types of plants we are trying to grow.”


Other Garden Good Stuff


Community Gardens

In this previous blog post, I listed some of the many advantages of being part of a Community Garden. If you live in the Pine River area, the Pine River-Backus Community Garden can be ideal for either beginner or more experienced gardeners. Run in cooperation with Pine River-Backus Community Education, the full-sun garden is located behind the Pine River High School, adjacent to the football field and has 15’ x 15’ ground-level plots as well as some raised beds.


There will be an organizational meeting Monday, February 28 at 3:30 at the Community Education Office at Pine River-Backus School, 401 Murray Avenue.


In the Driftless Region, the Kane Street Community Garden opens in mid-March! For more information, check out their Facebook page.



Lawns to Legumes program

Lawns to Legumes offers a combination of workshops, coaching, planting guides and cost-share funding for installing pollinator-friendly native plantings in residential lawns.


Individual Support grants reimburse Minnesota residents for up to $350 in costs associated with planting pollinator habitat in their yards. Recipients have access to workshops, coaching opportunities and gardening resources to help ensure project success. Recipients are required to contribute a 25% match in the form of purchasing materials, hiring contractors or as in-kind time spent planting and maintaining their projects.


Anyone interested in helping pollinators can access free resources on the BWSR website and the Blue Thumb website. Lawns to Legumes is currently accepting new applications for fall projects. Applications can be submitted on the Apply for Lawns to Legume Assistance page.



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