Laura M. reporting:
About fourteen of us gathered at the Jericho Town Library on March 21 to attend Laura Oliver’s informative workshop on Seed Starting. This was TTJ’s first in-person meeting since the start of the pandemic and fell on the first (lovely!) day of spring! Laura co-founded and heads the Jericho Seed Library and is an avid home gardener herself.
Here are some of the takeaways:
Whys of seed starting
Besides saving money, having flexibility with timing, and a wider choice of seeds, Laura said you are in better charge of the health of your own plants.
Types of seeds
1)Open pollinated which are pollinated by insects, birds and wind; 2)Heirloom which are passed down through the generations (all heirloom seeds are open pollinated) and; 3)Hybrid which are created from different parent seeds, producing a new variety; unusable for saving/replanting.
Laura said most seeds last for several years, with a few exceptions, such as alliums. For older seeds, simply plant more of them to assure germination. Laura took us through how to read seed packets to garner the useful info provided. For example, days to maturity refers to when the seedling is transplanted into the ground rather than when the seed is planted.
Seed tray options
After describing various options of seed trays, Laura ultimately recommended using soil blockers in which you mold your own blocks of soil, avoiding the use of trays altogether except for a bottom tray holder. She said locals are looking into the library obtaining a soil blocker for communal use.
Seedling maintenance and health
Laura suggested using warming mats for germination, then getting seeds under lights as soon as they poke through the soil. (Some exceptions like small-seeded lettuce germinate better with light). Seedlings need roughly 16 hours of light a day; bent stems indicate a lack of light!
Other tips for healthy seedlings and avoiding a fungal disease called damping off: don’t over water; just water when the top of soil starts to dry out; bottom water from the edge of the tray when seedlings are new and fragile. Once the second set of leaves show up, you can water from the top. Keep fan going for good air circulation. Fertilize seedlings after three with dilute fish emulsion. After 3-4 weeks, transplant either to the garden, or to larger pots if needed.
When to plant
Laura cautioned against starting seeds too early, saying that seedlings should be indoors for as little time as possible. While info such as Jericho being in zone four or the first official frost date being between May 15 and June 15 is helpful, there are many other factors like wind and land elevation to take into account. Reading signs of nature can be helpful too; Laura said she is cued by spring peepers and various migratory birds in knowing when to plant.
She recommended hardening off seedlings before outdoor planting, to slowly introduce them to the outdoors. She said it they’re cold hardy, they can be left outside overnight (under cover) but recommended bringing tender plants indoors if it falls below 50 or so degrees.
Keeping seeds cool and dry is best for germination; put dessicant packages in with your seeds!
Invest in LED lights; better for the environment, longer lasting and more effective.
Planting depth for seeds is generally twice the size of the seed being planted.
Garlic and chamomile tea help prevent damping off of seedlings.
Laura finished her talk by introducing us to the Seed Library; resembling a card catalog, it’s located on the first floor of the Jericho Town Library. Becoming a member and access to seeds is free and open to everyone.
It was gratifying to see a large group of people in attendance at the March 2 online NOFA Conference panel, “Building Food Sovereignty in Jericho” hosted by TTJ. The panelists’ envisioning of future possibilities was inspirational and the ensuing discussion covered a multitude of ideas.
John Abbott, Jericho’s new town administrator, said the popularity of farmers markets is a great indicator of townspeople wanting healthy local foods. In discussing challenges of land use, John described the ‘land banking’ concept for affordable housing, saying we could do something similar in agriculture, to support more acreage being put into farming. He also mentioned the possibility of a community development corps, a vehicle whereby towns can purchase lands for agriculture use via a third party that works for the community rather than for profit.
Alissa White, ecologist and UVM researcher/educator made a distinction between food security and food sovereignty. While the former doesn’t distinguish where food comes from or conditions under which it’s produced/distributed, food sovereignty emphasizes ecological farm practices, economic justice and localized food systems.
Alissa also talked about the importance of land use planning, saying that better state policy could help. She said we need more offsets to the high cost of local healthy food, such as subsidized csas. She said we need a shift in how we schedule time, suggesting a 30-hour work week, so we can put more time into our food, gardens and homesteads. She envisions more environmental education for both kids and adults and community cooperation with skill sharing activities.
Alissa spoke of a future scenario where the town would hire a community food access coordinator, a town naturalist, and even a climate resilience coordinator. In fact, she said, a food sovereign town would host many new jobs from running food storage facilities to operating distribution and access programs.
Tucker Andrews works part time as a farmer and as a lab technician. He described his farming as a two acre ‘bare bones’ operation. Tucker said his sale of specialty crops supports him in his true love, giving away food. He said that while it’s easy enough for him to plant and grow, he relies on a volunteer pool to harvest and deliver the crops, adding that he wishes this structure of supporting farmers could be formalized, or even legalized.
With a much stronger tax/land base than his own town of Bolton, Tucker sees Jericho as a great candidate for food sovereignty, and shared his vision of the town setting aside 100 acres, tax free, for a farmer to grow “a ton of food” for giveaway. He sees solutions like this easier to achieve at the town rather than the state level.
Dave Clift, TTJ steering member, described the food process as a web rather than linear. He said that while in the 1970s, the four biggest food producers controlled 25% of the market, they now control 80%. He added that as an affluent bedroom community of Burlington, there’s a perception in Jericho that people don’t need to grow their own food. He went on to describe GRO-Jericho’s neighborhood garden hubs and the upcoming Kids Garden Contest, aiming to motivate Jericho’s youth to learn more about growing food.
Yours truly talked about the conference film, Food for the Rest of Us, with its inspiring examples of food sovereignty across the Americas. One in particular, the Ma’o Organic Farm in Wai’yanai Hawaii, hires and trains 17-24 year olds to learn everything from indigenous roots of agriculture to growing and marketing crops. I cited some new programs in Vermont, including the Every Town Project, striving to diversify Vermont’s farming population as it puts more land into agriculture, and the Regeneration Corps, offering an alternative education track to high schoolers who want to learn about regenerative agriculture.
Further discussion delved deeper into food sovereignty, community gardens, land use, town planning and more; this a vital community dialog we at TTJ intend to continue!
To access the workshop: