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You Don’t Know What You’ve Got Till It’s Gone

May 7, 2013

I miss hills.

That’s a sentence I never thought I’d write. But yet, there it is – I miss their challenge, the hard breathing, the adrenaline, the thrill when you reach the top. Admittedly, it’s not the hills themselves I miss as much as the ability to push myself almost to the limit.

In general, I’m a fan of hard exercise. While I was never very good, I participated in competitive sports for six years throughout middle school and high school. Competing against other people never got me excited, but beating my own time and knowing I went as hard as I could did. While I stopped competing in college, I still felt compelled to get outside or to the gym for a run, ride, or rowing session on a regular basis. Hard exercise provided a mental and emotional release, a time for me to focus on maximizing what my body could do. Proving to myself that I could overcome discomfort to accomplish something physical was fulfilling in a way that complemented the mental challenge of schoolwork. In addition, there’s nothing quite like the wash of the “runner’s high” – that potent mix of hormones that makes you smile through a grimace.

As an adult, I’ve switched to activities that I enjoy more and less actively cause pain (I almost never run anymore), but I still push myself to the limit. As much as I inwardly groan when faced with a near-endless hill on the bike, the sense of accomplishment when I get to the top of it is irreplaceable. Pushing hard on a flat is even better, providing a potent combination of hard work and speed.

But all of that ground to a halt about three months ago. That’s when I switched my gym membership from the rock-climbing gym to my gym at work. Understandably, my gym at work requires a doctor’s approval to begin if the person applying is pregnant. Much to my surprise, the doctor’s note said that I was approved to exercise but only if I didn’t allow my heart rate to rise above 140 beats per minute. While she previously said “moderate exercise” was fine, it immediately became obvious that her definition and my definition of “moderate” were from two different life dictionaries.

Even though I’ve tried to stick to this guideline as best as possible, this guidance has been problematic for two reasons. One, pre-pregnancy my heart rate was usually pretty high compared to the difficulty of the work I’m doing. If I went with the heart rate range gyms often recommend, I’d never get a workout in that fulfilled those mental, emotional, and physical needs I described earlier.

Two, this discrepancy between my heart rate and my intensity has only gotten much worse in the second half of my pregnancy. Part of this is just the simple biology of being pregnant. Of the 25 to 35 pounds that women should gain (more or less depending on the personal circumstances of the person) during pregnancy, a full four pounds of it is blood volume. To push this blood around your body without your blood pressure skyrocketing (part of a very bad condition called preeclampsia), your heart has to work much harder than usual. Adding to this issue is that because I’ve tried to keep up my cardiovascular health during my pregnancy, a lot of activities that could make other women this far along out of breath don’t affect as me much.

The combination of these two factors means that it’s become much harder to determine my heart rate from my level of intensity. By the time I start getting a little out of breath or breaking a sweat, my heart rate is 10 or 15 beats per minute higher than it should be and I have to come to a near-halt. Only the most moderate exercise keeps it below that maximum. As a result, I’m a little obsessed with keeping my heart rate low enough, making for a tedious and annoying workout. Especially at the gym, there’s no variety, just one endless slog of easy. In addition, it strips away the few things I enjoy about exercising inside – being able to go hard and watch the numbers rack up in a satisfying manner. Being outside is a little better, but moseying along even loses its charm after a while, especially when I’m by myself.

Because I want to follow my doctor’s orders as best as possible, I’ve avoided allowing my heart rate to stay too high for the sake of both my health and my baby-to-be. Obviously, those requirements come first. But needless to say, I’m looking forward to building up speed and tackling some hard hills on my first ride back.

Has there ever been a time you’ve had to scale back the intensity of your exercise? Did you miss it or was it a relief?

Growing in Hope

May 1, 2013

I’ve tried to establish a zen-like level of low expectations for my garden. Of course, I work hard and hope for it to be successful. But I’ve also come to realize that gardening has its risks, especially organic gardening. Sometimes seeds don’t sprout, bugs eat your fruit, or plants die mysteriously. All of which is to say that it’s lovely when things turn out much better than planned.

For once, my indoor seed starting appears to be a roaring success. Although I worried at the beginning that none of my seeds would sprout, everything but some very old pepper seeds came through. Even the broccoli, which I used just because the seed package was three years old, had a surprising rate of germination. Being very generous with the number of seeds I planted really paid off, especially with older seeds that I can’t use next year anyway.

On top of the sprouting, the extra effort and money to build our own seed starting set-up seems to be paying off. The tomatoes are huge and stocky, far heartier than they’ve ever been in the past. The peppers look better than the ones offered at the farmers’ market, with large, shiny green leaves. The plants for both were getting so crowded that I split up most of the tomatoes and peppers into new containers. Despite that change, now even the transplants are yearning for more space. The broccoli grew so much that when I gave them a long overdue transplant on Monday, they were totally root-bound. The eggplant are the slowest growing, but even they look strong enough to survive outside. We’ve been hardening them off on the deck for a couple hours a day, so they should be ready to transplant this weekend.

Started vegetable seeds growing indoors

My beautiful starts!

On the other hand, my outdoor seed starting has followed the pattern of previous years – unfulfilling. I planted carrots, spinach, and parsnips a few weeks ago, after our ridiculously hot and cold spells passed. I used a wet mix of my precious worm castings, seed starting mix, and Leaf-Gro. Despite this potent combination, the results haven’t been promising. Much like years past, my spinach seems to have done absolutely nothing so far. In fact, I can’t even tell where I planted. (This would make sense in a normal garden, which is all dirt. In mine, where I plant on top of a layer of leaves, I should be able to see the mix.) I found one place I planted parsnips, crumbled the soil a little, and saw loads of unsprouted seeds doing absolutely nothing. My carrots seem to be a little better, but I honestly can’t tell the difference right now between carrot sprouts and weeds, so my hopes may be all for naught. I replanted the spinach using more soil and am crossing my fingers.

Planting seeds into a lasagna garden

Not exactly the neatest, unfortunately.

This past weekend, I just planted corn and basil. I planted about 10 spots of corn, which still might not be enough to pollinate. Because corn doesn’t self-pollinate and has male and female flowers in different locations, you need a lot more corn plants to get fruit than you do any other type of vegetable. As it looks like my sweet potato starts may have gotten lost in the mail, I’ll probably plant a few more corn plants in their place. I’ve also started sprouting beans, so those will be inter-planted with the corn once they’re ready.

I’m hoping I can have all of the parts of my garden in place over the the next week or two. It’s getting increasingly difficult to lean over and sit on my knees enough to plant and transplant. Also, it’s just exhausting. Chris is helping me, but there’s just so much that needs to be done that it’s difficult to find the time. But I know it will be worth it when next winter, I’ll be able to feed my child carrots I’ve grown myself and stored.

C is for Cycle and Cookie!

April 20, 2013

Biking and good food are two of my favorite things in the world. So when I heard about a charity bike ride with cookies at every stop – one that I didn’t personally organize – it was imperative that I sign up. There was only one minor glitch – I’d be seven and a half months pregnant. Back in the winter when I first heard about the event, I had no idea if riding a bike would even be a possibility that far along. Fortunately, good balance and good weather prevailed and I was happily able to participate in Rockville’s Tour de Cookie last weekend.

The day started out bright and early, as I needed to get to the start around 8:30 AM. While I left the house with my bike, I sent Chris out to deliver cookies to the Rockville Bicycle Advisory Committee’s cookie stand, about 2/3 of the way through the short route. As I had baked the cookies by myself, I figured he could at least deliver them.

For a first time ride, the Tour de Cookie had an impressive level of participation. Assisted by the pleasant spring weather, they had more than 300 people pre-register alone. Much to my surprise, there were a good number of people participating in both the short (14 mile) and long (40 mile routes), with a mix of spandexed, experienced riders and families with kids. I saw parents dragging trailers, children on tag-alongs, and kids on their own little single-speeds.

After an opening speech by the Montgomery County Commissioner and the President of Montgomery College’s Rockville campus, the riders took off. Because I was busy taking photos, I ended up being one of the last people to leave. Nonetheless, I moved up quickly, carefully passing lots of little kids and inexperienced riders clustered together.

Start of Tour de Cookie Rockville

The starting line.

Barely a mile in, the first stop was mobbed. Rather than traditional water stops, the Tour de Cookie has cookie stands every few miles. When you receive your bib, you get 25 “cookie credits” good towards cookies or other food at the stands. The groups running the stands donate the cookies, so that most of the registration fees go towards the charity organizing the ride. Rockville’s ride benefited the Tree House, a non-profit group that works to prevent child abuse and provide health services/advocacy for abused children. A clearly worthwhile cause. The first stop had a variety of cookies, but they were clearly starting to run out, so I only picked up one. They were quite fantastic – Heath bar chunks embedded in chocolate chip dough.

Riding away from the first stop, towards the Millennium Trail

Riding away from the first stop, towards the Millennium Trail

The ride moved onto the Millennium Trail, my go-to route if I’m being uncreative and pressed for time. I know it so well that I completely ignored the map and cue sheet. Unfortunately, my blissful ignorance caused me to completely miss the third stop! It certainly didn’t help that there was no indication of the turn – I’d definitely like to see better signage next year. From there, I worked my way around the trail, managing to actually put some space between myself, the families with small children, and the faster riders up ahead. While riding by yourself isn’t always fun, it was nice to be out of the crowd.

I hauled my butt up one of the two major hills in low, low gear – I probably would be faster if I walked, but it was a point of pride. Not long after, I was rewarded with another cookie stand. This one had some very enthusiastic marketers, with one kid yelling, “We’re the only non-corporate stand!” While I tried to inform him that the Rockville Bicycle Advisory Committee was also a community group, I realized later that he really meant “family-run.” As it turned out, the stand was run by a few families who decided bake a ton of cookies – five different kinds – for this event. Oddly, they promised people that if they ate all five, they would get a free jump rope.

Bicyclist with a Cookie Monster jersey

I saw this dude at the second stop, with his very appropriate jersey. He said he bought it second-hand a few years ago, after they had stopped making it!

But soon, disaster struck. While I ignored the “click-click-click” noise coming from my wheel at first, it then began to concern me. While I originally thought it was a minor issue, I spotted a much bigger problem – one of my spokes was totally unattached to the rim. So I rode it slowly to the next stop, aware of the annoying noise with little I could do about it. Thankfully, the Girl Scouts ran the next stop, and like their male counterparts, came prepared for anything. They gave me a length of duct tape I wrapped around the spoke and rim, temporarily holding it in place. I also ate some tasty Girl Scout cookies, accompanied by the background music of “C is For Cookie.”

With my bike as repaired as possible, I carefully rode to the Rockville Bicycle Advisory Committee’s stop, which was the second to last on the whole ride. We had a primo location – right off of the trail and hard to miss, but also adjacent to a community center with a bathroom. Besides the location, we also had the boundless enthusiasm of one of the RBAC volunteers, Carl. Carl had thrown himself into supporting the ride, from providing detailed route feedback to ensuring that our group’s cookie stand was going to be the very best of all. While I knew he was passionate about it, I didn’t realize quite how far he would go until I rounded the corner and saw him in a full-body Cookie Monster suit. Much like myself, everyone – kids and adults alike – were joyfully surprised to see him, grinning irrepressibly. He was probably in hundreds of photos that day.

Cookie Monster at the Tour de Cookie

C is for Cookie!

I spent the rest of the ride volunteering at the RBAC booth, nervous that the loose spoke would cause significant problems if I rode further on it. I already planned on having Chris pick me up, but I had to call him earlier than anticipated because we started to run out of cookies. Except for the one very enthusiastic family, most of the cookie stands weren’t telling people that they could have more than one cookie. So when people came to ours and we told them they had 25 credits for the whole ride, many people took three or four cookies. Despite baking more than 300 cookies, we still had an hour and a half until the end of the ride and only a few dozen left! Fortunately, Chris was able to pick up several more dozen, saving us from the embarrassing position of having a great stand with everything but the baked goods.

Tour de Cookie Rockville Bicycle Advisory stand

With nearly all of the riders through and only 20 minutes until the awards ceremony, we packed up the car and headed to the finish line. Even though my bike failed me, I picked up my finishers medal anyway out of pride for what I was able to accomplish. I was also very proud of the award I shared with my fellow RBAC volunteers – best cookie stand. A very sweet ending indeed.

What Does Your Garden Grow?

April 10, 2013

With the chances of frost rapidly disappearing, I decided to buckle down and plan my garden this weekend. I wanted to get some seeds in the ground, especially those that could handle a little cold if the heat retreated.

But like previous years, I wanted to know exactly what seeds I was planting where before I even touched the soil. This approach allows me to group plants in ways that are ecologically and practically sound. In addition, it means that even if I lose my markers, I can check the map and see what I planted. It doesn’t completely prevent me from mistaking purposeful plantings for weeds, but it certainly helps.

I based my garden map around what I personally like to eat, what seeds I picked up this spring, and what vegetables I can harvest over a number of different seasons.

Garden map for my 2013 planting

Based on some previous success and my love of cooking with them, I’m replanting tomatoes, eggplant, basil, and peppers. Nothing is more delicious in the late summer than a pasta with a simple sauce of fresh tomatoes, basil, and Parmesan cheese. Knowing how much the tomato plants sprawl, I’ve given them plenty of room. I’m not going to sacrifice one of my other plants to their continual shade and roaming roots again.

Despite being years old, my broccoli seeds actually sprouted, so I had to find a place to put them. I’ve had a little bit of an aversion to broccoli while pregnant – mainly because I tried to eat it with some dodgy dip early on – but I’m hoping that will go away by early fall.

Greens and root vegetables provide produce long after the less hearty crops, so I’m hoping I can extend my harvest using them. Spinach is very versatile and will stand up to a variety of weather conditions. I’m co-planting it with the broccoli because they’re both fairly big but low to the ground and one shouldn’t overshadow the other too much. My carrot crop has been iffy in the past, but I figure they’re so versatile that I’ll try growing them again. While I’ve had zero luck with parsnips before, I really enjoy their unique flavor and they store extremely well. I’m planting the carrots and parsnips together, so when I dig them up, I’m not destroying the roots of a neighboring plant. Ideally, I should be able to harvest batches of them together. Sweet potatoes are another late fall/winter go-to, so I’d love to be able to store some instead of having to buy them all from the farmers’ market. While the sweet potato vine we bought a few years back ended up being ornamental, real sweet potatoes also take up a substantial amount of room. I’m inter-planting them with a few nasturtiums so that they don’t block the vegetables. Nasturtiums supposedly keep away insect pests and their flowers are edible. They should add a little color to the garden and our plates.

Last of all, Chris has been bugging me to grow corn since we first started the garden two years ago. In the past, I told him that our garden isn’t big enough – corn needs to be in 4X4 rows to pollinate – but this year I’m giving it a try. I’ve been encouraged by a couple of our gutsy neighbors who grew corn in their front lawns last year, right against a fence or lamp-post. Despite the small number of plants, they did seem to produce some ears. To maximize our space, I’m doing an abbreviated version of a Three Sisters group. One of the old Native American approaches to planting, Three Sisters takes advantage of the positive relationships between corn, beans, and squash. The corn grows upward with a sturdy stem, which the beans can wrap around. Through their nitrogen-fixing capabilities, the beans provide the hungry corn with nutrients. Lastly, the squash creates a ground cover to protect the others from weeds. While we’re leaving the squash out of the equation due to the fear of lingering squash bugs, inter-planting the corn and beans should maximize our yield and minimize the space it takes.

Besides deciding on new plants, I’ve also had to work around what was in the garden from last year. There’s a thyme plant that Chris brought home, some garlic and shallots I planted in the fall, and an ill-fated decorative cabbage plant. Who knew there was purposely inedible cabbage? While it makes sense to pull it out, as it doesn’t serve any purpose in my garden except to look pretty and attract leaf-cutter bugs, I hate killing plants on purpose.

So that’s our garden for the year – we hope. While my plans never completely reach fruition, I think we’ll get a good crop of a variety of different vegetables.

What are you planning to plant?

Ride Report: A Gentle Jaunt to the Rock Creek Trail

April 2, 2013

Trail/road: Combination of residential streets and trails in Rockville; Rock Creek Trail
Distance: About 9 miles

Despite today’s temporary return to winter, this weekend certainly felt and looked like spring. With a waning number of days I can ride any substantial distance, I pulled my bicycle out of the shed on Saturday.

I was getting a little sick of the Millennium Trail, but didn’t want to try a new route. While my balance is still good, I didn’t want to take a chance of riding through an area with heavy traffic or uneven pavement. In fact, I wanted to stay on residential streets for the most part, as my ability to sprint away from traffic lights is extremely limited. Considering all of those factors, I chose a lovely destination for a quiet, slow ride – Rock Creek Park.

The Park was just starting to bloom for the spring, full of little yellow flowers. Unfortunately, our particular section doesn’t have D.C.’s famous flowering trees, but all of the other green compensated for the lack of brilliant pastels.

Rock Creek in Rockville MD

Although riding in Rock Creek Park usually annoys me because the trail is narrow, I’m riding so slowly at this point that it hardly matters. But rather than riding the path towards D.C., with its sharp turns and steep drops, I took the path up north where the trail is flatter and more predictable.

The northern section of the Rock Creek Trail in bloom

The northern end of the Park is rarely crowded, but the weather did attract a good amount of traffic. While I’ve been annoyed by families on the trail in the past – kids can be frighteningly unpredictable – this day I just found it encouraging. There were a number of kids on their own bikes, as well as some on foot, including a red-headed toddler that was inordinately fascinated by me. In the future, I look forward to carrying our munchkin on my bike as part of a family ride. It’s a short enough ride that it shouldn’t be difficult to convince Chris to come along, especially if we stop in the middle for a picnic.

Despite my hesitation at trying a new route, I did go a little off my beaten path. At the last Rockville Bicycle Advisory Committee meeting, one of the members mentioned a new path to Lake Frank, which I had never heard of before. When I had previously rode the Rock Creek Trail, I went all the way down to Lake Needwood, unaware of other options. Interested in this new possibility, I split off and pedaled just far enough to see the lake itself. While I probably could have biked all the way to the lake’s Nature Center, I wasn’t sure that the entire path was paved or that there would be a bathroom available at the end of the trail.

On my way back, I almost ran into some of the local wildlife. Luckily for the snake, I was able to brake before hitting it. As I knew he wouldn’t be quite so lucky if he stayed in the same spot, I took a long stick and moved him off to the side of the trail. He didn’t look happy about it, but did slither into the brush instead of trying to return to the pavement. While I wasn’t going to take the chance by actually touching him, I believe he was totally harmless. Comparing to some photos online, it appears he was a common garter snake, which are not strongly poisonous to humans and mainly eat amphibians and worms.

Snake on Rock Creek Trail

My return home wasn’t quite so easy as the ride there; it’s much more uphill. While I slogged my way up the first hill, I admitted defeat on the second. That particular hill starts on a section of trail that becomes sidewalk. To continue, you have to cross the street and bike in an area of the road that has no shoulder, a crumbling edge, and a tendency to attract speeding cars. I had no desire to deal with any of those elements, so I just stayed on the sidewalk, got off my bike and walked. It was the right decision.

Overall, it was a lovely ride on a lovely day – one that I look forward to taking many times in the future with my family by my side.

Lessons For My Unborn Son on Food

March 29, 2013

As I’ve mentioned more times than people probably care, I’m expecting a baby in June. Considering the impending change in my life, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about how we’ll raise our kid and what we’ll teach him. While we’ll spend plenty of time reading to him – I’m hoping that we’ll raise a full-fledged bibliophibian – parents teach their kids an immense amount beyond what sets the foundation for formal schooling. In fact, I believe the lessons we teach our kids about food are some of the most important we pass on. Just a few that I hope he learns from us…

1) Sharing food with others is a great joy in life.
I always grew up with a family dinner around the kitchen table. Because my immediate family is small – I’m an only child – it was especially important for us all to be together. Even now, Chris and I often head out to the diner after he comes home from work because it’s such a good feeling to share a meal together, no matter the time of night. Similarly, even though I sometimes grouch about making food for pot-lucks, I truly do enjoy sharing that food with others. In that tradition, I fully expect to have regular family meals and hope that our little boy gains an appreciation for them.

2) Cooking food doesn’t have to be scary.
This lesson is a given considering Chris’s profession, but it’s not for most people. I didn’t start cooking until I was an adult. This was partly because I never asked my parents to teach me but also because I was scared of knives and stoves. For example, the few days we actually cooked in home economics, we were constantly warned to keep the knife down (good advice) and say “knife knife knife” (really stupid advice) when walking. Of course, they gave us knives that hadn’t been sharpened in ages, which you’re actually more likely to cut yourself on. Most importantly, they didn’t teach us how to hold them properly or show us how to curl our fingertips under when holding a piece of food to protect them if the knife slips. With a lot of careful supervision, our boy should be comfortable and safe around the kitchen.

3) Growing food is fun.
My mom loves telling the story about filling little Shannon’s brand new sandbox with clean, beautiful sand. But when she looked outside, I was completely ignoring my new toy and digging in the weeds next to it. I still think I made the right decision. Sand is great for building castles, but just can’t hold up to the earthy goodness of soil. It will be a long time before he can actually grow plants with me, but I’ll be sure to show him what I’m doing from the beginning and the joys of working in dirt. Best of all, you get to eat the results!

4) Vegetables can and should be delicious.
They’re the best when you grow them yourself, but can be tasty if they’re fresh and prepared correctly. While there are some people who are sensitive to the texture or have an inherent dislike of a specific type, I think most people who say they don’t like vegetables do so because they’ve never had them done well. Sauteed, baked, roasted, grilled or blanched, there are plenty of ways to cook vegetables so that they maintain or even gain flavor. While you’re not supposed to add salt, fat, or spices to baby food, I hope we teach him the power of a perfectly-cooked vegetable as his tastes evolve.

5) We need to care about the people who grow and prepare our food.
This is an obvious one when he’s eating produce straight from the garden, prepared by a parent. But no matter how much I get into homesteading, most of our food will come from somewhere else and I’ll still enjoy eating out. Just like many kids don’t realize carrots grow in the ground, our society makes it easy to forget people labor over fields often in terrible conditions to grow it for us. Similarly, while Chris and I have an intimate knowledge of the restaurant industry, many people have no idea how unglamorous it really is. It will be a long time before our little boy understands social injustice, but I hope to introduce him to the vendors at the farmers’ market and teach him to be grateful for everyone who has contributed to his meal.

I’m sure there will be many more lessons we’ll teach him, whether on purpose or not. But I hope that living by example will demonstrate that we really do put our money where our mouth is.

If you have kids, what lessons have you taught them about food? If you don’t, what do you wish kids today knew about food?

The Mysteries of Seed Starting

March 26, 2013

There’s something magical about starting seeds. You begin with a tiny wisp of a thing, enclosed in its little shell, push it into damp soil, and wait. Perhaps it grows, perhaps it doesn’t. Even if you understand the science far more than you did in third grade, there’s only limited amount of influence you have. You just have to trust it works.

But there are a few steps you can take to help the process along. While I’ve been a little lax in the past about taking those steps due to a combination of overconfidence and thriftiness, I’m trying to do it the (mostly) proper way this year.

Unfortunately, I’m starting hopelessly late – I should have started this process at least a month ago to maximize the season – but late is better than never. Plus, I realized last year that I should transition my seedlings outside later than most experts recommend, as the piles of leaves I plant into with lasagna gardening don’t hold the heat nearly as well as traditional soil. As a result, the nighttime temperatures in my garden are much lower than they would be with a conventional set-up and my plants are more at risk.

To make the best use of my time, I’m focusing on the plants that truly need to be started from seed, rather than those for which it’s just “nice” to. Most seeds you can plant straight into the ground, although you can extend your season and grow a lot more produce if you start inside. In contrast, there are a few plants that experts strongly recommend only starting inside or purchasing as seedlings. The chances of successfully planting seeds outside for these plants is so low that it’s not worth bothering. The main culprits are all types of tomatoes. While they grow like weeds once they’re established, they’re very fussy to start. To germinate, they require temperatures between 75 and 85 F during the day, and can’t fall below 50-60 degrees at night. Similarly, peppers are nearly impossible to grow outside in the narrow band of time we in D.C. have between “almost frost” and “so hot you melt into a puddle.” Another on the “unlikely to grow if you start it outside” list is broccoli, which requires having the soil at least 75 degrees to germinate, but reducing the air temperature to 60 F once the seeds have sprouted. How did people ever figure out how to cultivate this thing?

Considering the limits on my time and patience, I’ve decided to start seeds for three different types of peppers, four types of tomatoes (two cherry, one heirloom and one regular full-sized), broccoli, and just for the heck of it, eggplant. For each of the varieties, I planted a lot of seeds. Even if 2/3 of the seeds don’t germinate and 3/4 of the seedlings fail, I should still end up with a good number of plants. This is particularly important for the broccoli, as the seeds are several years old. I picked them up at the first seed exchange I attended, not realizing the specific conditions they needed. Although the rest of the seeds are much newer, I figured I’d err on the side of caution. If a lot more of them germinate than anticipated, I can always weed out the weakest ones.

For the planting, I’m using my recycled yogurt containers. While most people use flats, I don’t like that you have to transplant the seeds at least once into a larger container before transplanting them into the ground. I’m klutzy enough with larger plants – I prefer to handle the smallest ones as little as possible. To kill any bacteria or other crud that might have built up in the basement, I rinsed the containers, sprayed them off with a bleach mixture, and then rinsed them again after they tried.

For the starting mixture, I decided to use up the leftover mix from last year. While you can plant into compost that’s been baked in the oven (to kill bacteria), I didn’t save any last year. Compost from your yard is far more sustainable than the store-bought mixtures, which often use slow-developing peat moss from bogs. As I already bought the mixture sitting in the basement, I figure it’s best to use it up first. Before putting it in the pots, I moistened the starter mixture thoroughly. Just to be safe, I boiled the tap water for five minutes to remove any chlorine. While I don’t remember the chlorine affecting the seeds in the past, I figured it couldn’t hurt. Also, I am not ashamed to say that I really enjoyed mixing the soil starter and water with my hands. There’s something joyfully primal about working directly with the dirt you’re planting seeds into.

Damp seed starting mix

The seed starting mixture after wetting.

Now, the seeds are sitting on our brand new heat mat in the warmest room in the house. Honestly, I don’t know if it’s actually any warmer than when I had them on top of the heating vent, but it’s probably more consistent. Nothing has sprouted yet, so I’ll be keeping my fingers crossed…

Seeds in starting pots

Have you started seeds? How did they come out?

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