Dear blog, I’ve missed you.

It’s been a lovely, busy, bewildering autumn. Between the new part-time work at Montrose and the new puppy, I’ve barely found a moment to sit down, let alone work in my own garden or record the seasonal comings and goings.

fall crocus at montrose

Autumn-blooming crocus beneath Metasequoia glyptostroboides at Montrose (Hillsborough, NC).

Unlike much of the country, I’m not beneath a foot or more of snow (yet), but it’s plenty cold outside. The houseplants came in weeks ago and the leaves continue to fall steadily. But underneath some row cover, I can still find some green in my garden:

Carrots, parsnips, tat soi, kale, and lettuces in a winter-friendly raised bed.

Carrots, parsnips, tat soi, kale, and lettuces in a winter-friendly raised bed.

Northern hemisphere friends, I hope you’re staying warm. I hope to write again soon.

Breaking bud*

I am in charge of a small community garden whose proceeds benefit our local food bank. It’s time to start seeds for fall food crops, but the weather outside is a bit harsh for seed-starting for those plants that don’t require direct-seeding. Although the summer, I must admit, has been cooler than normal, it’s still in the low 90s and the humidity is unbelievable. We expect thunderstorms every night this week.

So I decided it was time to fire up the grow lights.

You can purchase light stands for seed starting from fancy gardening catalogues for well over $200 apiece, but I always find the cheap hack much more satisfying. Here, I have commandeered a shelf in a closet in our kids’ playroom. The closet was supposed to be dedicated to my husband’s drums, but I hate to see a closet shelf go to waste.

the MHM grow light operation

I had the shop light from my days in Chicago, when I had a similar apparatus in my apartment (yes, I’m cheap enough to haul a $20 shop light halfway across the country. There was room in the truck). A few eye screws and a home light timer later, and we are in business. A not-for-profit, vegetable-growing business, officer.

I love this seed-starting tray. It works as well or better than many of those styrofoam cell packs on the market, and they’re much easier to clean. The base holds about 2 quarts of water, meaning I don’t have to refill often. The individual trays rest on a capillary mat whose ends lie in the base, and the trays wick up water from the capillary mat to provide moisture to the growing plants. Each dome has a circular dial on the top, like you might find on a container of salt from the supermarket, that allows you to adjust the humidity by varying the amount the aperture is open.

separate seed-starting trays allow seven different plants to be started at once.

These trays allow me to start small quantities of seven different kinds of plants at a time,  each progressing at its own rate. I can pot one tray up while the other six continue to grow, and then I can start more plants in the first one again. Here I’ve got Brussels sprouts, short-season bush cucumbers, and kale. Since I took the photo I’ve added broccoli and, what the heck, campanulas (I can plant perennials all year round). My kids have claimed the kale seedlings for kale chips, their favorite wintertime snack (that isn’t chocolate or otherwise sugar-laden, that is).

The timer, for now, brings the lights on at 6 a.m. and turns them off at 11 p.m. I check the plants maybe every other day until I see some action.

Happy fall vegetable gardening!

*No, not that kind of bud.