It is just one week into January and we are experiencing extreme cold here, but that didn’t stop me from starting my garden today. Actually, I’m a little late to the game. I should have started pansies in December. (So much for my husband’s oft repeated remark that there are just two seasons on my calendar, gardening and Christmas! The truth is that gardening season never stops at Chez Rea.)
The need to start pansy seeds in December is just one of the things that makes growing pansies from seed very tricky. The other tricks involved are that pansy seeds need darkness to germinate and, according to my trusty Seeds book, “Putting seed containers in the refrigerator 4-5 days after sowing may help germination.” I have looked in several other seed starting books, by the way, and not seen that particular bit of advice. It goes to show, I believe, that this book, though relatively unknown, is a very useful and trusty resource. It has served me well over the dozen or so years since I first got interested in seed starting.
Why do I start pansies from seed if it is so tricky? It’s not for the challenge, I assure you. It is because I want to use them as edible flowers–I just love edible flowers! However, one of the rules for using edible flowers is that they must be grown organically to avoid any pesticide residue. All those beautiful pansies available at the garden centers in early spring are not grown organically, so I have to grow my own. Thus I face the yearly challenge of trying to get this seed starting project done in the midst of all our Christmas celebrating activity–and there is a LOT of Christmas celebrating activity going on at Chez Rea! (There’s a reason my husband says I have only two seasons.)
It is such a challenge, in fact, that I gave up a few years ago and decided I would pay a little more and buy organic pansy seedlings. The trouble is, alas, that I have not been able to find organic pansy seedlings in my area. So I tried planting pansy seeds again last year, but in a half-hearted sort of way. Instead of making room in the downstairs fridge for several cell-packs, I planted a few small trays, put them in a plastic bin covered with black plastic, and just stuck them in the garage. I did not think this experiment would be successful because we had a particularly cold winter; the garage temperature was freezing, not just refrigerator cool. Also, I left the seeds out there for a couple weeks rather than just 4-5 days. Then I brought the bin inside and put it on the floor in my kitchen. I was so convinced that nothing was going to come of them that I was rather lax in looking under the black plastic and checking on them. When I discovered that the seeds in one of the trays had germinated, the sprouts were so leggy that I almost could not transplant them into cells. I did succeed with some, however; enough of those survived and grew that in the spring I planted them into two hanging baskets. By May I was harvesting edible pansies and putting them in ice cubes and special salads!
I was all set to repeat that method this year, but December flew by. Although Christmas season is not officially over for me, today I finally got to my first seed starting project of the year. I planted four little trays with pansies and violas. Once again, I put them out in the garage. Since I’m already late in starting them, I’m determined not to leave them out there for more than five days, so I wrote a reminder on top of the bin. I’m anxious to do a good job now because I just agreed to do a talk on edible flowers at the Homer Library on June 8. It would be nice to have some pansies, violas and other edible flowers by then!
Feeling inspired by my productivity, I looked ahead into the January section of my seed collection and found some allium family seeds to plant. I planted one tray of bunching onions and one tray of Eschalion Zebrune, apparently a type of shallot. If I had had any leek seeds, I would have planted those, too. I’m just keeping those two trays in my kitchen for now because I know onion seeds are not as finicky about light and heat conditions. If I have time later this week, however, I’ll try putting them on a heat mat because I just checked and found that the optimum soil temperature for germination of onion seeds is 75 degrees. The sooner they germinate, the sooner they’ll grow and be ready to harvest!