The Secret Seed Exchange

65 Secret Seed Exchange packets

65 Secret Seed Exchange packets

At least once a year I hold a Secret Seed Exchange.  It’s a bit like a Secret Santa – people send me their seeds and stamps, I sort them all and send back different seeds.  The seeds the participants receive are a mystery – they don’t know what they’re getting or who they came from.

This year we had 14 participants from Ontario, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia.  I swapped 14 flower seeds and 51 vegetable seeds.  There was a tie for the most common vegetable seeds sent in – salad greens and squash (6 packets of each).  The most common flower was the sunflower (4 packets).  There were some interesting seeds too, such as Tibetan Barley, Arrowroot, and Kohl Rabi.

If you would like updates on the next swap, join our facebook group.  I’m already looking forward to it!

Pre-Starting Peppers and Tomatoes

Tomato and Pepper seedlings require a head start in most parts of Canada.

Tomato and Pepper seedlings require a head start in most parts of Canada.

When you live in a cool climate like we do, you have to pre-plant quite a few seeds early to give them a head start.  My first two most common early-start plants are peppers (both hot and sweet) and tomatoes.

I typically start my tomatoes and peppers in a mix of compost and perlite.  The compost provides plenty of nutrients for the young seedlings, while the perlite adds aeration to the compost so tender plants don’t suffer from root rot (or “damping off”).  I start them in individual yogurt cups with holes in the bottoms.  I find these useful because, once you remove the label, you can easily write directly on the container with a sharpie.  If you want to make sure your seeds germinate before planting them, the baggie method is a great alternative for seed starting.

The cups are placed on heat mats, which help raise the temperature of the soil.  Pepper seeds require heat to germinate.  Tomatoes don’t need it, but it does help.  Once the seedlings emerge from the soil, I move them to a tray, about an inch from the grow lights.  Placing them close to the lights helps to produce bushier, more dense plants.  I have a two shelf system set up under the lights, one slightly lower than the other.  This is so that once the plants fill that inch and are about to brush against the lights, they can be moved to the lower level which gives them another inch to grow before they have to be moved again.

Having two different levels under the lights helps control how close the seedlings get to their light source.

Having two different levels under the lights helps control how close the seedlings get to their light source.

Once they have outgrown their two inch space, all of the plants will be tall enough that I can move the lights up to allow for more growth.  Once they have reached the maximum height of the lights from the top shelf, I start removing shelves and lowering the trays.

While they are in the greenhouse, the plants enjoy a 16-hour on, 8-hour off light cycle.  While the lights don’t add much heat to the greenhouse, the heat mats do, providing the plants with a regular air temperature range of 18 – 26°C.  Daily watering puts the humidity at around 60%.

One final note, the seedlings are exposed to a light wind simulation every few days.  Nothing harsh, just a fan on a gentle breeze.  Using this hardening-off method early on seedlings helps the plants grow strong stems, preparing them for the transplant into the ground in spring.

Peppers and tomatoes may need an early start, but the plants are known to produce great harvests and are well worth the effort.


Upcoming: Seedy Saturday 2015

Seedy Saturday Ottawa 2014It’s that time of year again!  Seedy Saturday will be upon us before we even realize it.

For those unfamiliar with Seedy Saturday, it is a yearly event which features various seed, food, craft, book, and other vendors from Ottawa and surrounding areas.  There is also a free swap table, a kid’s room, and free workshops.  Last year’s event was a huge hit, with hundreds of people flocking to get their seeds for the season.

Seedy Saturday Ottawa, 2015:
Saturday March 7, 2015 from 10 to 3
Ron Kolbus Lakeside Centre, Britannia Beach, 102 Greenview ave.
Free Admission
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2015 Garden Plan

For the passionate gardener, winter is often very difficult to get through. Looking outside, I see mountains of snow that needs shoveling instead of garden beds waiting for new growth. The only thing that keeps me going through winter is planning the next garden, and starting the early seeds. We should have peppers soon enough! Until then, this is what we will be looking forward to in the spring.

(Our plan for the community garden will not be shown here because it is very simple: half carrots, and half beets, both of which will be pickled in the fall.)



2015 Edible Backyard Layout

2015 Edible Backyard Layout

This year we are taking a different approach with our garden.  Instead of grouping plants together, we are doing a little more interplanting.  We chose this method in order to confuse plant-eating bugs (yes, they really are that unintelligent) and to deter the spread of plant diseases such as tomato blight.  This will also help us identify any part of the garden containing depleted soil, and will keep us from losing all of our tomatoes or peppers, for example, if we run into this problem.   Continue reading

Miss Rumphius by Barbara Cooney


A friend recommended this children’s book, and I just had to share it.   It is an absolutely wonderful story of a woman who uses old school guerrilla gardening to make the world a more beautiful place.  I highly recommend it to those with children ages 3 and up.

Baggie Propagation


This morning we started germination on our sweet and hot peppers using the baggie method.  Simply put, the baggie method consists of placing your seeds between damp paper towels, in baggies.  Since pepper seeds require heat to germinate, we will be placing the baggies on a heat mat until they sprout.

Pepper varieties this year:
Orange Sun Sweet Bells
California Wonder Sweet Bells
Sweet Chocolate Bells
Romanian Sweet Reds
Mixed Habanero Hots

Testing Seed Viability


Following up from our last post, the sunflower seeds, donated for our junior kinder planting lesson, are viable!  We used a seed sprouter so that we could easily monitor their progress.  These seeds sprouted in only a few days.

Testing testing


This week we are testing the viability of a bag of sunflower seeds, which was donated to us for our planting lesson with a Junior Kindergarten class.

Spring is Coming


It may have been -31C when I dropped our child off at school, but when I checked the mailbox and discovered that my new seeds had arrived, I felt a little warm and fuzzy. Spring is coming people!  Are you ready?

A Green Christmas


Ok so it wasn’t quite a green Christmas, but the rain did melt the snow enough that our snowman’s head fell off and landed in grass.  Poor fellow lost all of his parts in the process.  His parts were a gift from my mother-in-law, and were hand made.  It’s such a unique gift that it doesn’t risk being a duplicate.

Given that I am an avid gardener (and everyone knows it), I have an ongoing wish list at Lee Valley.  And my entire family shops off of that list.  So every year I get at least one duplicate garden related gift for Christmas.  This year’s duplicate was the CobraHead Weeder and Cultivator.  I have been wanting one for over a year, and was gifted two from my family.  While I *could* use this opportunity to become twice as efficient at weeding, I’m rather looking forward to returning the other one to pick out some mucking gloves and a book I’ve been wanting on vertical vegetable gardening.  My brother felt bad that I received two, but I assured him that he gave me the gift of shopping at Lee Valley (again).

Other garden related gifts received today:  a wash basket, a book (Building Projects for Backyard Farmers and Home Gardeners), a tiered vase for rooting plants, and a soil scoop with serrated edges.  Does my family know me well or what?

Merry Christmas everyone!