Start Your Seedlings, Feb 06 | in February for Your Spring Kitchen Garden


With February’s surly blast blowing outside your backdoor, it may seem like gardening should be furthest down your list of prioritiesright now, but not so. No, I don’t mean go and work in your big fancygreenhouse—if you have that, you already know what to do this month.  Buteven if you don’t enjoy that luxury there are things to do in the deadof winter.

Remember back in second grade when you planted a bean in a Styrofoamcup and a few days later it turned into a plant that you couldn’twait to show mom? That’s exactly what you need to be doing rightnow.

Of course you’d do well to plant on a somewhat larger scalethan you did in elementary school, and beans may not be the thing youwant to start with since their growing season is comparatively short,but those of us who are not blessed with the four-season advantagesof greenhouses still have some work to do for our kitchen gardens thismonth.

The first thing to do is plan your garden’s layout. If thiswill be your first year at it, then you have the advantage of a cleanslate. Those with previous gardens will first want to remember wherethe perennials, such as raspberry bushes or chives, are and then designthe garden around those things unless you care to take on the choreof moving them.

With your Seed Savers catalog in hand, and at least approximate measurementsof your garden space understood, draw a layout of how you want yourgarden to look. Don’t worry that you feel as if you can’tdraw; no one has to see or understand it but you. Keep in mind thedirection of the sun, what obstacles may block the light, and whatkind of soil you have (more on soil next month). Also think about whatyou and your family will eat! No point in growing food no one in yourhouse likes.

Now that you’ve completed your drawing, go back and pare itdown. One is always ambitious when dreaming of spring.

Make a list of all those plants you just said you’d grow, thenlook for the ones that have long growing seasons—peppers, tomatoes,eggplant, and broccoli.  Chives are good to start if you don’talready have them planted; not because they take long to grow but becausethey don’t, and they do well outdoors in the early spring.

Invest a couple of dollars in a seedling tray or two—the kindwith the clear plastic lids—and a few pounds of rich, organicstarting soil. Order your seeds (I prefer Seed Savers, of Decorah,at, then choose a warm spot in your house to startyour seeds according to package directions. I have even created sucha place by putting a heating pad under a couple of towels and placingthe seedling trays on that.  Don’t worry about the light,at first. You won’t need that until they actually sprout.

When you see the little stems pop up (length of time varies accordingto each plant) and the first two leaves appear, then it’s timeto move them to a well-lit window or under a full-spectrum light.

By the time weather is warm, you’ll have plenty of plants toput into your well-tilled earth. More on that next time.

Chef Kurt Michael Friese is co-owner of the Iowa City restaurantDevotay. Email him at

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