As the (now former) Grow Food columnist for Edible Vancouver & Wine Country, I loved the optimistic label of the magazine’s Almost Spring issue. For a gardener, there’s no better time; after months of withdrawal, we can almost feel the warmth of the sun on our necks as we plant those first few promising seeds.
Like the Almost Spring label, sowing seeds is an act of faith and optimism. As we poke pale, shrivelled pea or minuscule arugula seeds into the cold earth, we trust that, despite all appearances, spring is indeed just around the corner. And it is!
A time to sow
I have a love for Valentine’s Day that has nothing to do with cupid. February 14 marks the start of outdoor seed sowing here on the West Coast; specifically, the first sowing of peas. And fava beans. Even radishes if I’m feeling reckless. February and March are the months to direct seed (sow outdoors where you intend the plant to grow) many of our beloved cool-season crops: those greens, roots, and legumes that will soon find their way into spring salads and stir fries.
Your choice: direct sow, start indoors, or buy transplants
They’re also the months to start seeds indoors for transplanting into the garden at a later—warmer—date. Many crops take longer to mature than our mild summers allow; starting seeds indoors gives us a jump on the growing season. Of course, we can also opt for the convenience of picking up ready-to-plant seedlings from the nursery or farmer’s market—there’s nothing wrong with that. On the other hand, starting your own seeds allows you to choose exactly the variety of heirloom tomato or container-sized lettuce you’re after—not the cultivar the nursery decided to carry.
If you want to start seeds indoors, you’ll want to set up a mini (and legal) version of the classic BC grow-op. As anyone who’s spent a winter in Vancouver knows, your biggest hurdle is likely to be lack of sunlight. Growing anywhere other than a south-facing windowsill will probably result in spindly seedlings. Full-spectrum LED tube lights will go a long way toward growing healthy plants.
How deep to plant seeds depends on this simple rule of thumb
Other than that, starting seeds is simple—indoors or out. Poke a hole (to a depth of roughly two to three times the height of the seed) into the soil—or, in the case of indoor seed starting, containers filled with moistened, sterile, seed starting mix—and drop in a seed or two. Keep the soil evenly moist but not damp, and within as little as a few days—and up to a week or longer—you’ll begin to see sprouts push up through the soil.
It’s a sight that never fails to surprise and delight. Like the first miraculous signs of spring, those tiny, unfolding shoots remind us that indeed, good things are on the horizon.
A garden checklist for February/March
Wondering which seeds to start in Vancouver in February or March? These tips for getting your vegetable garden started apply across the Pacific Northwest and similarly mild climates:
- Before planting, till under winter cover crops, or amend your soil with compost, manure, or a balanced, slow-release organic fertilizer (test your soil with a simple home soil-testing kit if you’re not sure what it needs).
- Direct sow arugula, chervil, cilantro, fava beans, snow and shelling peas, and radishes as early as mid-to-late February.
- In March, direct sow corn salad, kale, mustard greens, parsley, spinach, snap peas, and Swiss chard.
- Start artichoke, fennel, and leeks indoors in February; broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, celery, eggplant, lettuce, pepper, and tomato plants can be started indoors in March. After the seedlings’ second or third set of leaves appear, feed them weekly (and weakly) with a liquid organic fertilizer.