Saturday, February 1, 2014

Seed Starting Time

February is here already, and it is time to start seeds for early spring transplants. Broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, celery, and cool season herbs should all be started between now and February 15, so they will be ready to transplant during the last two weeks of March.

I plan to start celery, cilantro, parsley and scallions this weekend. These are all slow-growing when small, and spring crops need to be planted early so they can mature before hot weather sets in. This year, I am testing a new LED lighting system from Italy that has the potential to revolutionize indoor growing. The accompanying photo shows the unit, along with my makeshift capillary mat system for watering the pots. Each pot gets planted this weekend with a different variety of seed, and I will be keeping tabs on the progress of the plants every week. The LED unit only consumes 20 watts of electricity, but provides as much plant illumination as a 250-watt metal halide lamp. It should effectively illuminate at 20 by 20-inch area, sufficient for two standard nursery flats.

We are harvesting Meyer lemons this month. This tree, which is now in its second year in my possession, has been the most productive of the indoor citrus we have tried. If you have never grown citrus, it is certainly worth a try. Use a container that you won't mind lugging in an out, because you have to protect the trees from temperatures below about 35 degrees. An unheated garage with a south facing window offers the best winter home, unless of course you have a greenhouse. Citrus has enjoyed increasing popularity with home gardeners in recent years. You can find a great selection of trees, along with potting mix, fertilizer and advice, at Stanley's Greenhouses.

Meyer lemons are sweeter, larger and juicier than standard lemons, and botanically are actually more closely related to tangerine. The pith of Meyer lemons is not bitter, so the entire fruit can be used. It is a popular choice for making preserved lemons, a staple of Middle Eastern cuisine. Here's a typical, simple recipe:

Preserved Meyer Lemons

2 Meyer lemons
1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons salt
1 small bay leaf
1 whole clove
2 whole coriander seeds
2 black peppercorns
lemon juice, from two additional Meyer lemons

Wash the lemons well, trim off the ends, and slice lengthwise into quarters, not cutting completely through one end, so they lemon opens up like a flower. Sprinkle the cut surfaces with some of the salt, close the lemons up and place them in a small jar, after adding about half the remaining salt to the bottom of the jar. Drop in the spices, sprinkle the rest of the salt over all, and add enough fresh lemon juice to cover. Cap the jar and store in the refrigerator for up to 6 months. Wait about a month before opening, to allow the flavor to develop.

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