Category Archives: Seedlings

Choosing Vegetable Varieties: Peas

Peas are my favourite thing to grow. I grow all kinds – traditional shelling peas (some of them get frozen for winter use), crisp and crunchy snap peas, delicate thin snow peas, and soup peas to dry for the winter. All of them grow well here, though there are a few pests and diseases, and dry peas are far more reliable than dry beans if you’re growing them for winter protein.

Read on for my favorite varieties of the different kinds:

sugar snap peas on trellis

Shelling Peas

  • Meteor – a UK variety that grows small pods on small plants but is the fastest pea I’ve ever tried. Always the first shelling pea to be picked, this is always part of the first early batch of peas I plant.
  • Green Arrow – a tallish bush that is super-reliable and a  good cropper. My standard for any planting date.
  • Tall Telephone – takes longer than bush peas to crop, but then keeps on growing and setting new pods until it succumbs to powdery mildew. I’ve been selecting these for longer pods and more pods per vine, from a rather raggedy initial commercial batch from a cheap seed company.

Snap Peas

  • Sugar Snap – a vine that just keeps going and going
  • Cascadia – bush pea that’s very reliable

Snow Peas

  • Oregon sugar pod – big pods, bush plants, long season
  • Purple podded snow pea – this is an old variety that doesn’t have the tenderest pods but it’s worth it for the bright purple colour!

Soup Peas

  • Carlin – this has been my standard for many years. It’s strong-growing vine that dries down very reliably by the first week in August, thus avoiding the September rains that ruin so many dry bean crops here. Again, I am doing some selecting on this for more pods, bigger pods, and stronger vines.

This year I’ll be trying several new-to-me soup peas:  Swedish Red, Ancient Peas, Gold Harvest and Golden Edible Pod (which can be used as a snow pea or dried for a soup pea). I’ll probably have seed to share at Seedy Saturday in 2015.



How to Build a Light Stand for seedlings

When I started growing my own transplants, the setup was pretty rickety. After a cat-related disaster one day, I realised that I had to have something better. Commercial light stands at $500+ were out of my budget, so I built my own – and so can you. Here are instructions and drawings: if you want, you can download a printable version.

Light stand for growing seedlings
Light stand for growing seedlings

Materials List
Legs: 4 wood 1×2, 60” long ($10)
Rails: 6 wood 1×2, 54” long ($13.50)
Braces: 2 wood 1×2, 56” long ($4.50)
Top shelf: 14-16” wide, 46-48” long ($4)
Lower shelf: 24” wide, 46-48” long ($5)
2 hinges, 1” x 2” (loose pin if you want to be able to separate the stand into
two halves) ($3)
4 screw-in hooks ($2)
4’ light chain approx (for leg restraints: can use cord or rope) ($2)
12’ light chain approx (for hanging lights: can use cord or rope) ($6)
S-hooks as required (can be made from wire) ($2)
32 1¼” #8 screws ($3)
12 ¾” screws to fit hinges ($2)
3 double-tube fluorescent 4ft shop lights with tubes (mix warm white and
cool white, no need for full spectrum to grow seedlings) ($45-$63)
Timer and power bar as required ($14-$20)
Total cost: All new $140. Scavenged/Recycled: as low as $0


  1. Cut parts to size
  2. Lay out legs, rails and braces for one side of the stand as shown in the drawing, making sure rails are parallel and the same distance from the bottom of each leg
  3. Drill clearance holes at ends of rails in diagonally-spaced pairs to take screws (see drawing)
  4. Drill clearance holes at only one end of diagonal brace
  5. Drill pilot holes in legs to match
  6. Install one screw of each pair, screwing rails to legs
  7. Square up the whole thing
  8. Drill clearance and pilot holes at the other end of the diagonal brace and install screws
  9. Install remaining screws
  10. Repeat for the other side
  11. Hinge together at the top of each leg pair in A-frame style
  12. Place shelves on rails and adjust legs to an appropriate distance apart
  13. Install screw hooks near the bottom of each leg, and attach chain or cord between to stop legs sliding apart
  14. Hang lights from rails over shelves using S-hooks and chain or cord, and hook up to power bar and timer.

Click on the images below for larger diagrams.

Light Stand end


Light Stand side


Containers for Growing Seedlings

You have a wide choice of containers if you want to grow your own seedlings, and they all have pros and cons. Here’s some info so you can make an educated choice:

Container type Pros Cons
Plastic flats with inserts and lids  Easily available
No mess, easy to use
Can be washed and re-used with care
Can eventually be recycled
Square units make the best use of tray space under lights
 More unnecessary plastic in the world
Cheap ones can be flimsy and not reusable
recycled plastic eg yogurt pots  Free
A good use for plastic pots before you recycle them
Must poke drainage hole in the bottom of each pot
Sizes are not optimal
Shapes and sizes vary, don’t make good use of space
recycled styrofoam cups  Free
A good use for old cups
Insulates root ball
 Must poke drainage hole in the bottom of each pot
Hard to clean after use, hard to recycle or re-use
cardboard tubes eg TP, paper towels  Free
Good for seeds with long taproots
Tall and narrow to fit plenty of plants in a small space
Can be planted “pot and all” so good for plants which don’t like roots disturbed
 Tend to go mouldy if they sit around damp for a long time
Must plant carefully – wet thoroughly and rip off rim so it does not show above ground
Don’t stack, so space-consuming to store
Newspaper pots  Free
Can be made with or without a commercial “potmaker”
 Time-consuming to make
Tend to go mouldy if they sit around damp for a long time
Must plant carefully – wet thoroughly and rip off rim so it does not show above ground
Advanced commercial plastic container setups  More sturdy than basic plastic inserts
Can be self-watering and have other advantages
 Expensive – sometimes VERY expensive
Even more plastic in the world.
Styrofoam ones can be impossible to recycle
Peat pots Recommended for plants which don’t like their roots disturbed
Breaks down in soil
Very widely available
 Peat extraction is environmentally questionable, and alternatives exist.
Must plant carefully – wet thoroughly and rip off rim so it does not show above ground
Coir pots Recommended for plants which don’t like their roots disturbed
Breaks down in soil
 More expensive than peat
Must plant carefully – wet thoroughly and rip off rim so it does not show above ground
Material comes from far, far away
Cow manure pots  Recommended for plants which don’t like their roots disturbed
Completely disintegrates in soil
North American product
 More expensive than peat or coir
Must plant carefully – wet thoroughly and rip off rim so it does not show above ground
Jiffy peat pellets Recommended for plants which don’t like their roots disturbed  Peat extraction is environmentally questionable, and alternatives exist.
Leaves netting behind in the soil
May contain non-organic fertilisers
Coir pellets Recommended for plants which don’t like their roots disturbed  Material comes from far, far away
Leaves netting behind in the soil
soil blocks Recommended for plants which don’t like their roots disturbed
No actual container at all
Conserves space in trays and under lights
Small blocks fit neatly into spaces in larger blocks for “potting on”
 Soil blocker to make the blocks is fairly expensive (but a one-time expense)
Needs suitable soil mix
Takes practice to make good blocks
Some plants don’t like the compacted soil in the blocks

Personally, I use a mix of basic plastic inserts I already own (re-used many times over, then recycled) and soil blocks. Both go in plastic trays I have had for years, mended when they start to leak, and eventually recycled when they fall apart completely. I plan to build wood trays from salvaged cedar when I run out pf plastic trays. For clear lids, I use a mix of clear plastic purpose-made lids, and reused sheets of clear plastic from old 1970’s illuminated ceilings.


A Gardener’s Christmas

So what does a keen gardener do over Christmas, when the garden is soaking wet or snowy, the weather is freezing cold, and working outside seems like a game for crazy people…?

This is what this gardener is planning 🙂

  • Read new gardening books. Dead-tree books from our local indie bookstore, Breakwater Books, and Kindle books on my tablet. It’s amazing that there are still new things to say about gardening, but people still  manage to do so. This year there are plenty of Permaculture books in the mix.
  • Plant seeds! In my previous post I told you about Winter Sowing, and that’s what I’ll be doing. One of the nice things about winter sowing is that you can cheerfully sow old seed without a big investment in fuss or containers: if it comes up, great, but if not, no big loss.
  • Read seed catalogs. Can get lost in these for hours on end 🙂
  • Eat homegrown food. This does require going outside in the wet if I want to harvest parsnips and brussels sprouts, but it’s worth it. And there are potatoes, squash, garlic and other stored veggies to choose from inside.
  • Dream and plan next year’s garden. With all the factors of crop rotation, shade, soil, deerproof-ness, timing, etc this can take a while, so it’s best to start early.

Whatever your Christmas gardening plans, I hope you have a pleasant and peaceful holiday.


Winter Sowing – easy way to start lots of plants for your garden

Winter sown milk jugs
Winter sown milk jugs

Starting seeds indoors can take up a lot of space. Outdoors, things take a long time and can get destroyed by weather and animals.

Winter Sowing is a method which lets you sow your seeds indoors, then set them outdoors but protected, so they get started sooner and are less likely to be damaged. And no, you don’t need a greenhouse!

One of the best parts is that you get to play in the dirt in the winter – I usually start in December. All that pent-up gardening energy from reading the seed catalogs can be put to good use right away!

Here are a couple of links to get you started: