Seeding the Brassicas

PPJ using a “dibbler” to create indentations for planting seeds in soil trays.

It was a dark and stormy … week. Monday night brought the first Tornado warning and take-cover-in-the-basement interlude of the summer. Thereafter, it rained almost every day. Our Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday tours all cancelled due to inclement weather. However, even without kiddos to be entertained and educated, there was plenty of work to be done.

It was time for seeding the fall brassicas! We have to plant seeds now in order for little cabbage, kale, collards, broccoli and cauliflower plants to be ready for Community garden members to transplant at the end of August. I have been part of seeding missions before when I worked at Adamah. But this was the first time I saw the process through from the very beginning.

We assembled our crack team of seeders and divided up jobs. Some of us were filling up flats with soil (10 6-packs per flat). (Soil also had to moistened and tumbled before it malleable enough to lightly pack into the flats, which are kind of like cafeteria lunch trays or muffin pans.) We took turns using the “dibbler,” a template used to press into the trays to create indentations that evenly spaced and of uniform depth. (See photo at the beginning of this post.)

Then, we put seeds of each variety into the “dibbles” (indentations) in requested number of flats. Twelve flats of Top Bunch Collards! Seven trays of Snow crown cauliflower! Three trays of dinosaur kale! (You get the idea.) … Until we filled up about 120 of the things. As we seeded, each flat needed to be marked with label containing the date and variety of seed.

The brassica seeds are these cute little round balls that are kind of tricky to handle. I would estimate each seed is about 0.2 cm in diameter.

Black mustard seeds by Zoyachubby (2007) CC BY-ND 2.0 via Flickr.
Black mustard seeds by Zoyachubby (2007) CC BY-ND 2.0 via Flickr.

Some of the seeds are coated with a hard, colored coating (fungicide? fertilizer) in bright shades of blue and silver, which makes them look like candy sprinkles. It also made it easier to see where you had dropped them into the soil. The brown seeds? Not so much.

At first, I would drop the seeds and they would roll all over the table. It was challenging to roll them through my fingers and get them into the dibbled holes. However, with sufficient repetition, I reached a rhythm and achieved a meditative, flow state. What could have been a tedious and frustrating process became actually very relaxing and enjoyable.

One of our coworkers at the garden pointed out that seeders have a special relationship with the plants and community members: By seeding, we get to touch every single plant that our members purchase through their garden membership. Hundreds of low-income people around the city will be eating fresh, healthy food because we helped seed the plants that they put in their gardens. I really like that feeling of connectedness, especially knowing that because of our hard work now, people will be able to enjoy their broccoli and kale and collards this fall.

After seeding, each flat is meticulously covered with fine soil (“fairy dust”), gently pressed down, watered and covered with a special clear plastic lid. After sitting inside (piled up in the stacks in the conference room) for a few days, the germinated seeds can finally go out to the greenhouse to continue growing into baby plants.

Carrying flats of plants seems easy before watering. Afterwards, the soil gets a lot heavier! Also, it turns out there is a lot of “tetris”-like spatial processing involved in keeping the various flats of a kind together, as well as figuring out how to stack them safely and effectively. I look forward to arriving at work next week to help transfer our brand new seedlings into the greenhouse. You go, baby kale plants, grow, grow, grow!

Tangents for this post:
More about developing organic seed varieties from National Public Radio.


5 thoughts on “Seeding the Brassicas

  1. I cheated and ordered mine as plug plants. Now I have to cut down the massive thistle to plant them under cover – rabbits, pigeons, laziness and wind are beating me this year. Genreally I love the feeling of producing things from seed.


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