When to start seeds indoors

Cari ortolani,

One of my readers wrote: “Do you have a calendar of when you start seeds and plant everything? I follow your blog – that might be a good post. What you just planted and why. I never know when to plant or start the seeds – the directions on the packages so vague”.

Ciao, Steve; sowing seeds depends on the types of cultivar, and it’s important to know whether you’re growing a cool or warm season crop – below is a guideline for the Southern New England region:

  • Onions, shallots, leeks – 12 to 14 weeks before transplanting outdoors.
  • Brassica family members –  8 to 12 weeds.
  • Eggplant and peppers – 8 to 10 weeks.
  • Tomatoes 6 to 8 weeks, add a week when grafting.
  • Squash, cucumbers, melons, and pumpkins 3 to 4 weeks.

Last week I started shallots and onions from seeds (pre-soaked overnight), I also have broccoli steeping in worm castings, ready to be sown in food grade containers and placed on top of the furnace.

In case you’ve missed my article on Growing Saffron in Connecticut  in the Edible Nutmeg Magazine, check it out – maybe you’ll get inspired and grow your own.

For a complete chart of Guide to Growing Seeds Indoors, Outdoors, and Transplanting Seedlings, email me at: Nick@OrganicGardeningSimplified.com

Try to attend CTNofa (Northeast Organic Farmers Association) on March 2, 2013 at Wilton High School in Wilton CT – I’ll be presenting “Composting/Vermiculture/Bokashi” and “How to Prune and Graft Fruit Trees”.

Primavera e` una bellezza,

Nick Mancini the organic Italian


Don’t let your garden go to sleep

Cari Ortolani,
It’s the beginning of the new year and a time when most gardens are sleeping under a mantle of snow, unless you’re into winter growing, which is a skill in itself and I recommend it highly. If you enjoy organic greens throughout the year, growing in cold frames may be an excellent project for you to think about. At the moment I’m cultivating 3 small cold frames and 1 large one (4×8’) filled with all types of greenery, which keeps my wife and I from buying greens throughout the winter months. In addition to garlic, potatoes, tomatoes, beets and carrots, which have been stored, there are also onions, peppers, escarole, Swiss chard, kale and collards in the freezer. If you’re not doing some type of gardening during the winter months, and live in a cold climate like the Northeast, it means that your garden is only being utilized less than ⅔ of the time, from March to October. Make a new year’s resolution and give winter gardening a try this year to see how simple it is.
My cold frames have fared well do far, but my 3 row covered raised beds suffered some frost damage, mainly the more tender lettuce. Beets, carrots, endive, escarole, mache and radicchio weren’t affected to a great extent, although when the temperature dips to the teens within the next couple of nights, I’m sure it will cause some casualties. The cold frames will be able to stand single digits, and if it gets down to zero, they’ll be covered with a layer of discarded carpet padding or a 100 watt clear bulb during nighttime and remove at sunup. For a continuous crop, sprout your seeds indoors, get them to a decent size, and transplant into the cold frame. Water every week or so, and enjoy fresh organic greens until your spring crop arrives.
Buon Anno a tutti,
Nick Mancini, The Organic Italian

Don’t wait too long to order your seeds

Ciao everyone;

If you decide not to collect viable seeds from your heirlooms (non-hybrids) and need to purchase them from your favorite seed company, now is a good time to do so, before they run out of stock. Last week I tried to order organic heirloom shallot seeds (not bulbs) from one of the more reputable catalogue companies and they already had sold out.  Shop early for that particular reason and do it before the new catalogues arrive to purchase seeds at the current price.

Also, when dealing with retailers, insist on getting the item which you ordered instead of letting them manipulate you into settling for substitutes; check off the refund box if such an item is unavailable.

If you’re not satisfied with a good germination rate, inform the company and demand a refund. Several years ago I ordered yellow pepper seeds that failed to germinate in three attempts, and when I notified the company they acknowledged the problem and refunded my money. Has this ever happened to you, and did the company reimburse your money?

Making it an issue may sound cheap or petty, but a delay may disrupt the growing time frame and affect your future crop. Remember, the secret of growing organic heirlooms is to start at the right time, and a significant interruption can result in failure. Make your plans well in advance, use viable organic seeds, and don’t leave anything to chance.

Ci risentiamo,

Nick Mancini the Organic Italian

Get Ready for Winter Gardening

 My fellow gardeners;

Since my tender vegetation was destroyed by the frost last Friday night, it’s now time to focus on the heartier cold season crops such as lettuce, spinach, rucola and the rest. I have already installed my homemade ½ PVC hoops in two 10’ raised beds, which will be draped with spun fabric when the cold spell arrives. I’m also utilizing the small cold frame which is now taken up by two wooden half barrels where I grew tomatoes and peppers; this little enclosure is also used to harden-off seedlings in early spring. Another sheltered Imagearea  against the south facing wall of the house has been planted with different types of lettuce and onions and when the temperature drops below freezing, I’ll protect it with discarded window panes found at the dump. Plus I’m getting ready to re-assemble my larger cold frame (4’x9’) built with wood, insulated with Styrofoam around the outside and covered with thermo panes.

  My fig tree also needs wrapping, and since I love the fruit, doing the work is not an issue, in fact, it gives me pleasure to keep it from perishing.

  Gardening year round is fun but takes time, and for gardeners like me who thrive on success, a good challenge is part of this great hobby.      

  Give winter gardening a try, you’ll enjoy it,

  Nick Mancini, The Organic Italian

Are you growing shallots?

Cari Ortolani;

As we know, shallots are related to garlic and onions and like their family members, they can be sown in the fall and harvested in late spring. Planting in the fall usually yields larger bulbs, and they can also be used as spring-green-onions when the tops grow 5-6 inches. Since one bulb produces several new ones, from 6 upward, it’s not necessary to plant as many as garlic cloves. Save the best stock to reseed and don’t wait until the ground freezes. I plant my French Red and Dutch Yellow about November 1st so they’ll root before the ground becomes completely frozen.

A more challenging way to grow shallots is to germinate seeds indoors and transplant outdoors during spring. This will produce a smaller yield but free of most diseases like bacterial, viral or fungal, which commonly affects most bulb-grown plants. Before planting, I like to soak the seeds overnight and immerse in a worm casting tea for 20-25 minutes.

Plant in a sunny location and amend your  soil with a copious amount of organic worm compost and an organic fertilizer (10-15-10). Also, make sure the nutrients are incorporated at root level.

Ci risentiamo,

Nick Mancini, The Organic Italian

Saffron flowers will arrive soon

Cari ortolani,

Since most garden chores are coming to an end at this time of the season, unless you’reImage into fall/winter planting, or getting your garden ready for a cover crop, there is still saffron to tend to. Yesterday, before the rain arrived, I surf-grubbed my saffron patch to aerate the soil and broadcasted an organic fertilizer 5-10-10 in anticipation of the corms sprouting and the flowers to appear – for more details on growing saffron in Connecticut, ready my article on the fall issue of Edible Nutmeg.

If you’re not presently growing this spice, do yourself a favor and buy a dozen corms to get started. The White Flower Farm, Fedco and other fine retailers have it in stock, but don’t wait too long because they run out, or ship you an inferior product. Another idea is to wait a little longer and purchase corms when they go on sale. At times you can save up to 75% of the original price when they begin to sprout, although at that stage the quality is marginal.

I hope you’ve harvested seeds from your favorite heirloom plant and have stored them in a cool, dry area. This year I collected seeds from about 12 organic/heirloom vegetables, 6 types of tomatoes, in which 2 were on grafted rootstock; hot, red and yellow peppers; Chioggia beets; kohlrabi; Turkish eggplants; banana melons; onions; garlic (bulbils and seeds); carrots; broccoli; Egyptian onions; Welch onions; beans; garlic chives and a bunch of endive, escarole and common lettuces. I have a new dynamite lettuces called Mastrinella given to me by a dear friend in Italy and Canasta, another non-bolting type, which I have sown and will be protected with row covers until late November, the rest will be transplanted into the cold frame to keep us from buying lettuce all winter long.

This Saturday I will start my workshop and the topic is COLLECTING VIABLE ORGANIC SEEDS.

Ci risentiamo,

Nick Mancini The Organic Italian


Organic is the Way to Grow


Cari Ortolani,

While visiting my former home in Italy, I was pleasantly surprised that returning to organic growing fruits and vegetables is the new order of the day, in fact, towns and cities in that community and throughout the region are furnishing compost bins to all citizens, and everyone is Imagegetting onboard.

At first I assumed that everyone had purchased their own bins, but soon realized that they all had the name Ocre (the name of the commune) and a number, and one of my childhood friends, Arnaldo Corona, he told me that they are free.

My next question was if they sprayed their fruit trees with any type of pesticide, whether synthetic or organic and the answer was almost synonymous “if I want poisonous fruit I would buy them at the store”.

I visited several gardens, and to my surprise, since there is lack of water during the summer months and the soil is not too fertile to begin with, they were able to collect rain water and store in large containers. No fancy tools, irrigation systems, expensive trellises or other unnecessary equipment, they rely on experience passed down through generations that always brought bountiful yields, year after year.

So, my fellow gardeners, learn how to garden properly instead of relying on the internet for solutions that may or may not help your particular problem. Take a course in organic gardening at the adult education program of your town or city, or from a private workshop to learn the correct way, which will save you money, time, energy and elevate you above other gardeners.

 Sempre Avanti, eternal giovinezza,

Nick Mancini, The Organic Italian