12 Months of Growing with WCS

Growing 12 Months a Year” by Alex Augustyniak, General Manager of West Coast Seeds, certainly gave us “food for thought” (pun intended!)

https://www.westcoastseeds.com/

Alex began his talk with ‘Indoor Growing’, focusing on sprouts and microgreens.  Sprouts are the first leaves and shoots of the seed.  Microgreens is the term used when the plants are more advanced, and only a top layer of leaves are clipped off. 

Sprouting has been around for well over 5000 years.  Sailors in the 1700’s grew sprouts to fend off scurvy.  Sprouts need neither soil nor sunshine, mature in 3 to 5 days, and can rival meat in nutritional value! Did you know that a cup of broccoli sprouts is more nutritious than a whole head of broccoli and rival tomatoes in Vitamin C? (I remember sprouting bird seed for extra nutrition when I raised cockatiels!  Oops, hadn’t thought of growing sprouts for myself!)  Alfalfa sprouts are a popular choice.  You can easily grow sprouts in a jar.  All it takes is daily rinsing! There are also special “Biosta Sprouter” systems, if you want to get fancy!

Microgreens can be grown in just 2-3 weeks until the first set of leaves turn green or red.  They are grown in soil.

Alex suggests using a heat mat under a wicking mat system, along with a grow light. The Sun Blaster company produces good grow lights. The 6,400 k spectrum lights grow better than regular lights. Suspend them about 2 to 3 inches over the plants.

As it warms up, balcony and container growing are possible. Chickpeas (used for making humous) need warmer weather, so wait until the end of May.

Alex encouraged us to think about “year-round” growing: spring sow for summer harvest and summer sow for fall and winter harvests.  He gave us some tips for container growing. Basically, you have to do your homework on the plants you are growing to be successful!  It is important to choose the correct size of container, have proper soil, fertilization, and either direct sunlight or grow lights. You need to be aware of your specific plants’ moisture and heat needs.  Check if the plant is tall or low and sprawling.  Is it determinant (a bush) or indeterminant (a vine)? For root vegetables, think about the room it needs to grow in the pot.  Alex used the term “parthenocarpic” and explained that these plants can produce seedless fruit, and so do not have to be pollinated.

Next on the list of topics was growing in outside spaces.  While many of the considerations (sunlight, moisture needs etc.) are the same as in container planting, one must also consider the type of soil in your garden, acidity, other nearby plants and so on.  Alex is a big fan of integrating vegetables and herbs with other perennial plants. Scarlet kale, for example, has nice flowers and dark leaves. Growing flowers in between your veggies will attract pollinators!

In getting your garden started, take the time to sketch out a plan. Will it be a new garden or are you hoping to keep some established perennials? Grow what you like to eat!  Plant your herbs (and lettuce!) closer to where you can easily access them.  Varieties that are slower to mature can be placed further back. Check your growing charts (available online from West Coast Seeds) for the proper time to start your seeds. 

https://www.westcoastseeds.com/pages/regional-planting-charts

https://www.westcoastseeds.com/blogs/garden-wisdom/starter-seeds-kids

Some seeds should be started indoors ahead of time (woody herbs like lavender and rosemary- 16 weeks, peppers – 10-12 weeks, tomatoes and eggplants- 8 weeks, squash and cucumbers- 6 weeks).  Others can be directly sown outdoors when the soil is warm enough (lettuce, peas, kale, corn salad, chicory, endive, beans, corn). “Planting out” means when the average night time temperature is 10 degrees Celsius or more.  Alex mentioned Brian Minter as a great resource. Here is Brian’s webpage on seed starting:

Minter Country Garden

Think about succession planting and remember that some seeds can still be planted in September! It’s a shorter season for these cool weather varieties.

https://www.westcoastseeds.com/blogs/garden-wisdom/stagger-sowing-for-a-longer-harvest

Many people have success with overwintering broccoli, cauliflower, kale, chives, leafy greens, carrots, and wild greens such as cress, dandelions, sorrel, miner’s lettuce!

Alex also mentioned growing flowers for cutting and bringing indoors.  He suggested growing cover crops, like alyssum, hairy vetch or clover, instead of grass.  Chafer beetles don’t like clover! Why not grow your own bird seed (like “Bumble Bee Blend”) or a variety of greens for your cat?

Alex gave us SO much information that it was difficult to get it all organized for this blog, so I will just list some of the ideas.

  • Use good seed starter mixes with additives like perlite and fertilizer. ProMix is a good company, as is Sea Soil container mix. 
  • Worm casings are a fabulous additive.
  • Compost can help even if soil is acidic due to fir trees.
  • Get to know your soil in outside spaces (Port Moody is sandy whereas Delta is heavy clay)
  • Lots of veggies can be grown in containers.  Think about tomatoes, beets, cabbage, cucumbers, garlic, potatoes, lettuce.
  • 1 seed potato gives 5 babies. Use a container and add in layers.
  • Bush baby zucchini can grow in 5- or 10-gallon pot.
  • When growing fancy salad lettuce, leave 2 inches when you cut the tops of the leaves and they will grow back.
  • Bitterness in cucumbers may be due to fluctuations in moisture!
  • Radishes are fast growers.
  • Herbs are easy to grow, although some need to be brought in during the winter. Thai basil loves the sun.
  • Corn, beans, and squash are known as the 3 sisters by Native Americans.

West Coast Seeds is always bringing in new varieties.  Alex’s suggestions included: Seashells beans, Purple queen beans, Chickpeas, Kabuli, Bicolor corn, Summer kale, Purple Viena Kohlrabi, Arroyo new, Wasabi mustard lettuce, Pac Choi, Peppers shishito- good snack, Rido red radish, Rivoli radish, Sesame seeds black and gold, Mountain magic tomato, Easy leaf lettuce, Ox heart tomato, Optimax salsa tomato, Dolce fresca basil, Perilla – shiso for in sushi, Peruvian black mint, Coleopis hardy to zone 3, Columbine, Eucalyptus, Ruby grass, Millet.

As a final note, it seems that West Coast Seeds shares its “good work” with others.  Staff are given their own raised beds on site, in order to encourage growing. WCS does many trials of its seeds and all the produce is given away to food banks!  That’s a very commendable company! 

Thank you, Alex, for your presentation and thank you, West Coast Seeds for all your “good deeds”!

My personal note: “Zero Waste” was mentioned by Alex and when I searched the Internet (mistakenly thinking it was a brand name) I found some interesting websites on the topic!
A big conference is coming up May 29-31, 2019 at Whistler, B.C.!

https://10times.com/rcbc-zero-waste-conference

A couple of other websites are worth a look.
https://zerowastecanada.ca/

https://www.ecocyclesolutionshub.org/about-zero-waste/healthy-soils-healthy-food/    Did you know soil stores 3 times more carbon than plants?

https://treadingmyownpath.com/2016/06/09/zero-waste-plastic-free-gardening/   Here’s the continuing story of one person’s journey to become waste free.

Alex (Bio by Melanie G.)

Alex Augustyniak grew up on a farm in Ontario, and moved to BC in the 90’s. The Gajewski farm, was established in 1938, by his amazing grand mother, Mary Gajewski. 

At the height of operations the farm had just over 400 acres with various crops, including, 15 acres of tomatoes (under contract with Aylmer’s), along with cash crops, cows, chickens, eggs, ducks, and rabbits, plus a 1 acre vegetable garden.

In 2014, Alex took on the role of General Manager of West Coast Seeds Ltd. – a BC family owned seed company, and has led the efforts to continually help people grow their own food 12 months of the year.

Alex is also the Treasurer and an Ornamentals Judge, of “All American Selections”, an independent seed trial group.


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