A Kale Grows in the Kitchen: A Tale of Seedling Mania

There is that giddy-scary scene in Fantasia when the broomsticks multiply and start filling the room with too much water. That’s kind of the way we feel here in our tiny apartment, which is home to two adults, one lovebird, an occasional 7-year old, and 465 seedlings. Yes, I said 465. Our kitchen looks like one of those bad fern bars from the 70’s.  I am worried that one day we are going to wake up smothered in seedlings, like those famous brothers, the Collyers, who were buried alive by stacks of The New York Times they hoarded in their Harlem apartment years ago.

It didn’t start out this way. We built shelves, set up growing lights, and planted just enough trays of plugs and six-packs to go under the lights. But we turned out to be thinning-averse. In other words, we planted too many seeds in each cell, and when they all germinated, didn’t get down to the business of getting rid of the extra seedlings right away.

When we did, we couldn’t bear to throw the thinnings away. Oh, sure, we tossed some lettuce and greens shoots into our salads, but those tomato (like the Black Cherry, above), pepper, and eggplant seedlings seemed like gold to us. So before they got too crowded, we started unpacking every six-pack and moving each seedling into its own 3- or 4-inch pot. And yeah, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that 18 to 20 seedlings that have been crammed into a tiny six-pack will now take up substantially more room when each is luxuriating in a small pot of its own. Where to put them (and all their friends)? Not only would they need linear space, but light, too.

Fortunately, we had built extra shelving—and we have six sunny windows in our South-facing apartment. Because clearly not everyone was going to get to hang out under a growing light (we only have four). After several hours of rearranging the furniture in our living room and kitchen the other day, we found a spot for everyone. But it’s still a bit like managing a 3-ring circus, as we continue to transplant and to shift trays around from under the artificial lights over to the sunny window spots and occasionally to the less-sunny-floor-space-spots so that everyone gets his or her turn in the best light. The apartment’s got micro-climates, too—the floor is much cooler, and the greens (like the Rainbow Lacinato kale, right) like being there.

The really good news is that we actually turned earth over in the garden yesterday. In fact, we carved out three of our 75-square-foot beds Thursday night and will work on the other 14 this weekend. The cold frame is set up, and soon the flats of greens and lettuces will go in them to harden off. That’s good, because we need the space in the kitchen to start some more Sweet Genovese, Thai, and Lime Basil.

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