Kelle’s Seed-Starting Methods


Newly started Kale plants under lights

Seed starting and transplanting times are based on the last frost date in my microclimate in the mountains of Central Pennsylvania. Readers in areas that are frost-free in May can plant and transplant earlier. Warm weather crops could also be planted and transplanted earlier and protected with row cover.

Mid-March-Start cool weather crops (lettuce, kale, collards, cabbage, broccoli, spinach, kohlrabi, cauliflower, brussel sprouts, pac choi, and parsley) and tender crops that take a longer time to grow (celery, celaraic, herbs)

Lettuce plants

Lettuce plants

Mid-April-Start warm weather crops (tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, basil) and second crop lettuce

Containers-6-packs for most crops; 6 oz yogurt containers with holes punched in bottom for plants that grow larger (tomatoes, peppers, eggplant), and flats for onions and leeks

  • Reusing containers-Before each planting wash thoroughly with soap and water, sanitize with white vinegar, and rinse

Potting Mix-1part sifted compost, 1 part peat moss, ½ part perlite

  • Mix in water until all material is moist—Mix should remain loose and not be sticky when squeezed

Planting Seeds (6 packs and yogurt cups)

  • Fill to top; press mix down gently; add more mix and press down again; level should be slightly below the top (1/8-1/4 inch) to prevent water from running off during watering
  • Make small depression in center of container, plant seed, push mix from edge of depression to cover, pat down
  • Water thoroughly until water runs out bottom of containers

Planting Seeds (flats)

  • Fill flats half way; press down gently; add more mix and press down again; level should be about half of flat; sprinkle seeds as evenly as you can on surface, spread a light layer of mix over top of seeds; pat down
  • Water thoroughly until water runs out the bottom of the flat; check that all seeds remain covered
  • I plant fairly densely—1/16 oz packet of seeds per flat—and get many plants; plant less densely if you want fewer plants

Grow Lights (3-Tier Stand)

  • (2) 4-foot fluorescent light fixtures (with 2 bulbs each) for each tier
  • Cool white bulbs-no need to buy more expensive daylight bulbs
  • Containers sit on 26X18 inch restaurant trays; 2 trays per tier
Homemade 3-tiered grow stand

Homemade 3-tier grow stand built out of 2x4s

18" x 26" x 1" fiberglass trays

18″ x 26″ x 1″ fiberglass trays – we have found that the fiberglass ones last a lot longer than the plastic ones.  You can find used ones on ebay.

Grow Lights (2 Tier Stand)

  • (1) 4-foot fluorescent light fixtures (with 2 bulbs each) for each tier
  • Each tier has a removable tray so no need for restaurant trays
2-tier stand from (donated by a friend)

2-tier stand from (donated by a friend). This retails for over $500.  We recommend building one over buying one.

Seedling Care

  • Check need for water every day: water when soil surface is lighter brown
  • Turn lights on when seedlings germinate-start with lights about ¼-1/2 inch above plants
  • Lights are on 14 hours/day (around 6:15 am to 8:15 pm)
  • Raise lights as plants grow
  • Temperature-I have wood heat so the temperature fluctuates between 60 and 73 degrees; peppers do okay but prefer warmer temperature

Hardening Off

  • 1-2 weeks before transplanting
  • Plants are very sensitive to direct sunlight at first so gradually increase their exposure to sunlight
  • Plants are also not as resistant to frost at this stage, even hardy plants like kale
  • I have a table where I set my plants outdoors and cover with shade cloth during the time of day when sun is most intense; as plants get more used to sun, I leave them uncovered longer
  • If forecast predicts temperatures to go below freezing, I bring my plants onto my back porch at night and take back outside in morning when temperatures rise above freezing again
  • Continue to check need for watering regularly especially if it is a hot, sunny day


  • Cool weather crops-mid to late April-use row cover to protect lettuce from frost; erratic weather patterns have made it difficult to harden off plants, so now I cover even the hardy plants
  • Warm weather crops-June

Direct Seeding

  • Snap Peas, Carrots, Beets, Radishes, Bunching Onions, Turnips-early to mid April-except for peas, cover with row cover for frost protection
  • Arugula-May
  • Squash, cucumbers-June

Kelle Kersten lives and gardens veganically with her husband at their vegan homestead Ahimsa Village ( in the mountains of central Pennsylvania.

World Peace Diet and Vegan Food Production

We are currently studying Will Tuttle’s book World Peace Diet: Eating For Spiritual Health And Social Harmony.  He sees eating and food as the ultimate spiritual practice/act as we literally become our food, we embody our food (i.e. “we are what we eat” on all levels).  He makes the case that the historical development of herding, breeding, and killing animals for food is the fundamental disconnect between ourselves and the rest of the natural world.  The commodification and killing of animals has laid the foundation of the dominant world culture (Western Industrial Civilization) that views animals, nature, and humans as resources to be used and exploited for power and financial gain.  He theorizes that we have to deny/bury our authentic selves (more loving and compassionate) in order to continue with this business of commodifying and killing/consuming animals (apx. 75 million animals a day are killed for food) to feed most of us everyday.  The fundamental single thing that we can do for ourselves, the planet, and the animals is, of course, giving up meat/dairy consumption and switching to a vegan diet.  Tuttle’s thesis is provocative and has gotten us thinking about veganism on a deeper level.  Here’s a video to a talk he gave at Villanova that gives a good overview of his philosophy:

After reading this book (and others by vegan writers) it got us thinking about what about veganic food?  Where are vegans getting their food?  For the most part they are getting it mostly from large scale commercial farms that most likely use animal products and manure on their farms and may also be engaged in animal agriculture.   To “complete the cycle” of veganism there really needs to be veganic farms that produce “humane” food i.e. food production that does not involve animal exploitation. We feel we are a very small part of this movement here on our veganic homestead.


Maple Sugaring Season

We are in the midst of our maple sugaring season at Ahimsa homestead and its been a strange one!  Maple sugaring season generally runs from late February to mid-to-late March in our part of the world (Central Pennsylvania) however this year’s been different.  We tapped when we always do – late February.  It was a nice, sunny winter day and the flow was good.  Then it got cold, very cold – highs below freezing – for a couple weeks.  The taps stopped cold literally!  The weather has been erratic ever since – mostly too cold for good flows.  So we’ve been boiling whenever we get enough to make a few quarts (the ratio is approximately 40:1 – 40 gals of sap = 1 gal. of syrup).  We usually wait until we have enough to make a couple gallons before firing up our small maple arch.


Finished syrup

The process is a pretty simple one.  Basically it involves tapping the trees, hanging buckets, gathering the sap daily.  Once we get enough to do a boil we fire up our small maple arch (we use dead pine wood), get a good rolling boil going, and boiling it down until its close to syrup.  We take it off and finish it in the kitchen (in our opinion its too risky to boil it down to syrup in the pan – we’ve lost a couple batches trying to do this).  We have a lot more control in the kitchen.  We use a maple hydrometer to test the density of the syrup (66% sugar content).  When its done we take it off and can it.


Boiling sap in our maple arch.

Boiling sap in our maple arch.

Every year we are always happy to have people come out and help with the process!

Check out our Maple Sugaring 2014 photo album.


During the long, cold winter months a great deal of our time is taken up by cutting, splitting, moving, and stacking firewood.  We heat our home with a large Kitchen Queen Amish Cookstove.  Working with wood is our primary outdoor activity from December until the end of February when the maple sugaring season starts (which actually involves working with a lot of firewood as well!).  We often feel like staying indoors next to the warm cookstove however the rewards of the winter landscape are many and varied.  It is actually one of my favorite seasons for enjoying the beauty of nature.  The quiet and stillness of winter is simply awesome, unrivaled by any other season. I feel a special joy in working outside on a cold, sunny, windless winter day. I love breathing the clean and crisp winter air and feeling the warmth of the sun on my hands and face.


This is our Kitchen Queen Cookstove hard at work keeping us warm.

I generally enjoy all aspects of “wood work” save one: felling dead trees.  Even though I’ve done it many, many times, each time is still nerve wracking.  I’ll study the tree for quite sometime to determine which way I think its leaning.  The problem is that in the woods, on a slop, it can often be difficult to determine which way the tree is leaning (if at all).  I’ll then notch it on the “leaning” side and make a second cut at an angel from the other side towards the notch.  Theoretically this will prevent the tree from falling on you.  The idea is that your saw will bind up in the upper cut and stop the saw before the tree falls.  This has always been the case for me.  The problem is that you now have a doubly challenging situation: the notch on the wrong side and your saw bound up.  I’ve had this happen before which requires a harried and dangerous recut (the opposite way) with a second chainsaw.


Wood storage area #1

We cut all our firewood using a Stihl Farmboss chainsaw.  In a prior lifetime (when we were much younger) we cut all our wood using crosscut and bow saws.  Although there is definitely environmental, health, and noise benefits to cutting wood with people powered tools there is the time constraint to consider.  Given that we no longer homestead full-time (we both have other work in the “outside” world) and have multiple other responsibilities on the homestead we reluctantly gave up that practice many years ago.  We definitely miss the days of being able to have a conversation over cutting firewood and hearing the gentle song of the crosscut making its cut and the sounds of nature.  However the chainsaw is such a huge time saver plus it allows one to harvest wood much more efficiently.  The problem with a crosscut saw is that your wood cutting space needs to be arranged just right in order to effectively cut firewood.  I remember many times being in too tight a space or not have the log’s weight properly balanced so that the blade would bind.  We have made peace with the carbon footprint trade off because we can gather so much more wood so much faster and use wood that we never would have been able to cut with the crosscut.


Wood storage area #2

We split and stack all our wood in an open lean-to style woodshed (for maximum air flow) and try to get a year’s worth of wood in advance.  There’s nothing worse than burning wood high in moisture content.  Its bad for you, the environment, and causes rapid creosote build up.  My wife Kelle does almost all the splitting.  She actually really enjoys the work and is really good at it.  It’s part of her winter exercise routine!  We have three storage areas (see pictures) that we try to fill up.  We go through most of it in a winter…Amish cookstoves are not very efficient!


Wood storage area #3.

Vegan Eating in the Winter and Our Favorite Black Bean Soup

One of the primary goals of our vegan homesteading effort is local food self-sufficiency.  Specifically, the goal is to eat “off the land” as much as possible.  Many have asserted that a year-round locally-based vegan diet is not possible in a northern climate.  People say, “maybe (a year-round, local vegan diet) is possible in Hawaii or Florida but definitely not in Pennsylvania” claiming that instead meat (from domestic or wild animals) is the only way to sustain a local diet during the long winter season.  It is definitely more challenging to be  eating a “local vegan” diet in a northern climate than a southern one where plants and fruits grow year round.  However it is far from impossible.  During the winter we regularly eat from our garden using our squash, potatoes, carrots, and beets from the root cellar; our cucumbers and tomatoes from the canning shelves; our corn and beans stored in jars; and lots of frozen produce.

We actually eat pretty well in the winter.  We regularly make soups and various casseroles using our own stored produce as the base.  Another luxury we have is eating our frozen fruits and ginger as smoothies all winter long.  Here’s one of our winter staples that incorporates a lot of food that we grow (* marked with an asterick):

6 Cups Black Beans* (soaked overnight)
1 Gallon Water
4-5 Cups Onions* (chopped)
1-2 Cups Carrots* (chopped)
2-3 Large Sweet Potatoes* (chopped)
Handful of Crushed Basil* and Oregano*
6-7 Gloves Garlic* (chopped)
1/2 Cup Maple Syrup*
2 Tablespoons Apple Cider Vinegar
1/2 Cup Tamari

Soak beans overnight, boil till soft, drain and discard water.  Put all chopped vegetables and beans into 1 gallon of water, bring to low boil, turn down, let simmer until everything is tender.  Add seasonings.  Simmer for another 20-30 minutes.  Tastes even better the second day.

We make a large amount to last the week or freeze for later.

More on Why Vegan Homesteading

Lots of rain today, a good day to do some writing indoors.  We already feel overwhelmed with the gardens! We’ve been pondering why do vegan homesteading? Basically it boils down to the fact that we feel its the best way for us to respond to the unfolding environmental, economic, and energy crisis that we are in the midst of.  When we feel overwhelmed by the work or lack of interest in what we are doing we ask ourselves: “well, what else should we be doing?”  And, our answer, (so far) has always been the same: this feels right to be doing.  The most important work we feel to be engaged in these challenging times is helping build a local food system.  Food, of course, is life when it becomes scarce everything else in our lives diminishes and our focus turns entirely to food.  Our view is that a locally-based vegan food system is the most direct, most practical, and  most humane food system in the world, not to mention the fact that its the least energy intensive.  Of course we are referring to a small, home-based agricultural system that mimics nature as much as practically possible – in our system we try to minimize tilling and maximize mulching and gardening by hand.  We plant things close together and interplant different vegetables, herbs, and flowers.  We supplement our soil with compost and grass mulch and use drip irrigation.

What is Vegan Homesteading?

Vegan homesteading is the practice of homesteading without exploiting animals.

This blog will share random thoughts and things we come across that are relevant to vegan homesteading.