Posts Tagged ‘food self-sufficiency’

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.

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.