Microgreens, Vegetables & Double Delphiniums

Start Microgreens indoors right now for the earliest vegetables; start spinach outdoors as soon as possible; and two new double delphiniums!
by Art Drysdale
by Art Drysdale


Art Drysdale, a life-long resident of Toronto and a horticulturist well known all across Canada, is now a resident of Parksville, British Columbia on Vancouver Island, just north of Nanaimo. He has reno-vated an old home and has a new garden there. His radio gardening vignettes are heard in south-western Ontario over radio station Easy 101 FM out of Tillsonburg at 2 PM weekdays.

Art also has his own website at

January 31, 2010


Above, spinach ‘Monnopa’ courtesy Green Barn Gardens. Below two shots each of the new double delphiniums courtesy of Dominion Seed House.

Since I wrote only about the possibility for public input into a probable ban on “cosmetic pesticides” in B.C. last week, I thought I should write about some seeding ideas this week. However, if you live in B.C. do by all means con-tact the B.C. Ministry of the Environment at the Website given here last week (  [then click on the ‘Cosmetic use of pesticides’ button]) and read the questions and then respond to them. The deadline for responses is February 15. Many, many gardeners I know do not believe in a ban, and certainly don’t want one imposed, but if they remain silent on the issue that is exactly what will happen.

First this week, let’s take a look at some of the early seeds you can get started in your garden. In fact let us look at some vegetable seeds you can start indoors now. Most seed companies (including Johnny’s Selected Seeds who were the inspiration for these two paragraphs) have their own special mixes of mixed greens, such as Micro Mix or Micro-greens. For personal use, growing micro mix is a fun and nutritious way to use up leftover seed or experiment with new flavours. The tiny plants are a vitamin-rich, flavourful addition to salads, sandwiches, and other dishes. You can grow a tray of mixed seedlings in a greenhouse, under grow lights, or even in a sunny window. Micro mix can consist of many kinds of vegetables, including amaranth, beets, broccoli, cabbage, bok choy (pac choi) or Chinese cabbage, mizuna, arugula, mustards, kale, radishes, and any of the tender annual herbs such as basil, fennel, and cutting celery.

To grow a micro mix at home, start with a seedling flat, a salad clamshell box, or other shallow container with drain-age holes, and with a solid tray below it to catch water. Fill with 2.5 - 5 cm (an inch or two) of pre-moistened sterilized potting mix. Spread seeds across the entire surface of the flat, as thickly and evenly as possible. You may mix varieties together or plant them in separate sections in the tray. Press the seeds gently into the soil, then sift a thin layer of soil on top to cover the seeds lightly. Mist with a spray bottle, cover with an acrylic dome or plastic wrap, and put the tray on a heat mat or in a warm place. (If your house is cool as ours is, an economical heat mat if definitely a boon.) As soon as the seeds start to germinate, remove the cover and provide strong light to the seedlings. Keep the soil moist by spraying or bottom-watering. Within one to two weeks, your seedlings should have their first set of true leaves, which means they are ready to harvest. Cut them with sharp scissors and enjoy.

I think the earliest vegetable for outdoor planting most gardeners should consider is spinach (Spinacia oleracea). It germinates in cold soil at air temperatures as low as 8o C. Ordinarily it is best planted as early as possible from March 1 to April 15. Judging by our current weather patterns here on Vancouver Island this year, we may be able to start the spinach in the middle of February!

The seeds should be planted about one cm below the soil surface, and if you have acidic-type soil you should incorporate some lime as spinach prefers a near-neutral soil.

Most gardeners are familiar with the annoying habit spinach has of sending up a tall flower/seed stock once the summer weather becomes warm. It is called ‘bolting’ and many other vegetables (such as lettuce) do the same thing. Once that begins to happen the entire plants are best cut off at the ground and the leaves used right away. Prior to that, small leaves (7 - 10 cm/3 - 4”) can be pulled off at any time and eaten raw or cooked.

Two weeks ago in this column I mentioned a new double Mandevilla. It is called ‘Super Trouper’ and is available from the Dominion Seed House. Just today I received notification from them that they also have a supply of new double delphiniums. Both cultivars are considered to be rare, and produce no seeds. They are available from Dominion as small (3½”) pot plants at a fairly hefty price of $17 each or three for $45.90. However, if you act quickly, the company is applying a special ten percent discount for orders received by February 16. Their Website is .

The taller of the two cultivars is D. ‘Crystal Delight’ which is a showy color combination of lavender and green centre, very consistent. The plants habit is upright growing to about 110-180 cm. It exhibits vigorous growth with strong flower stems and blooms in June and may rebloom in late summer if the old flowers are removed.

The second one is D. ‘Sweet Sensation’, which Dominion also identifies as a Larkspur. It too has unique, fully double flowers. Its color combination is also showy--with florets that are deep mauve with a tinge of blue-green. ‘Sweet Sensation’ tops out at about 75-95 cm, and also shows vigorous growth with strong flower stems. It too blooms in June and may rebloom in late summer if you remove the old flowers.

Delphiniums enjoy highly fertile deep soils that can be kept moist, but well-drained.

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