Wednesday, April 22, 2015

[th]e-Seed: Earth Day Edition

Dakota Sport tomatoes-- Anticipation!

On Your Mark, Get Set, GROW:
Starting Tomatoes From Seed

Our target dates for starting tomatoes here in Fullerton, ND is April 15 to April 22.  We are borderline Zone 3 and 4 and are right on the 46th parallel.  Typically our last frost date is the end of May. We count back 5 to 6 weeks to set our tomato planting date.  We do not like to start our tomatoes too early to avoid long “leggy” tomato plants.  We like shorter, stalky tomatoes that are not too root-bound.

The variety of containers that could be utilized for starting seeds is limited only by your imagination. We have an egg enterprise on our farm, so used, pressed paper, egg cartons are in good supply. We use those to start many of our seedlings.  You can also use an ordinary cell tray (new or used). A 50-cell tray will provides ample room for each plant to get started. You want a small enough container to allow the roots to fill the cell; the seedlings can then be easily popped out the tray or scooped out with a spoon and transplanted into larger pots. 

The first step is to moisten your potting soil. Add a little bit of water and mix with your hands; keep adding and mixing with a little more water at time until it feels moist but not wet or soggy. Next, fill your tray or pots with the moist soil, making sure each cell is nearly full of soil but not packed down.

Using your thumb, make an indentation about 1/4 inch deep; sow 5-6 tomato seeds per egg cup or, if using the top half of the egg carton, plant them in a furrow. If using a 50-cell try, singulate the seed as best you can but don't be concerned about getting more than one per cell.

Cover the seed with about 1/4 inch of soil and tamp them in. 
Gently water them and make sure to LABEL each variety. Cover the trays to keep moisture in and put the container in a warm place, 75-80˚ F; no light is needed at this point. Heat mats can help ensure even temperatures and a fast start.  The soil temperature needs to be at least 70 degrees to mid-80s for heat-loving tomatoes. 

Water gently when the surface of the soil becomes dry to the touch. DO NOT let the seeds dry out before germination, which normally takes 5-10 days.  Keeping them consistently moist is critical but do not drown them.  If moisture is beading on your covering, you may want to air them out a bit to reduce the moisture level.

AS SOON AS seeds begin germinating and the seedlings begin poking above the soil, you can remove them from the heat mats.  Light is critical at this point; provide a strong light source. Outside light is the strongest or place in a very sunny window.  If that is not possible use high output grow lights, such as T-5, for 12-14 hours a day. Keep the lights within a couple of inches from the tops of the plants; adjust the lights as the plants grow.


Transplanting Individual Plants

After about two weeks, or when the plants are 1½ inches tall, transplant them into 6-packs, one plant per cell. We use recycled milk cartons, cut-down halfway, using the cut-off sections to make dividers, creating 4 cells per carton (see instructions and pictures below).

If you started with larger cells but have more than one seedling in a cell, you can clip the weaker one with a nail clipper and let the stronger one grow. If you are transplanting, discard the weaker plants as you go. This early selection work will ensure the strongest plants are planted in your valuable garden space. 

To transplant, gently scoop the young seedlings out of the cell, being careful to get under the roots so as not to damage them.  Gently grasp the tomato plants by the leaves and gently pull them apart to singular for transplanting. If they do not come apart easily, give them a gentle shake to remove more soil from the roots. Slowly separate the plants, paying attention to gently pulling at the best angle to singulate without damaging the roots. 

DO NOT grasp the tomatoes by the stems, as this can pinch off the stem and damage the plant’s ability to transport nutrients and water from the roots. This is critical and you have to pay close attention to only handling the tomatoes by the leaves.  DO NOT handle the stems or the roots.  

Once you have separated a seedling for transplant, use your finger or a thick pencil or marker to make a hole in the soil.  Making sure the hole is deep and wide enough to accommodate the roots. This will allow you to insert the plant without handling or damaging the roots. Place the seedling at the depth you want it and pinch the dirt in around the roots and stem. Avoid the urge to "pack" the soil; you may crush the roots. Watering will settle the soil around the roots just right.

Always water gently, using warm tepid water, never cold.  Do not drown the plant. You can use watering cans with a narrow spout; we use dish soap bottles with the pull-out spout, (thoroughly rinsed so there is no soap residue) with a vent hole in the bottle to allow free flowing watering.

Research has shown that turning a fan on low, and positioning it so that the plants receive a gentle breeze, helps to mimic wind action, strengthening the trunks. You can also “pet” your tomatoes to strengthen them by brushing the tops of the plants with your hand, gently going back and forth right before watering them.

As time moves closer to transplanting your tomato plants in your garden, take your plants outside for a few hours a day in a sunny, protected spot.  This will help them harden off and reduces transplant shock.  We create a cold frame using square bales to place our transplants in to acclimate them to the outdoors.  They are exposed to full sun and breeze action but are still somewhat sheltered.  We cover the cold frame with plywood boards during the night-time hours to protect from possible frost. 

Final Transplanting

When danger of frost has passed, transplant your seedlings to the garden.  We mark the spacing of the plants and then dig each hole. Place the soil surface of the transplant plug just below ground level so the top of the transplant is covered with a thin layer of soil.  This will seal off the plug from the outside air and ensure that no roots are exposed.

If your tomato plants are getting too tall before transplanting, you can sink the plant down deeper into the hole.  The tomato will send out more roots along the buried stem, helping to better anchor and feed itself!

Right after transplanting we gently water the plants in with tepid (not cold) water using 1 to 2 cups of water per plant (depending on your garden's soil moisture conditions). Be sure to water all the way around the plant to settle it into the soil.  Water again 12 hours later.

Now watch your tomatoes take off!




Used milk cartons
repurposed as
freezer containers

Wash and save those empty milk cartons!  During the winter months, cut off the top section that forms the peak of the carton and discard.  Measure and cut half-way down each of the four corners of the carton.  Fold the four flaps in, overlapping and forming the cover.  Fill with blanched vegetables or fresh fruit and freeze!  A stackable, no-wasted space, freezer container!

You can reuse it
to start your plants!

When you have used the carton for three years of vegetable storage in the freezer (Yes, they last that long!)... you can use it AGAIN!  This time for starting plants! [See the instructions to the right.]

 Here are some pictorial instructions: 

Drill holes in bottom

Cut off the flaps

Form dividers
by cutting into the center
and sliding the two together

Insert divider and
fill with potting soil.

-Ready to plant or transplant your starter plants!

To celebrate EARTH DAY we are offering a special on our certified organic seed--Buy 5, Get 1 FREE.              Just visit our Etsy storefront at:
Select six packets and at checkout enter the coupon code: 6PACKSFOR15BUCKS
Helping you go GREEN on EARTH DAY!

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Copyright ©  2014 Prairie Road Organic Seed. All rights reserved.
Prairie Road Organic Seed


Contact Us:
9824 79th ST SE, Fullerton, ND 58441

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

[th]e-Seed February Edition: Growing Onions From Seed

Growing Onions From Seed

Many gardeners grow their onions from sets rather than from seed. Others gain the deep satisfaction of scratching that gardening itch by starting their onions from seeds sown indoors. One advantage to using seeds is that you have a greater selection of varieties than those available as onion sets.  More importantly, onions grown from seed perform better than those grown from sets. They are less prone to disease and bolting, size up their bulbs faster, and store better!

How many onions should you grow? Ask yourself how many onions you eat in a year? Dakota Tears onions store exceptionally well and should keep you in onions year around, if you plan for your usage. If you eat an onion a day, consider planting about 400 seedlings. Planting in a double row 8 inches between the rows with 3-4 inches between plants, you should be able to grow 6 onions per row foot.  400 onions will take up about 67 row feet of garden space. If you only eat two onions a week, plant about 130 seedlings, taking up 22 row feet.


Let’s start with the soil. This soil mix is based on the mix used by the Rodale Center.
  • 4 parts screened compost*
  • 1 part perlite
  • 1 part vermiculite
  • (optional: for added moisture retention) 2 parts coir (ground up coconut husks)**
You should lightly moisten the ingredients before blending them to keep the dust down.  Blend thoroughly in a dishpan or wheelbarrow.
*See instructions for building your own compost screen
**Why coir and not peat?  Coir’s pH is near neutral and it retains more water than peat.  In addition, it is much more sustainable than mining peat bogs, which releases carbon into the atmosphere.

This mix aids in moisture retention and drainage, keys to starting healthy seedlings. It’s easy for the soil to stay too wet, and that can lead to damping-off, a fungal disease that causes newly germinated seedlings to rot at the soil line and die.


We start our Dakota Tears onions the first week of April; this gives us 6 weeks to grow good sized onions before transplanting in the middle of May. We plant the seeds in propagation trays with 72 round cells per tray.  We singulate the onion seed, using a homemade vacuum seeder, sowing 1-2 seeds per cell.  You can also use a simple seeder, such as a Seedmaster or, Minisem to help singulate and dispense your seed.

Fill your tray with your starter mix and screed the excess dirt off the top with a straight edge so each cell is level full. Use another filled tray to place on top of the newly filled cells, pressing down to GENTLY firm the soil in each of the cells at once. Place the seed in each cell and cover with ~1/8 inch of your soil mixture.  Gently pat to firm and water thoroughly and evenly. Tag your tray with the variety name and date planted.

We have also grown onion seedlings much like wheat grass, planting them in milk cartons tipped on their side with the top side panel removed and the spout firmly stapled.  Poke holes in the bottom side for drainage. Fill the carton 2/3 full with your soil mix. We sprinkle the onion seed thicker in order to select against plants prone to damping off and to select for seedling vigor.   Cover with a thin layer (~1/8 inch) of soil mix.  Again, gently pat to firm, water thoroughly and evenly, and label your carton with the variety name and date planted.


Place the flats near a heat source or on a heat mat made especially for seed starting. Onions take about a week to germinate at 70 degrees F.


Mist the tray with a spray bottle as needed to keep them moist. You can cover the flats with plastic wrap to keep the environment moist and humid. However, if you use this method, keep the trays out of direct sunlight, to avoid getting them too warm.


At the first signs of sprouting, uncover and make sure the containers are in a bright spot—a sunny window, a greenhouse, or beneath a couple of grow lights. If using grow lights, suspend the lights just 2 inches above the plants and gradually raise them as the seedlings mature. Plants will become weak and spindly if they have to stretch or lean toward the light. To turn the lights on and off at the same time each day, hook them up to an electric timer, mimicking the natural day length.


We transplant our onions into the garden and the field in mid-May.  You can transplant earlier, as onions are cold tolerant but beware of a hard frost.  We prefer to be safe rather than sorry. To ensure healthy bulbs, rotate the crop yearly.

We transplant late in the day, usually after 5 pm, avoiding the heat of the day to reduce transplant shock.  Onions need soil that is high in organic matter, fertile, loose and well drained, with no standing water after a rain. If your soil fertility and organic matter is low, apply at least two inches of composted soil and work it in to a depth of eight inches. Work the row to create a nice loose seedbed free of dirt lumps and rocks.

When the seedbed is prepared, carefully remove the plug from the cell and transplant each plug, placing them level with the soil surface and lightly covering the surface of the plug with fresh soil so the edges of the plug are covered.

If using the milk carton method, undo the spout and open up the end, laying it flat.  Gently scoop your hand underneath the soil and gently separate a small section, removing it from the carton. Try to minimize touching the roots as much as possible. Handling the plants by the leaves, do not squeeze the stems, gently tug and loosen the soil to separate the roots of individual plants. Select the largest most vigorous seedlings and lay them in the prepared row, spacing approximately where they will be planted.  Lay out about a half a dozen seedlings at a time and transplant to minimize the roots’ exposure to light or work with a partner to separate and transplant as you go.

Onion seedlings do not have much of an enlargement at the base of the stem. Look for the point where they change from the white base above the roots to the green stem. You want that white base submerged, so you have about a half inch to an inch of soil above where the root starts. Make sure to displace the soil deep enough to be able to accommodate the roots.  Placing the base of the seedling just deep enough to cover the white stem end so that no white is showing. Actual depth of the hole will of course depend on the length of the roots. Make sure the roots are all in the ground and covered; if the roots curl some when transplanting, they will water in and anchor downward.


We transplant the seedlings 4 to 6 inches apart in a double row spaced about 8 inches between rows. Water the seedlings in immediately after planting, using approximately one cup of water per seedling. Do not worry if the seedlings lay on the ground and look like they are wilted.  They will revive overnight. Water them again first thing in the morning before the heat of the day.


Keep onions well weeded to avoid competition for light, water, and nutrients. Pull any weeds by hand to avoid damaging the shallow onion roots.
 Better yet, if you get the weeds shortly after germination, you can simply rub them out so they never get established!

Water and nutrients are an important part of onion growing. Onions are heavy feeders, especially as the bulbs begin to swell. Make sure your soil fertility is good.
The bulb-enlarging stage is the most critical. If it’s too dry and the plants are stressed, the bulbs will be smaller and have a stronger flavor. Our field onions are grown under dry land conditions.  Dakota Tears onions are fairly drought tolerant but moisture stress will reduce bulb size.

Our family garden is under a deep mulch system, which conserves moisture. If using mulch, be sure to keep the mulch away from bulbs to avoid disease and rot. Onions should look as if they are sitting on top of the soil. This aids in the drying process by keeping moist soil away from the papery skins. As the onions start to mature, discontinue watering to encourage dormancy. 


Come August you should see signs that harvest time is near. At full maturity, the onion plants start to go dormant. The inner leaves stop producing new blades, and the hollow-centered neck weakens, causing the tops to bend over.  Food made in the leaves will be stored in the onion bulbs. Do not water them at this point. It is important to let the plants go dormant before harvesting, or they won’t store well.

During a dry spell, when most of the onion tops have toppled and started to brown, and the bulbs have developed skins, gently pull the onions out of the ground and place them in a warm, dry, airy location to cure out of the sun, heat and rain. Curing onions in hot summer sun will bleach and soften the outside tissue and allow disease to enter. This is especially true for the large sweet onions, which have the greatest water content. We use a rack with triple stacked screens on wheels that can be moved in and out of the garage as needed and kept in the shade. Be sure to bring onions in before snow, rain or freezing temperatures.


Onions take three to four weeks to cure before they’re ready for storing. Once the onions have dried adequately, remove the dry foliage from the top of the bulb, dried roots at the base, and any dirt from the skins.  Leave the protective skins in tact as much as possible in the cleaning process. Store the crop in a cool, dry location with good air circulation. Onions can be stored in the traditional onion bag or in a shallow boxes or bins with newspaper lining.

Dakota Tears onions are meant for long-term storage. They have firm, dry bulbs with tight necks and layers of protective skin. Typically, onions that did not dry down as well or those with thicker necks should be used first; they will not store as well. 


With a little planning you can start your own onions from seed and grow all the onions you can eat! The return on your investment will be not only be huge, it will be delicious! 

NEW IN 2015!

Hidatsa Red bean

Originally grown along the Missouri River Valley of North Dakota by the Hidatsa tribe, this bean was introduced by Oscar H. Will & Co. in Bismarck, ND as part of his 1915 Pioneer Indian Collection. Semi-vining, this productive bush plant will climb to three feet if given support. Plump, dark red, dry beans. To see full listing, click here.

Dakota Gold Mix marigold

Tons of gorgeous blooms early summer to frost! Extra-large, double flowers varying from mum-like blooms to red-tipped yellow blooms, yellow-fringed deep burgundy flowers to tangerine and yellow blooms, even striped blooms! All on bushy, vigorous, dark green, 12 to 24 in. plants. Plant in sunny flower beds, containers and window boxes!  Available for shipping March 7th!  To see full listing, click here.
Blue Boy bachelor buttons

One of the most popular cottage wildflower seed varieties. Very easy to grow from seed and a self-seeding annual, so there is little need to replant. Bachelor's Buttons were brought to America in the 17th century. Not only is cornflower attractive and affordable, but it is also a vigorous species, drought resistant, with a wide-ranging adaptability. Available for shipping March 7th!  To see full listing, click here.

Click here to visit our website!

Copyright ©  2015 Prairie Road Organic Seed. All rights reserved


Thursday, January 8, 2015

th[e]-Seed A New Year!

Of Hummus and Flatbread

Beet & Bean Hummus and Flatbread!  A delicious, nutritious treat!

Resolve To Eat Healthier In 2015!
Add this easy, protein rich, high fiber, energy boosting snack to your daily routine.  You will never get bored with hummus because there are so many ways to flavor it and pair it with your favorite foods.

Traditional hummus is made from chickpeas.  But I have been experimenting in the kitchen and on my family!  It turns out any dry bean and other legumes will substitute nicely!  We don’t raise chickpeas but we do have LOTS of dry beans to choose from, including Dakota Bumblebean, Hidatsa Shield bean, and Hidatsa Red!  

Health Benefits
Dry beans or legumes contain no cholesterol, are loaded with complex carbohydrates, B vitamins, potassium, and fiber, and contain little fat. Beans promote digestive health and may help prevent colon cancer.  Beans help balance blood sugar levels and reduce blood cholesterol, a leading cause of heart disease.

Pairing our beans with Sweet Dakota Bliss beets provides many added benefits.  Dry beans are a rich source of iron, while beets are high in vitamin C, which helps to utilize and absorb the iron from the hummus.  Beets also help lower your blood pressure, relax and dilate your blood vessels, improving blood flow and enhancing stamina.

AND beets contain powerful phytonutrients!  That’s what gives beets their deep maroon color. It is this deep, rich color that may help to ward off cancer. Research has found beets are a unique source of a nutrient that helps protect cells from stress, fights inflammation, protects internal organs, and likely helps prevent numerous chronic diseases, including cancer. Beets are being studied for use in treating human pancreatic, breast, and prostate cancers. “Yes, please!” to those beets!

Basic Hummus Recipe
To wet your appetite for experimenting, let’s start with a very basic hummus recipe.  Simply combine in a blender two cups of your favorite fully cooked dry beans (or chickpeas) in a blender with a 1/2 teaspoon of ground cumin, 1 clove of garlic, 2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil, one tablespoon of lemon juice, and salt to taste. 

Potential Combinations
Pair this recipe with the flatbread below and enjoy! Or experiment further with our Sweet Dakota Bliss beet hummus recipe below and combine the powerful healing benefits of beans and beets! And don’t worry about eating it all at one sitting… keep a few batches in the freezer so all you have to do is thaw! The flatbread recipe can be kept in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks!  Just tear off a chunk of dough, roll it out, and grill some flatbread or bake a pizza crust.  What could be easier?
You will never get bored with hummus! There are so many potential combinations to try, like cilantro jalapeño hummus, basil pesto, or spring pea hummus. Sweet corn jalapeño, roasted red pepper, or spinach artichoke hummus. How about chipotle hummus? Just search the internet for "hummus recipes" and have fun!

Use hummus as a veggie dip and forget the ranch dressing! Celery and hummus are a match made in heaven; you don’t even need a spoon! Use hummus as a sandwich spread in place of mayo for added taste and nutrition! Use a pesto hummus and the flatbread recipe below as the basis for your next homemade pizza.

Food should be your gateway to good health!  Here’s to a healthful and prosperous New Year!

 New in 2015!

Dakota Sisters melon
Bred by David Podoll, this delightfully flavorful, sweet, aromatic melon has been intensively selected since 1980 for smooth texture, great melon flavor, juicy sweetness, deep orange color and thick flesh.  At 80 days maturity, this melon is well suited to short growing seasons.  We plant at the end of May, when danger of frost has passed, and usually harvest our first melon by about the 10th of August! We did not realize just how good our melon really was until we experimented with other varieties in 2012 and 2013!  We do not want to be without Dakota Sisters melon... it is THAT delicious! And now we are sharing it with all of you!

Tendergreen cucumber
A straight tender, cucumber!  Sweet, non-bitter and acid free; a popular favorite for more than 80 years.  This burpless, medium green, smooth fruit is a great market cucumber. Can be eaten fresh as a slicer, in salads, or picked early for pickling.  Its tender skin makes excellent pickles!  Tolerates cool soils, excessive moisture, downey mildew and mosaic virus.  A superior, multi-purpose cucumber.

New in 2015!

Dakota Lettuce Mix
We mixed our favorite romaine varieties, including: Bakito, an oval-shaped heirloom with purples leaves; Forellenschluss, a crisp, green and red-speckled heirloom; Rosalita, a red romaine; and crosses of all three varieties.  A colorful and flavorful addition to your garden and salad bowl!

Sugar Snap peas
Often touted as the most flavorful snap pea variety.  With sweet peas and pods, Sugar Snap peas have developed quite a following, becoming a household name since its introduction in 1979.  The vines grow to 5' and need the support of a trellis or fence.  Sugar Snap peas bear over a long picking period and yield well in in both hot and cool weather.  The pods are about 3" long and are excellent fresh picked in the garden, steamed, or sautéed in a stir fry.  This standout is an All American Selection Winner and is sure to be a winner in your garden!