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Seed starting 101 with Portland’s Heirloom Seedhouse

Learn how to grow your own food and flowers using budget-friendly items and advice from a local seed company.

Evan Gregoire of Heirloom Seedhouse holds a metal bucket full of freshly picked tulips while standing in a farm field.

Evan Gregoire recently started leasing land at Rossi Farms.

Photo by Cambrie Juarez, PDXtoday

Twenty years in and Evan Gregoire is still excited about farming. This spring, he started leasing space at the Parkrose neighborhood’s historic Rossi Farms to grow more produce for local restaurants, like Kann and República, and to expand his seed business, Heirloom Seedhouse.

“Beyond organically grown” is a concept Gregoire is clearly passionate about. He incorporates his own experience in biodynamics, permaculture, and other holistic methods to grow food and seeds that surpass organic certification standards. Part of that ethos means cultivating plants that are biologically built to thrive in the Portland region, produce food full of flavor, and whose histories are culturally impactful.

Maybe you’re already growing plants for food, or perhaps your green-thumbed neighbor recently convinced you to give it a go — but why trouble with seeds when you can buy young plant starts from a store? The answer, Gregoire says, is rooted in variety and adaptability.

“People wonder why they get blight on their tomatoes,” he said. “Why don’t you use a local seed company that’s year after year providing to the best restaurants in all of Portland and has really good committed stock?”

Gregoire recently invited us out to Rossi Farms for a seed-starting tutorial (and to pick some tulips) — here’s what to know.

Packets of seeds in plastic bags with colorful labels hang in three rows on a wooden crate.

Heirloom Seedhouse seeds are available online or at the Lake Oswego and Sellwood Moreland farmers markets.

Photo by Cambrie Juarez, PDXtoday

Equipment

If you’re ready to get your hands dirty and grow some plants, you’ll need a few things to get started:

  • A seedling heat mat — Gregoire’s number one recommendation, though he said you can also germinate seeds on top of a fridge
  • A tray without holes
  • Small pots or a cell pack
  • A humidity dome
  • A light and a high quality seed-starting medium

Pro tip: Buy a growing kit. Note that some seeds can be planted directly in the ground — seed packets will often say to plant once the danger of frost has passed.

Planting

Follow these steps or watch Gregoire walk you through the process.

  • Fill your pots or cell tray with pre-moistened seed-starting potting mix, then lightly tamp the soil to eliminate air pockets.
  • Follow the instructions on the seed packet when sowing each seed because different varieties need to be planted at different depths.
  • Cover the tray with a humidity dome and place the whole thing on the heat mat.
  • After most of your seeds have germinated, remove the humidity dome, take the tray off the heat mat, and place it under a light. You may need to “pot up” seedlings if they outgrow their space before it’s safe to plant them outside.
  • Harden off your seedlings before transplanting them outside.

Reading about gardening is important, but so much comes down to actually putting the knowledge into practice, according to Gregoire. “Always be a lifelong learner.”

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