In the spring, I feel the urge to grow something.

Perhaps it’s because I’ve always been around farming. Or perhaps it’s because I’ve never outgrown the desire to play in the dirt. But in any case, as soon as it gets warm enough to forego a heavy winter coat, I start preparing what I want to grow.

Now, none of this is to say that I am good at growing things. Other than my children, I don’t think I’ve grown much to brag about.

Seedlings came up easily but later had to contend with too warm of conditions in their greenhouses. (Jenny Schlecht / Agweek)
Seedlings came up easily but later had to contend with too warm of conditions in their greenhouses. (Jenny Schlecht / Agweek)
I’ve had some minor luck — the moss roses that I planted in old cinder blocks last year, a peony plant at our old house, the odd potato crop that feeds us for a couple months in the fall. But I’ve also had plenty of failures — the tomatoes that barely provided enough for a meal, the squash that flowered and did little else, the perennials that turned into annuals.

This year, I wanted to try starting some plants myself from seed rather than buying them at greenhouses. So far, it’s a mixed bag of whether they’ll end up in the luck or failure category.

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With my older daughter home from school, we’ve had a little time to play around with things like our little seedling experiment. We planted tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, cabbage, peppers and, for color, some zinnias. Most everything came up. The cherry tomatoes flourished, and while nothing else looked quite as good as them, they all were alive.

The plants were quickly growing beyond what I wanted to keep in the house. With my mixed bag of gardening luck in the past, it’s not like I’ve ever felt the need to invest money in a greenhouse. But the nighttime temperatures still were hovering around freezing, and I needed somewhere to stash the fragile little plants.

Clear tote boxes became surprisingly hot greenhouses. (Jenny Schlecht / Agweek)
Clear tote boxes became surprisingly hot greenhouses. (Jenny Schlecht / Agweek)
My husband suggested I use a clear tote box as a greenhouse. I did a little research and found that people have made that work, so using old hay rake teeth and baling twine to hold the totes down, I rigged up a couple little greenhouses.

And that’s where things started to go backwards.

You see, what I didn’t anticipate was that it got close to 70 degrees a couple days after I put the plants in the boxes. I have no idea how warm it was inside the “greenhouses,” but judging by the state of the poor little cabbage plants, it was too warm.

While I’m pretty sure I baked the cabbage, most of the plants are still alive, though they look somewhat unhappy. I’ve started new cabbage plants that I’ll be a little more careful with, along with some more pepper plants. And soon, it’ll be time to put the plants in the ground and see what happens.

There’s a pretty good chance we’ll still grab some plants from a nursery, where people who actually know what they’re doing have raised the plants. While it’s fun to experiment, it’s also great to have a source of knowledgeable people who aren’t just messing around.

I also appreciate that there are farmers all over the world who grow the food we need. I enjoy playing in the dirt, and I enjoy growing what I can to feed my family. But, all in all, it’s a good thing that we’re not entirely dependent on my efforts.

Jenny Schlecht is Agweek's content manager. She lives on a farm and ranch in Medina, N.D., with her husband and two daughters. She can be reached at or 701-595-0425.