Tag Archives: seed starting

Seedlings . . . Nothing More Than Seedlings . . .

Longtime readers of this blog may recall my unfortunate run-in with a rat in my potting shed a couple of years ago. Ultimately, it was Rat: 1, Me: 0. The damn critter dug up and ate all my tender seedlings under the grow lights. I tried protecting what was left with duct-taped plastic covers, but the sauna that created was too much for them.

Until I can varmint-proof my potting shed (and I’m working on that!), I have had to move my seedling production center indoors. And this year, so far, so good, though I realized a little too late that the flats were too far away from the light, so my seedlings are a little leggy, but they will be ok. Here is my set-up.

I outfitted an old plastic parson’s bench that was in my attic (thank you, grandparents!) with heating mats and grow lights. Each flat goes on a mat, under a light. The flats stay covered with the clear plastic lids and the lights stay off and the mats on all the time until we achieve sproutage, at which point the covers come off and the lights and mats go onto a timer. On for 12 hours, off for 12 hours.

At that point, I also set up a small fan to blow a gentle breeze onto the seedlings. Air circulation helps them become hardy. No hothouse vegetables tolerated in my rough-and-tumble garden!

As the second set of leaves appears on the seedlings, I move them to the garden window in my kitchen, where they receive direct sunlight. An open window on nice days encourages them to get more comfortable with outdoor environments. And I constantly check the soil for moisture—too much leads to dampening off; too little turns them into microscopic twigs.

And as they mature, I move them into my Growcamp, my little greenhouse/covered garden. There they will harden off—that means they will gradually become accustomed to outdoor life—and hang out until all danger of frost has passed and they can go into the ground.

Here’s what’s in my flats this year, by the way:

  • Three kinds of tomatoes
  • Two kinds of sweet peppers
  • Two kinds of hot peppers
  • Three kinds of basil
  • Two kinds of marigolds
  • Two kinds of zinnias
  • Pingtung Eggplant

Seeeeeeeedlings . . . whoah-oah-oah seeeeeeedlings . . .


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Spring Garden Omnibus

Winter has finally given up on us, it would seem. The garden is coming out from hiding and has lots of news to share. Here’s an omnibus of what’s been happening lately.

The sugar snap peas are up. The thinnings were delicious in a stir-fry with broccoli, carrots, tofu, and a spicy peanut sauce with cilantro and chives.

I moved my seedlings indoors and away from the rat who has taken up residence in the potting shed, and I started over for the third time. Here’s hoping.

It’s been a grand winter for broccoli. I’ve begun taking out last fall’s plants and today planted new ones. The cilantro also wintered over magnificently, and I’ve been reaping the rewards almost daily.

Another overwintered showoff — the salad greens. Spectacular.

The strawberries I planted last spring are looking strong, and today I noticed the first two blossoms. Last year I pinched off every bloom in order to have stronger plants in the long run. I’m not good at delayed garden gratification, but good-n-plenty strawberries are worth it.

The Swiss chard I planted a few months ago is doing well. You can see the carrots right behind it that went in about the same time.

Other recent developments: Last weekend I seeded more chard, beets, radishes, and arugula directly into the ground. Today I put out some kale seedlings I bought from the Oakhurst Community Garden plant sale. And in the next few days (just as soon as I purchase some bean inoculant), I’m going to plant a new-to-me heirloom shelling bean variety I’m excited about: Indian woman yellow, it’s called.

Most thrilling of all, last weekend and this weekend, I buried seventeen asparagus crowns. I’m planning to devote a whole post soon to asparagus (I know — geek!), so I’ll save my thunder for now.

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Urban Homesteader, Baby Killer

It’s astonishing to me that something can be at once so strong yet so frail. Life stirs, cracks open a hard shell by sheer force of will, extends one reach downward into dense earth and another reach upward through layers of matter sometimes a hundred times as thick as its own self. It’s heroic, really. It also gives you a false sense of security.

I started a flat of seeds three weeks ago. Mixed my seed starter with some water, filled the cells with all that rich organic stuff, then carefully dropped a few seeds into each cell: chard, kale, salad greens, marigolds, zinnias. I covered them with the clear plastic topper, placed the flat on top of a warming mat (it was still about 20 degrees out), and positioned it carefully under a grow lamp set on a timer out in my garden shed, next to the chicken coop. The seeds did their heroic superstrength thing, and within a week and a half I had a flat full of tiny green seedlings craning their necks toward the light. Tah-daaaaah!

Ah, but. Here comes the frail part. Once they hit the surface, they are suddenly vulnerable. I think I must have a hungry varmint living in my garden shed, because a couple of days after the seedlings made their grand debut,  the plastic topper had been shoved awry, the soil had been dug through and tossed around, the seedlings munched to nothing.

So I started over, this time adding as second flat with tomatoes, peppers, and basil. And I taped the plastic tops down securely on the flats with a few pieces of duct tape. Ha-ha, varmints! Go munch some kudzu, why don’t you?

The duct tape seemed to have worked, but then we had a warm spell over the weekend—too warm for my seedlings, alas. Especially with the warming mats that I forgot to unplug. And under those plastic tops, it got downright wet and tropical in there. A regular rainforest.

But kale and chard don’t grow in the rainforest. They like a little heat and moisture to get them started, then cool them off and keep the air circulating, thank you very much. Otherwise, you get what I got, which is called “dampening off.” That warm, wet world incubated all manner of pathogens that attacked those vulnerable sprouts, and they just bowed their heads and keeled over. That’s right. I killed my babies.

Time to start over again. This time, less water and more air, and I’ll have to figure out a way to give them these things and still keep the varmints out. I believe I have some net left over from the Squirrel Proof Net Tent that might do the trick.


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