Indoor Seedlings

I have gobs of seeds that I have started inside, and they have been germinating.  I have no fancy equipment, but everything seems to be working so that they are growing, which is good.  Here are some pictures:

This is a closeup of several vegetable starts.  I’ve got some ‘Bullet’ romaine lettuce that is growing very well in the back in a six-pack, and in front of that a couple of ‘Gardener’s Delight’ cherry tomatoes that I am planning on planting out early under plastic, because I am starved for ripe garden tomatoes (!)  In front of that are some ‘Walla Walla Sweet’ onion starts.  I use an egg carton to get a little air circulating under my seed potatoes.  These are early ones–‘Dark Red Norland’ potatoes.

Here is part of the flotilla of baby tomatoes that I started from seed!  This year I am growing these varieties:

  • ‘Gardener’s Delight’–because we had such a bad growing year here last year, I wanted to give these a try again to confirm my findings, but these cherry tomatoes, which for me have been a little larger than ‘Super Sweet 100’ cherry tomatoes, are supposed to not split as easily as the Super Sweets, so we shall see.
  • ‘Costoluto Genovese’–I plant this tomato every year.  Very reliable here, and produces quite a bit of fruit.  Very tasty as well.
  • ‘Super Marzano Hybrid’–I have in years past gotten ‘San Marzano’ seed, and have been very pleased with them, so am trying the Super hybrid to see if it’s any better.  These are a Roma-like tomato excellent for drying, but are also delicious sliced and eaten in salads.
  • ‘Brandywine’–These produce gorgeous and huge tomatoes late in the season, but lately we’ve had cold weather late in the season, so I am only doing a few of these this year.  However, I look forward to them–very good flavor.
  • ‘Cherokee Purple’–I am trying a few of these to see how they do in my garden.  Jamie at An Oregon Cottage blog recommended them and said she’s had good luck with them, so I thought I’d give them a try as well.

I also am growing several different types of flowers from seed this year.  Above are some lavender multibloom geramiums.  (Now, in actuality, these are really called pelargonium, and there is a different plant known as a hardy geranium, and they’re not the same.  However, this is how it was labeled from the seed seller.)  I bought 11 seeds for just under three dollars, so they are a little expensive.  However, I got 10 to germinate, and when you consider that even on sale pelargonium plants are at least one dollar apiece, I think I came out way ahead on that deal.  These seeds are not for the faint of heart at seed starting, however:  tiny little things–don’t want to be planting in the wind or blow your nose at the wrong moment!  I used a tiny little baby spoon to get out one seed at a time, and then I placed it in the center of each container.  That works pretty well for small seeds–petunias are another type that I started from seed, and they are expensive and very small as well.  I don’t normally grow a huge amount of flowers from seed, but I just went a little nuts this year and decided to go for it, so I could do my hanging baskets and containers in hopefully very beautiful ways this season!

It’s been cold and incessantly rainy here, so I am waiting for it to warm up so I can get back outside more.  What is happening in your garden–let me know in the comments!

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Got Some Things Planted Before It Started Raining This Evening

The weather was quite nice this afternoon, and so I dug in and reseeded a lettuce bed that did nothing earlier.  Normally I’d put a thin layer of fine compost on the top of the bed, make my rows and plant, but I didn’t have any really fine compost left, so I spread what compost I did have, and on top of where I wanted rows I put seed starting plant mix, which is very fine and light, and then planted the seeds into that.  I decided to cover the bed with PVC pipes and clear plastic, just to warm it up a bit and give those seeds a fighting chance.  I think I may also be having issues with flea beetles in this bed as well, so as soon as the seedlings emerge, I will dust the whole thing with diatomaceous earth.  And Sluggo, as always.

I then moved on and planted my chitted cucumber seeds.  See how to chit seeds here .I started chitting the seeds on June 11th, they sprouted in the plastic bags by June 16th, but the weather was crummy, so I had to wait to plant them until today, June 18th.  In my composted and fertilized bed, I made super-fertile hills that had extra compost and an extra cup of complete organic fertilizer, and worked it into the soil, then I scooped a little bit out of the center of the hill, and put three chitted seeds in every hill, which I will eventually thin to the one strongest plant.  This is the method recommended by Steve Solomon in Gardening When It Counts, and I tried it out last year, and had tons of cucumbers.  I left room in between my hills for trellises to be placed after the seedlings get growing, but for now I covered the bed with plastic and hoops, because you don’t want the chitted seeds to get rained on until they emerge from the soil.  Obviously, Mother Nature is in no mood to cooperate about this, so I covered the bed, which worked for me last year in this same situation.

I also planted three kinds of runner beans that have very pretty flowers–‘Scarlet Emperor’, ‘Violet Podded Stringless’, and ‘Trionfo Violetto’, all of which the hummingbirds like as well.  I left room in between the rows to place trellises after they emerge, and, you guessed it, covered the beds with plastic.  I also planted a small spot with ‘Quickie’ hybrid sugar enhanced corn, and did the plastic cover with them as well.  Beans and corn like warm weather, and since it’s cool, this will hopefully help to warm things up for them.  About half-way through planting the beans and corn, it started raining, so I was none too soon in getting these things in the ground.

In all honesty, my beautiful tomato starts that I planted out on June 3rd are looking a little worse for wear due to sun deprivation, so I put plastic around the tomato cages–I probably should have done this earlier. 

Surely it will warm up soon–we’ve had, according to my records at our place for the month of June thus far, eleven days out of eighteen with rain.  Only four days out of eighteen with actual sun. 

Onward and upward, fellow gardeners!

Germination Box For Seed Starting

I am finally trying Steve Solomon’s idea of using a germination box for starting seeds indoors.  This tip comes from his wonderful book on vegetable gardening, entitled Gardening When It Counts, which I highly recommend.

You basically use the germination box to create the ideal microclimate in your house for getting seeds to germinate.  If you look on the seed packet, you will notice that they give germination temperatures most suitable for the seed.  It ranges from 75 to 80 degrees, and so this is the temperature that you are trying to consistently maintain inside your germ box.

We set this up from very humble materials.  You will want, ideally, some type of wooden box that will hold your four-inch pots of seeds.  We had an old drawer from a dresser that works well, but any wooden box that is not too heavy will do.  He says you can even use a cardboard box, but that sounded a little dangerous to me in light of the fact that you will have a light bulb placed directly beneath the box, but it you use a small, like a 25-watt bulb, he says it is okay.

So, you now have a wooden box.  You will want some type of lid that is clear for the box.  Plexi-glass would work well for this, but I didn’t have any, so I used a piece of bubble wrap and just laid it over the top of the box, and it works fine.  You want to be able to open or close this lid to not only put your containers of seeds inside, but also to adjust the temperature.

You will also need a thermometer.  Please use an outdoor house air thermometer, which you can get for less than three dollars at a hardware store, and not a food thermometer, which I attempted to use at first.  (We won’t talk about that!)  Use tape to tape the thermometer to the inside of the wooden box.  Now you have a means for determining exactly what the temperature is inside the box.

Now you need a heat source to go under the box.  Seeds germinate best with bottom heat, and for this purpose you will need one of those ceramic light bulb fixtures that are available at the hardware store inexpensively, a couple of screws that fit the holes in the light bulb fixture, a little square of scrap wood, an electric drill with a bit to fit the screw size you are using, and a screw driver.  You will also need to purchase light cord, and a plug-in.  You have to attach the cord to the light bulb fixture, which is not too super difficult to do, so afterwards you can screw in a light bulb and plug  the cord into the wall, and the bulb will light up.  After it is wired, attach the fixture to the scrap of wood, and the light is now ready to use.

Now you will want to raise your wooden box up off the table so that you can fit the light bulb fixture underneath the center of it.  I had some styrofoam pieces lying around that worked well for this, but you could use bricks or anything that is sturdy and flat to lay the box on top of.

Once the box is raised, you will want to put a light bulb in your light bulb fixture, position it under the box, and turn it on.  Place the plexi-glass or bubble wrap over the top of the box, and leave it alone for a while.  When you come back, remove the bubble wrap and see what the internal temperature of the box is.  You want it to hold at exactly 75-80 degrees–not colder, or the seeds won’t germinate, and not hotter, or the seeds will cook and not germinate.  You can try starting with a 25-watt bulb and if needed, move up to a 40-watt bulb.  You can also reduce the heat by only partially covering the top of the germ box and leaving part of it open.  I found for a small dresser drawer that I used a 40-watt bulb and kept the box covered all the time to maintain a good consistent temperature.

Now you are ready to get your containers and fill them with seed-starting mix (Steve Solomon recommends making your own from 1/2 of  a 5-gallon bucket full of garden dirt, 1/2 of the same bucket filled with peat moss, and 1 cup of complete organic fertilizer, all mixed together well).  Dampen it, put it in the containers, and then put your seeds in the containers, covering with a bit more soil if needed–the seed packet will tell you how deep to plant them.  In the germ box I have, I found that I could fit in 8 four-inch pots, but this will vary depending on the size of the box you are using.  Put the containers in a plastic bag, seal the bag, and then place them in the germ box.  Cover the box if needed, and then you are done.  Check back starting in three days, and every day thereafter, and when you see some of the seeds have germinated, take them out of the germ box, remove the plastic bag, and continue to grow them on under lights.

You can save yourself having to do a lot of transplanting of little seedlings if you only plant one to three seeds in each container, and then thin the plants as they grow to the strongest one and let it grow on.  So far, I am starting basil, tomatoes, peppers and will continue on to eggplant seeds.

This method is working great–my basil germinated in only three days, and the tomatoes in four days–quickest it’s ever happened for me.  I’ll try to post a photo of this soon!

Feel free to leave a comment–do you have any tips that have worked well for starting your seeds indoors?  I’d love to hear about it!

Make your own seed starting mix

This is straight from Steve Solomon’s excellent book Gardening When It Counts. What he says has worked well in my own garden for two seasons now.

Here’s how he says to make your own seed starting mix:  Mix together one- half bucket of your own garden dirt, with half a bucket of peat moss and one cup of complete organic fertilizer. Mix and moisten, then put into four-inch pots or whatever you are using for containers to start your seeds, and plant away.

This is much more economical than buying those teeny bags of very expensive seed starting mix at the nursery. It also gets the seedlings used to your own garden soil, which they will have to live in when they get bigger. I am of the opinion that sterilized soil may give you one hundred percent germination, but if you can live with ninety-five percent germination, you don’t need the sterilized stuff, if you start with good seed that has a guaranteed high germination rate–this is key.  One caveat is that this homemade starting mix tends to dry out more rapidly than commercial mixes, because it doesn’t contain moisture beads.  You can add some, but I just watch the containers carefully and water as needed, and it works fine.  I have used this to start both vegetable and flower seeds with success.

Give it a try, and see how it works for you!