Seed Starting 101 – Part 5: An Update

Happy Monday everyone! Today I thought that we would take a picture tour of what’s going on with the seedlings that we started earlier in Seed Starting 101 – Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 and Part 4. They’ve grown up quite a bit and most of them have been planted in the ground. The pictures that are in this post are from a couple of weeks ago. Let’s have a looksie…

seed starting 101

The four rows at the bottom are two types of onions: Granex and Yellow Spanish. The row above the onions is the eggplant and the rows at the top are members of the brassica family: broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower.

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Here are some asparagus babies. I know that most people buy crowns but it’s more fun to start them from seed. In the next picture, you can see what last year’s asparagus seedlings look like.

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Aren’t they cute? Sure they’re not big enough to eat but perhaps next year we’ll be able to harvest a few.

Let’s look at the brassicas that I started: broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower.

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In this picture, I wanted to point out a few things. First of all, look at how many plants are growing in the one peat pellet: 3. Of course, that’s too many and they need to be thinned. I prefer to thin the seedlings when I am planting…that way, if the stems get broken on the way to the garden, I have a backup. Pinch off the seedlings that you don’t want…don’t pull them or you run the risk of disturbing the roots of the seedling that you want to keep. Also, look at how flimsy my plants look when compared to the broccoli in the 4-pack in the background. I’m not worried a bit about the flimsiness; if the stem decides to bend back towards the ground when it’s planted, it’s OK…the broccoli will taste the same in the end and the plant will be none the wiser.

I also wanted to point out that gardening is not about perfection…it’s about experimenting and learning what works. Who cares that your broccoli lean to one side or that your cucumbers curl instead of growing straight? Find wonder in the plants that you can grow that the plant tags say you can’t because your climate is too cold. Or too hot. Or they need full sun. Or they need full shade. I dare you to push the envelope this year…plant something in your garden that you’ve always wanted but haven’t tried because a magazine said that it won’t work in the Mid-Atlantic gardening region. Perhaps you don’t want to start with a $150 tree but try a $8 perennial. The joy that you’ll receive from it, even if it only lasts one season, will be worth it in the end.

So, what have you started from seed this year? Leave me a comment below or e-mail me at stacey@midatlanticgardening.com. And don’t forget about our contest to celebrate our 100th post. Subscribe to the website for e-mail updates and share one of our links on Facebook. Once you meet both of those requirements, I’ll throw your name in a cyber hat for a drawing. Let me know if you have any questions about the giveaway. Happy gardening!

 

Seed Starting 101 Part 4: A Week in the Life of a Seed

 

So last Sunday, February 26, I sowed my first flat of veggie seeds for the season. In Part 2 of Seed Starting 101, we looked at exactly how I did it, from washing the flats to prepping the Jiffy pellets to sowing the seeds. As a wrap-up to the week, I thought we would look at what the seeds have been up to since then. Here we go:

DAYS 1 & 2

Here is the flat just hanging out…nothing to see here…move along

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DAY 3

I’m not sure if you can make it out but there is a little white dot at the bottom of the seed. That is the radicle, the first part of the seed to emerge. These are all broccoli seeds by the way.

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DAY 4

Now we’re cooking with grease! The seedling’s first leaves are preparing to unfold.

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DAY 5

Imagine my surprise to come home from work and see these beauties waiting for me! It’s amazing how quickly a seed can grow in 24 hours.

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DAY 6

Here are the babies today. Still growing strong and ready for the world.

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Here is a picture of the cabbage babies that have really started coming around in the last 24 hours.

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And the onions are just starting to germinate.

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The eggplants, asparagus and cauliflower haven’t germinated yet but that’s OK…they will in due time. I hope that you have enjoyed this Mid-Atlantic Gardening seed tour today. Let me know what seeds you are growing this year by leaving me a comment below or e-mailing me at stacey@midatlanticgardening.com. Happy gardening!

 

Seed Starting 101 Part 3: Lighting

 

As we have discussed in Parts 1 and 2 of Seed Starting 101, providing the right amount of light for your seeds can be a daunting task. The number of footcandles on an average summer day outside is around 25000 whereas the number of footcandles in a well-lit office drops dramatically to 125. In case you aren’t aware, footcandle is a way to measure light intensity. So what type of lighting should you use to get your seeds off to the best start?

seed startingIt all depends on what you want from your seed starting adventure. If you are interested in just getting them large enough to put in a cold frame, a set or two of fluorescent shop lights will serve you well. If you want to move up the sophistication chain, consider LED (light emitting diode)lighting. LED lights are very energy efficient and last forever. OK, not forever but it will seem that way in comparison. These are the same lights that the new stoplights are composed of. They will provide ample light for your seeds; the only drawback is that they are more expensive initially. You can pick up a set of shop lights for around $25 whereas a small LED light will cost a couple of hundred dollars. You can probably find a better price by shopping around online but even still, it won’t be $25.

The grandaddy of all the lighting systems is the metal halide light. But again, the cost of the lighting is prohibitive to the average gardener. Costing upwards of $500 each, I won’t bother to expand more on this lighting. If you choose to go with flourescent shop lights, what can you do to get the most light out of them for your seedlings?

  1. Replace your light bulbs each year. The light quality diminishes each year and for a $10 investment, you can ensure that your seedlings are off to the best start.
  2. Use warm and cool bulbs in your fixtures. Plants need a combination of wave lengths to do their best and that’s what your aiming for.
  3. Keep your lights within inches of your seedlings…not 12″ or 8″; hang them 1″-2″ above the tallest seedlings and adjust them upwards as the seedlings grow.
  4. Leave your lights on for 16 hours each day. Mine are actually programmed for 17 hours right now and the plants will be fine. What you don’t want to do is leave them on 24/7. Plants need to sleep too (this is when the process of respiration takes place).
  5. Aluminum foil. This may sound like a bizarre solution but it works. It helps immensely for those poor little seedlings on the outside edge of the flats. They are the ones that lean in to try to reach the light in the center. By draping aluminum foil over the lights so that it touches the table on both sides, it creates a more reflective environment and also keeps the heat in. I leave the ends open so that air can still circulate.

 

I’d love to hear the creative ideas that other Mid-Atlantic Gardening readers have for increasing the light that your seeds receive. Leave me a comment below or e-mail me at stacey@midatlanticgardening.com. Click here for Part 4 of Seed Starting 101. Happy gardening!

March 1, 2012Permalink 1 Comment

Seed Starting 101 – Part 2: A Pictorial Guide

 

In yesterday’s post, we discussed the three basic requirements of starting seeds: temperature, water and light. Today we’ll be looking at the down and dirty (pun intended) of sowing your own seeds. It’s very important for your flats to be clean and sanitized so we’ll start there in our journey.

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You can see in this picture that I’ve used a large tub to sanitize the flats. I added a nice sized serving of bleach to the water; I like for the water to smell good and bleachy. The general rule of thumb is that you want a 10% bleach solution. If you want to measure, knock yourself out; I’m just not that kind of person.

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I then laid the flats out to dry in the sunshine. Sunlight is nature’s sanitizer.

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I still haven’t purchased any seed starting media and I had Jiffy pellets left over from last year so I used them. Here you can see them in the flats waiting for water.

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I added about a quart of water to the flat and allowed the pellets to absorb the moisture. I had to go back and add a little water over the top to make sure that the pellets were wet all the way through. Peat is sneaky in that it can look perfectly wet but when you scratch the surface it can be bone dry underneath. When it’s dry, it’s hydrophobic which means that it repels water…don’t let your peat dry out once it’s wet or it will revert to its hydrophobic nature.

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I like to take a toothpick and pull the netting back from the center of the pellets. In the past, I’ve had seeds try to germinate under the netting and then die from not being able to make it past the netting.

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I then sow at least two seeds in each pellet. If they both germinate, I can always cut the weakest one off at the soil line later. These are cabbage seeds…can you see them in there?

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I then use my finger to press the seeds down…it’s important to ensure that there is good seed to soil contact. Otherwise, your seeds may germinate but quickly die when there isn’t any soil around to grab hold to. I also cover them with a tiny bit of soil for good measure.

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The next step is to label everything. I used the craft-style tongue depressers broken into fourths. I wrote on them with a sharpie and stuck them in peat pellet themselves. I try to sow in groups of 6 or however many pellets form a line. I also had some larger peat pellets so I sowed those in rows of 5. Here are the 15 cabbage seedlings I’m starting.

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And I just continued on down the line and sowed broccoli, cauliflower, onions and asparagus. Yes, I even sowed asparagus. I know it’s easier to buy them bareroot but where’s the fun in that?

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Here is the final picture. The lights are set up and the seeds are waiting for the the combination of temperature, water and light to be met so that they can germinate.

Join us tomorrow for more Mid-Atlantic Gardening adventures in seed starting. We’ll talk about which types of lights to use and how you can get more light for less money. Leave me a comment below or e-mail me at stacey@midatlanticgardening.com. Happy gardening!

February 29, 2012Permalink 8 Comments