Sunday, January 29, 2017

Indoor seed starting tips

Aerogarden hydroponic seed starting system
Sunday, January 28, 2017

What are the tricks to successful seed starting?  The most sure fire I have found with a gadget is the Aerogarden with the seed starting tray.  I have almost 100% germination rate with it.

With the Aerogarden hydroponic seed starting system, I don't even have to worry about using a heating pad for the warm season crops.  The drawback is the investment in buying the unit, seed starting tray, and plugs.  It is easy to take the seedlings and just plant into larger pot or directly into the garden when they are the right size for transplanting.

You can also start seeds in pots you make yourself with newspaper, toilet paper cores, paper towel cores, or paper cups and sterile, organic seed starting mix.  A nifty way to do it is to cut used paper towel cores into sections and line with old newspaper.  You can plant the whole thing or push out the newspaper insert and compost the core.
Paper towel cores with paper towel bottoms
Another option is to use peat pellets and peat pots.  Peat is not a renewable resource, but there are substitutes for it now on the market.  Just read the labels.  I just bought ones made with coir at Lowes.
The key is using sterile seed starting mix, pots, containers and trays.  For the trays and containers, sterilize with alcohol or bleach solution.  You can make your own seed starting mix with peat moss or coir (renewable), compost, and vermiculite.  Just be sure to heat the compost to at least 150 degrees to kill any pathogens before using to start seeds.

Newspaper seed starter "pot"
Place the seeds in the starter mix in the pots and allow to wet thoroughly from the bottom (watering from the top can dislodge seeds).  Make sure to eliminate any air pockets in the soil before planting.  You can lightly press down on the soil with your finger or water overhead before planting the seed.

After fully saturated, they are ready to put in a catch pan.  Make sure any catch pan that you use has been thoroughly sprayed with alcohol or washed in a bleach solution so all pathogens are killed.  Rinse well after sterilizing and before using for seedlings.
I put my seed starts in a plastic tray with a clear plastic lid in a sunny window that I have had for years that you can buy at any big box store.  Keep moist, but not wet, and with the clear cover on until seedling emerges.  Water from the bottom so as not to disturb the seed/seedling.  Pour off any standing water to discourage fungal disease.  You can use a spray bottle to keep the seedling and soil damp as well.

Once seedling emerges, remove the clear lid.  Use bottom heat during the day to encourage speedy germination (turn off at night).  As soon as the seedlings have sprouted, discontinue the heat.  By only using heat during the day and discontinuing heat after emerging, that has eliminated the dampening off of my seedlings.  To encourage sturdier seedlings, use a small fan on low to blow light air over the seedlings or simply brush the seedlings gently each morning, one swipe across the tops.

Your seedlings will need diluted liquid fertilizer starting 3 weeks after planting.  Using a weak fish emulsion is said to help prevent dampening off.  It should be no greater than half strength as these are tiny plants.
Some recommend using a small fan to blow on your seedlings to help them strengthen their stems, making them stronger transplants.  I have killed many transplants by accidentally crushing their fragile stem.

Make sure you label your seedlings as soon as you plant them; you may think you will remember 2 months from now what was where, but likely not!  Now is also a great time to start keeping a journal.  Start tracking what you planted when so you can review next year what worked well to repeat and what didn’t work so well to tweak.

For larger seeds, and seedlings, either start directly in the garden.  I start peas and green beans directly in the garden bed.  Other larger seedlings like squash and tomatoes, choose a larger pot to start them in or transplant from the peat pods to a small pot before transplanting to the garden.

Your seedling’s first leaves are not “true” leaves, think of them as baby teeth.  The second set of leaves are their true leaves.  They are ready to be hardened off when they have their first set of true leaves.  Seedlings must be hardened and not just thrown outside.  You take them out a little at a time, gradually increasing their exposure to sun and cold, only during the daytime.  I try and plant when there is a warm spell forecasted to minimize the shock.

Once the seedling is up and going, spacing them at a couple of inches apart helps the plants to grow sturdy stems instead of spindly.  When crowded, the seedlings race to get to the light.  If they are still leggy, it is likely insufficient light.  Make sure you are keeping your artificial light as close to the seedlings as possible.  Using two T8 fluorescent bulbs or grow light bulbs for 16 hours per day should provide enough light to grow sturdy seedlings.

Don't be too worried if you have leggy seedlings.  Once hardened off outdoors, they will strengthen up.  You just have to be extra careful in handling them as their stems will be very fragile.

There are great selections of herbs and veggies at nurseries and big box stores nowadays so you have many options, including heirlooms,  just waiting until spring is officially here and picking up what looks good at your nearby store in a couple of months.  Your local gardening centers will also carry the varieties best suited for your area.  This is also a great back up if your first seed starting adventure goes a little awry...........

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Ideal soil temperatures for starting your seeds

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Different types of plant's seeds have an ideal temperature range that you get the best germination success.  Adding some bottom heat can greatly increase the germination rate of many vegetables, particularly the heat loving veggies in the spring.  In the summer, you may need to start cool loving plant's seeds indoors or in a shady area.

Summer veggies like tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, cucumbers, squash, and beans love a little extra heat.  Tomatoes, eggplant and peppers need temps at least 60 F to germinate in a timely manner.  If you try and start the summer lovers in cold soil, many times the seed will rot before it sprouts.  Sooner is not always better when starting seeds.

A good rule of thumb is at least 70 F soil temps for starting summer veggies indoors.  You can buy a simple, cheap heat map at any big box store.  For a list of germination rates by temperature and crop, this is a good link Seed Starting Temps

For cold crops, hotter is not better.  Lettuce will not germinate if the soil is above 80 F.  This is the reason you may need to start lettuce indoors during the dog days of summer unless you have a cool, shady spot to start the seeds.

If you want to go high tech, I found that using an Aerogarden with the seed starting insert gave an almost 100% germination rate.  Here is a link to their web page:  Aerogarden
Look for the "Garden Starter System" accessory for the seed starting insert.

It can be tempting to start all your seeds as soon as you get them.  If you are starting them outdoors, be sure they are sown when the temps are right for the type of crop.  Outdoor seed sowing seed starting times  If growing indoors, you can modify the conditions to what suits the type of veggie you are sprouting so you get the most success.

For more on seed starting tips, see Indoor seed starting tips

Sunday, January 15, 2017

New seed catalogs are here!

Sunday, January 15, 2017

It is that time of year as the winter wind is blowing and the dreary days seem endless; the time to dream of warm weather, spring breezes, and green things sprouting once again.  Can't you almost smell the fresh cut grass and turned earth?  

Every gardener looks forward to the new year’s bounty of seed catalogs.  You can spend long hours browsing the possibilities for the coming season, imagining what you want to plant where.  What looks interesting to try this year, to reminisce on what worked well last year.
The biggest challenge is controlling the urge to go a little wild on the seed and plant ordering!  Last fall, I did as I always do, make myself a list of what I want to grow the following spring and summer.  If I could only just stick to it.............

The definitions used in seed catalogs can be a little confusing.  Organic means the plant it was taken from was grown using only natural inputs and is certified to be organically grown.  Hybrid is a plant that has been bred to have characteristics that are helpful like being resistant to different diseases.  These are not ones you want to grow if you want to save seed because the plants grown from the seed saved from it will not grow up like the mother plant.  OP means open pollinated.  Organic and OP are types you want to buy if you think you may want to save the seed to use next season.  Heirlooms are plants that have been in a family for generations.  They are all OP.  They may or may not also have been grown organically.
Vintage WW2 poster
For seed catalogues, the best to order from are those that do their trials in your region of the country.  The seeds and plants they carry are the ones that have performed the best for them in their trial gardens.  If you are trying to find a certain variety, try this seed and plant finder search.  Mother Earth News seed/plant finder  This year, I ordered all my seeds from Baker Creek Heirloom Baker Creek Heirloom and Territorial Seed Company Territorial Seed.  I love Baker Creek because they specialize heirlooms and rare seeds from around the world.  It is just fun!  Territorial Seeds has a good summary in each section of growing tips.

Catalogs I love are the ones that the links are on the right.  I have ordered from them all and been happy with their selection and how well the plants did.

If you are a beginner, start with the a kitchen herb garden Start a kitchen herb garden! and a tomato plant or two Tomatoes 101, everything you need to know to grow great tomatoes.  The biggest mistake new gardeners make is starting with too much and it becomes overwhelming instead of relaxing and fun.  If you have a small space or just want a small garden, here are some tips  How to decide what to plant for small spaces?

Sunday, January 8, 2017

What's surviving in the early January garden

Garlic chives

Sunday, January 8, 2016

In our Zone 6/7 garden, mustard greens, sage, sorrel, rosemary, carrots, thyme, oregano, garlic, chives, onions, lettuce, leeks, parsley, celery, spinach, and peas are all still green in our January garden.  The peppers, tomatoes, eggplant, bay and citrus plants over wintering in the unheated garage are also still green. Our kumquat is loaded with green fruits.

To keep your cold hardy crops going as long as possible, be sure to apply a good layer of mulch in the fall.  Frost forecasted? Here’s your to-do list  Preparing for a hard freeze

Austrian peas are a great winter crop to grow for salad greens.  They stay green all winter long.  I planted the seeds in the fall in pots.  You can plant peas as soon as next month, as soon as the soil can be worked. Time to plant peas!

Don't despair if your onion or carrot tops look a little worse for wear, the onion bulb and carrot under the ground are harvestable all winter.

Mulch is not only good for retaining moisture and keeping the soil cooler in the summer, but does the same in winter, keeping the soil warmer.  This lengthens the winter harvest and protects more tender crops so that they have a better chance of reviving in the spring to give an extra early spring harvest.  As your mulch breaks down, it adds organic matter to the soil.  Weed free, self fertilizing, till free garden beds

You can also use cloches, covers, and greenhouses to extend the harvest and get a jump on spring.   Biggest watch out when using cloches and green houses is to open when the sun is shining and temps get above freezing.  Temperatures can rise quickly inside the protection, killing the plant.  A row cover has more breathability, but that also means it will not keep the plants as warm.  See this blog for more on protecting plants  Extend the season with protection for plants