I finally started some seeds, y’all. It was a gorgeous day yesterday – sunny, still, a gentle breeze now and then, cool and crisp…with the sun on my back, I started plenty of seeds. (Click chart above to see how it all went down.) I had Jason help me haul all the seed starting stuff outdoors, and I used our small slatted 2′ x 2′ patio table (which is on our little sidewalk, because we have no patio, *sniff*) to do the dirty work. It was a great decision; I’ve been starting seeds in our dark, cool, lonely lower level (which is currently mostly unfinished and used as storage space) the past two years, and it gets lonely and messy. Starting seeds outdoors was a treat. I was able to listen to the birds sing and appreciate how much more alive it feels now, compared with just a few short weeks ago. I heard and saw robins, blue jays, cardinals, chickadees, junkos, woodpeckers, and, of course, chickens. The squirrels were scampering about, and the chipmunks ( who live IN OUR GARAGE) were frolicking and freaking out whenever they realized I was a human and made a sudden noise. (They jumped back into their hole, which no doubt leads them to a secret passage that leads to the walls of our garage. About this I am not happy. Ever tried to go grab a roast out of the freezer and been surprised by a couple of chipmunks? I have.)
Anyways. Seeds. I had a five gallon bucket of seed starting mix leftover from last year, so I just used that. It’s 1/3 compost, 1/3 vermiculite, and 1/3 sphagnum peat moss. The peat moss is from a bale I’ve been using since we started gardening two years ago, and it’s supposed to be sifted and fine textured. Ha ha ha. I haven’t made a sifting screen for compost yet (really ought to – just 1/4″ hardware cloth stapled to a simple wood frame), so I have to pick out all the large pieces by hand, and/or sift through my fingers. Not the most efficient use of time, but it was such a nice day that it was a pleasurable experience. I didn’t mind lingering with my fingers in the dirt.
I decided to try a dense planting method, as detailed in this thread over at Tomatoville, for this year’s indoor seeds. I don’t normally start many veggies indoors – just loads of tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, and basil, with a few stray trial plants every year (like rosemary, stevia, artichokes, and cutting celery, all failures save rosemary). But it gets tight under those lights near the end, and I no longer have the spare space upstairs to baby-gate off from little hands. (That space has been converted to a much-needed play area.) And you can be sure that I MUST gate off anything involving dirt and precious plants, because our little Cal is into EVERYTHING. (I would capitalize that even larger, but I think you get the picture. He is so much trouble, that little one, and we love him all the more for it, I think.) We have a little metal-framed, plastic-covered greenhouse that we bought from Menard’s last year but haven’t made good use of yet. I’m thinking we’ll make good use of it this year. The plan is this:
- Start seeds, densely planted, indoors around March 15 (I made it by 3/19; not bad for this busy mama)
- Pot-up into 4″ pots (either purchase plastic or make newspaper pots) a month later (so around 4/19) and move outdoors into greenhouse
- Have all plants ready to go in the ground a month after that (mid-May)
- The guy who started the thread over at Tomatoville starts thousands of seeds using this method, all without a greenhouse. The plants only need to be under the lights while they’re in the flats, so he conserves space that way. My flat is a cheap 72-cell with clear plastic dome bought at Menards or Lowes last year, so the cells are smaller than his 50-cell variety. I planted an average of 10 seeds per cell, and each cell is perhaps 1.25″ square. This is still way different for me, as I usually only plant 1-3 seeds per cell or space, thinning to the strongest within a couple of weeks. This year, I will not thin, but rather let them grow and separate and pot up within a month. It works for that guy, so I hope it works for me! I started well over 1000 seeds in that one little flat…
- (Anyone want to buy seedlings? I hope to have plenty of extras to sell this year. Maybe I’ll try selling at the farmer’s market, if things go well.)
- He uses a soilless mix (MetroMix 360) to start his. I read some labels and noticed that most soilless seed starting mixes are 50/50 peat moss/vermiculite, with perhaps a fertilizer thrown in for good measure. So I intended to just make a 50/50 mix myself, since I have both of those around. But I found the bucket with the compost-peat moss-vermiculite mixture leftover from last year, so I decided to use it. I don’t think the 1/3 compost is going to make the mix much more dense than a soilless one.
- I have a heat mat for seedlings (my whole setup looks a lot like this, including the plastic 72-cell flat), which I have found to aid in germination of my plants every year. It is is especially helpful for peppers and eggplants, which love bottom heat and traditionally take a long time to germinate, but which I have not had trouble with (I have always used a heat mat). Another option that I have used the last two years, prior to trying dense planting, was the oven with the pilot light on, with the door cracked open. Since I wasn’t dense planting, I had a lot more flats/containers to keep warm for germination. So I used the heat mat for one flat, plus the oven for a couple more. I had to use a thermometer to make sure it wasn’t too warm in the oven, and that told me that I had to keep the door cracked open. This is a pain because you can’t use the oven without a lot of trouble, but it worked really well with covered flats (to keep moisture in, like a greenhouse) and could be used by someone who doesn’t have a heat mat.
- I plant to move the flat to the downstairs bathroom after germination. It was a south-facing window. I will have space for two lights in there, side-by-side, right over top of this one flat. If I have to pot a few up before a month is up, there will be room under the lights for a few pots. But not a lot.
- We will move our little greenhouse close to the house so that we can put a heater in it with an extension cord from the laundry room. We will only use heat if it will go below 34 degrees or so. By mid-April, that doesn’t happen often, but it’s certainly a distinct possibility.
- I will also sow some of the cold hardy plants again in our cold frame, which is out by the garden. That way we can have greens for salad, and a backup up plan for the cabbages and onions, should this dense planting not work for me. I successfully started cabbages, kales, onions, and leeks in the cold frame two years ago, so I know it works. It will be interesting to compare the two methods and see which plants are stronger/faster growing.
- I didn’t densely plant the marigolds.
- I very densely planted the onions and leeks, perhaps 30 (or more) seeds per cell, because I know alliums grow well this way.
We filled the cold frame with composted chicken and horse manure, and will top it with a bag of top soil ($1.25 from Lowes) to get that fine texture that seedlings love. I would use vegetable compost, but we haven’t been great on starting a compost system. Our current “system” is three piles of yard and garden waste that we never turn, and one pile in the woods by the house for non-chicken-friendly kitchen scraps (which we also never turn, and the free range chickens still eat it).
I am majorly bummed about the lack of garlic this year. I have some amazing seed garlic that will just go to waste (or rather be eaten and enjoyed, but still) because I neglected to plant it last fall. I will have to buy seed garlic again this year, and it’s expensive, and not nearly as nice as what I’ve saved myself. It was nice garlic, huge and flavorful. So mad at myself.
One of these years, I will get the four season gardening thing down and have fresh veggies year-round. We ought to have greens in the greenhouse in winter and in the cold frame right now. We ought to have started our asparagus bed last year so we could be eating from it very soon. But I guess we forget what we didn’t do and move forward with what we CAN do, which is to plant greens in the cold frame now and start that asparagus bed this year.
Nearly all of my seeds are from Fedco, with a handful from Baker Creek and a variety or two from Turtle Tree. For those who like lists, for my own records (I search my own blog for variety names sometimes), here is what I started:
- Opalka Paste
- Orange Banana Paste
- Dr. Wyche’s Yellow
- Goldie Yellow
- Paul Robeson
- Black Cherry
- Egg Yolk Cherry
- Sun Gold Cherry
- Honey Drop Cherry
- Black Prince
- Garden Peach
- Yellow Pear
- Green Zebra
- Black Krim
- Cherokee Purple
- Tomato Pineapple
- Pineapple Bicolor
- Aunt Ruby’s German Green
- Rose de Berne
- Early Jalapeño Hot
- Hot Portugal
- Boldog Hungarian Spice Paprika
- Tangerine Pimiento
- Klari Baby Cheese
- Peacework Sweet
- Orange Bell
- Chocolate Sweet
- Jimmy Nardello’s Sweet
- Cajun Jewel
- Verde Puebla
- Husk Cherry
- Sweet Basil
- Genovese Basil
- Danish Ballhead Cabbage
- Mammoth Red Rock Cabbage
- Early Jersey Wakefield Cabbage
- Fiesta Broccoli
- Rainbow Lacinato Kale
- King Sieg Leek
- Bleu de Solaize Leek
- Rossa di Milano Onion
- Clear Dawn Onion
- Garden Berry Red Wonder Wild Strawberry