The weather has finally been warm enough to plant some things out. I'm so excited! It is so satisfying to see the little plants you have been nurturing take off, and grow independently in the garden. Lettuce, the cabbage family, and onions can be planted early (several weeks to a month before the last frost date) as they are cold hardy plants and can withstand some frost. Make sure all danger of frost is past before planting tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant. I always water plants well with a strong Liquid Fish solution (about 2 oz. per gallon of water) right after planting to help them take off faster.
Back with more updates! My plants have been growing for two weeks since the last update so you will see some more progress...
I have had a super busy week with work and traveling, and yes my update is a couple days late! Sorry guys. Thankfully my plants managed to survive - and even thrive! Most of them are ready to transplant so I included step by step pictures of the process below. Seedlings are usually ready to transplant in about 2 weeks from seeding or whenever they start growing their second set of leaves. So first I will show you some pictures of my seedlings and the progress they have made.
Only a week has passed and here are the many little miracles that have occurred. No matter how many times I do this, I'm always struck with a sense of awe and wonder at the life contained in each tiny little seed. There is something so satisfying about nurturing a seed and watching it grow. Everybody should do it, even if just to watch and experience it. Glory be to God the creator of life!
In this post I will talk about how you can improvise to provide good light for your seedlings, along with the warmth that they still need. Light is the first thing they will look for after germinating - light and then warmth and food. You want to keep your seedlings moving, growing! If they just 'sit there' from shivering and lack of nourishment, they are much more prone to disease. 65-75° F. is a good general temperature range for young seedlings. Fluctuating temperatures can be expected (especially in the house), but if you can keep your soil temperature at 65° or above most of the time, you are doing good. Once your plants are a little older, lower temperatures can be good for them. But when they just started germinating and some of those little sprouts are still waiting for their siblings to join them, give them a little TLC. On the other hand, too much heat can make your seedlings shoot up super fast, and you will get some weak, skinny little rascals, especially if lighting isn't the best.
In my next post (first update) I will cover more on how to feed your plants organically.
Ok! Lets see how we can provide good light and warmth for seedlings:
Before I married my wonderful husband, I ran a greenhouse business on my parents' farm. I loved being able to get an early taste of spring inside my greenhouse. I smiled to myself as my friends groaned: "I'm sooo tired of winter, when is spring coming!" I had my own little micro-climate, and was having a wonderful time starting seeds, growing early salad greens, and getting a tan - in February! Then... along came Prince Charming and swept me off my feet. We moved to another state and I left the greenhouse to my younger sister.
Now with spring on the way I began to think of ways to grow my own seedlings, without a greenhouse. We live in a rental house with small windows and gorgeous old pine trees shading the south side. I did some research and found there are ways to do it, even if you don't have as much as a sunny window. I am starting seeds in my house and will post pictures of the progress every week so you can follow along, and do it with me if you want to. So lets get started!
Starting your Seeds
First you want to get your seeds to germinate. For that you need bottom heat that warms the soil to preferably 75 to 80 degrees. Your seeds/seedlings do not like cold tootsies! That is why heat from the bottom is the best. After they are up nicely you can grow them with a little less heat, like 65-70°.
Most seeds germinate best in the dark, so you don't have to worry about putting them in the light until they start popping up. If you have a sunny window and just need to get that extra heat until they germinate, here are some great ways to do it:
What you need:
- Large 25 - 30 gallon tote with lid. (I used a 30 gallon but a slightly shallower one would also work)
- Smaller tote with lid, about 6-7 inches deep that fits inside the big one.
- Submersible aquarium heater. (available at any pet store). Mine is 50 watt, and heats up to 40 gallons. You may be able to use a smaller one too.
Suction heater against the wall of the tote. Fill tote till it reaches the maximum water line of the heater (unless your heater is completely submersible). I put in warm water so my heater wouldn't have to work to get the water warm.
Set the smaller tote on top of the water. Plug in the heater, set to about 80 degrees. Your seed trays will go in the shallow tote and the warm water will make them nice and toasty (not literally :)
...Wallah! you're ready to get your seeds in the dirt.
Things you need.
Egg cartons are awesome for seed starting! And yes that is a cottage cheese container, cut off, and holes drilled in the bottom for drainage. Whatever you do, make sure excess water can drain away.
The right potting soil can very well determine the success of your seedlings. See how dark the soil on the right is compared to the one on the left? The dark soil is heavier and more suited for larger, potted plants. The soil on the left is Pro-Mix, a professional growing medium. It is light and porous, but retains moisture. That is the stuff we want!
Sometimes its hard to find a good, light potting soil that is organic. (yeah, I was lucky!) If I couldn't find an organic one, I would consider non-organic, since most of the time the only synthetic ingredient in a general purpose growing medium is the wetting agent. That should be leached out by the time you plant your seedlings in the garden. You may want to check the ingredients and make sure there are no synthetic fertilizers mixed in. (if you are growing organically, that is)
Greenhouse supply stores are great places to get potting soil and other garden supplies.
And of course you need seeds! Baker Creek Seeds is my favorite resource for heirloom seeds. They have one of the largest selections of heirloom seeds in the world.
I made these tags out of window blinds. You know how your blinds are pretty much always to long, and there are a gazillion extra pieces bunched up at the bottom? Well I just cut off several of the bottom pieces, (not the string!) and made some cute little labels.
This is one way to water your newly planted seeds. You want something that is gentle and doesn't disturb the soil too much. A hand pump or backpack sprayer works really well too, and does the job faster. One of these days I'm getting one!
The brown liquid in there is compost tea that I had brewing the past 24 hours. I brewed a small batch but still didn't need it all, so I put half of the concentrate in a gallon jug and keep it in the fridge.
Seeds can germinate by just watering with plain water, but I have found that giving them a little good food really gets them growing happily. You can also use Liquid fish solution instead of compost tea. In my greenhouse, I used it at the rate of 1 oz. Liquid Fish concentrate per gallon of water. For newly planted seeds I would recommend a half strength solution. Liquid Fish is available at most greenhouse and garden centers.
For more information on compost tea and a ton of other gardening things, I would recommend this awesome book by my friend Shoshanna Easling: http://www.bulkherbstore.com/Making-Vegetables-Vol-1
Lets get started.
I put about an inch of potting soil in my containers. In this one I am sowing 3 different kinds of the cabbage family; Kohlrabi, Kale, and Pak Choy. They have the same growing habits so they should all come up around the same time. I try to avoid sowing seeds with different growing habits in the same container, as some of them take longer to germinate.
I put my tags in as dividers before I planted the seeds.
Tip: do yourself a favor by not sowing your seeds too thickly. They need a little elbow room to grow strong stems.
Here I did peppers. Egg cartons are perfect if you just need a few of each variety. I planted about 8-10 seeds per spot, hoping to get at least 5 or 6 plants. I cut the carton in half so I could use the other half for tomatoes.
Nasturtiums! Yay, colorful salads coming up! As you can see, I planted these big seeds individually. They do not like to be transplanted. I just pushed them into the soil with my finger, about an inch or so.
So here I put all the things I planted in my shallow tote, ready for watering. I did tomatoes, peppers, 3 of the cabbage family, lettuce, eggplant, onions, and nasturtiums. Later I will do melons, cucumbers and squash, and plant them individually like the nasturtiums.
I covered all my seeds with about a forth inch of soil. Whenever I plant fine seed like celery, I just barely cover them with finely sifted soil.
And now to water them! You don't want to get them sopping wet but just try to get the soil moistened all the way through. This can take a while, especially with a little spritz bottle :) ...or maybe that is a Dutch word??
Finally got them thoroughly moistened! They are already enjoying the warm bottom heat :)
Just put the lid on the whole thing, and it will keep all that moisture in there, and also trap the heat. The cord from the heater will crack your lid so your seeds get a little oxygen. And there you have it! This has worked amazingly well for me. I used a digital thermometer to check the soil temperature and it was around 75° F. Perfect! I had my heater set at 80°.
Lettuce germinates better at cooler temperatures so I put it on top of the tote in a plastic bag. This way they still get a little heat, and the bag keeps the moisture in.
Here I put some tomato seeds on top of an air vent to see how well they germinate compared to the ones in the tote.
Watch and wait.
And now to wait, ehem, patiently! for the first sprouts to appear. Be sure to check on your seeds every day, and even twice a day once you expect them to be popping up anytime. The cabbage family and lettuce will germinate first so be on the lookout after a few days. Its very important to get them out of the tote (or bag) and to the light as soon as you see the first ones emerging from the soil. If left under cover and in the dark, these babies will stretch into long thin little things looking for light.
That is all for this week! I will be back in a week with updates. And watch for my post in a few days on how to provide adequate lighting and get ready for your brand new seedlings.
Best of luck and happy growing!