Saturday 1 March 2014

2013 Gardening Lessons Learned - Part 2: Germinating Seeds

In addition to good seeds and the right soil, germination requires a specific combination of water, light and warmth which changes for each type of plant.  Through the use of fluorescent lighting, I have that aspect covered.   

But I’m still working out the bugs on water and heat.
I almost always start seeds in jiffy peat pellets on a heat mat (2-3 seeds in each pellet to be sure something comes up!).  This seems to work very well so long as they aren't left there too long.  Once the seedlings have grown to an inch or so, they should be transplanted as these pellets dry out quickly.   I left mine a bit late and only transplanted them this morning.  Some had become quite dry even though I watered a bit each day - the peat dries out easily.

I also had a watering problem while using peat or coir fibre pots for the seedlings last year.  They do not retain moisture well and it seemed as though I was constantly watering.  One of the main benefits of using peat or coir fibre pots is the ability to plant the seedling into the ground, pot and all, which is very helpful for seedlings that are delicate and don’t transplant well.   

But the truth is I rarely did that last year; I removed the seedlings and placed them directly in the soil.  I think I’ll stick to plastic pots from now on.

Then I had the opposite watering problem with some other plants.  Last winter, I created a grow area (fluorescent lights, etc.) in the basement as that is where I had the most space.  In order to keep the basement warm enough, I had to use considerably more heat than I had been using as I have a wood stove in the upper living area as a primary heat source to cut back on heating costs.  But I was a bit cheap with the heating in March and, although almost everything germinated, I struggled with a few of the seedlings to keep them healthy … onions in particular which require a good amount of bottom heat during germination.  And the cooler-than-appropriate temperature was probably a factor in the green mold that grew on some of the potting soil; it’s bad enough to overwater, but to water too much in a cold environment makes it that much worse.  So the main lesson learned is to ensure the temperature is sufficiently warm wherever the seeds are germinating – pretty obvious huh?

Seedlings from March 2013

I ended up having a second grow area in the main living area (as seen in above photo).  This was due to the number of plants that I started indoors, but also that I started them so early in the year, they were quite large by the time I could move them outside requiring an enormous amount of space.  So another lesson learned: this year I have started off using the upstairs grow area and will only move to the basement if necessary.  I also plan to start fewer plants indoors than last year and to start them a bit later so I may not need the basement at all (lesson 3).  Especially since I won’t have the benefit of the greenhouse this spring (since it kind of collapsed from all the snow).

Black Krim seeds saved from 2013

But I still got a bit excited about the upcoming growing season and started some plants already - I don't know why I start tomato plants so early as they grow quite quickly.  I think it is because I wanted to test the seeds I saved last fall; obviously it worked as I now have a handful each of Black Krim and Brandywine tomato seedlings.  

Black Krim seedlings 2014

Peppers generally need an early start.  I've started a few each of some generic red peppers and Hungarian Hot Wax, and will start more in the next week or two.

Red Pepper seedling

So I have started some plants already but I haven't really gotten a schedule prepared.  When growing a wide variety of plants (vegetables, herbs, flowers) it really helps to have a timetable to follow whether the seeds are to be started indoors or seeded directly into the soil when it warms up.  That will be my next task ...

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