Blog Archives

Getting Growing

I forgot to come in and water all the newly planted seeds over the long weekend…oops!

Luckily, it doesn’t look like much harm was done. Everything was just starting to come up, and the germination is about what I typically expect. The tomatoes are almost 100% germination (I counted 3 pots without a plant in them) and the peppers and eggplants are lagging behind and slightly spottier in germination. The ‘Big Bertha’ peppers that we are using 3 year old seed aren’t coming up yet…which isn’t too surprising. Both eggplant and peppers like nice warm conditions for germination, so I usually expect worse (or slower) germination. There is only one variety (‘Rosa Bianca’ eggplant) that has no germination evident yet. I’ll probably give it until the end of the week before replanting.

So far, so good!

Friday PhotoEssay

Another Friday is here! There is no sign of germination where we planted seeds last week, so I’m beginning to get a little concerned. I haven’t done a great job of keeping the soil moist, but then it was covered with snow for part of the last week. I’m hoping that it is just the cold weather (keeping the soil cold) that is delaying germination of the typically quick-germinating radishes. It is so weird to have a late spring!

Here’s a quiz for you…how doe you tell if what you are seeing is grass or garlic or shallots? This picture isn’t too difficult to distinguish, but when the garlic or shallots are smaller it can be a real challenge! The garlic leaves usually feel thicker and waxier to me than grass, and of course, they smell like garlic too!

The rhubarb crown they planted a couple weeks ago is starting to slooooowly put on some growth. I could be wrong, but I think these leaves look like they got a little more cold than they would have preferred.

Speaking of cold, the lettuce and chard in our cold frame got a little more cold than they would have strictly preferred this week, since we left the cold frame completely open when it got so cold earlier this week. Somewhat surprisingly, they really don’t look that much the worse for wear!

This is the obligatory “before” picture. Rumor has it that we are going to be starting work on this shade garden this week. If nothing else, the compost has to move from the parking lot into the garden, since the farmers’ market is starting a week from tomorrow!

My light stand looks like a forest of plant labels right now! By next Friday I hope it will look like a forest of small tomato, eggplant, and pepper plants!

Have a great weekend!

Why We Research Before Planting Something New

Or why we set ourselves up for failure when trying to start new things from seed. But we’ll get to that in a bit.

This morning we did our major bunch of seed starting for the Demo Garden this year. That involved a bunch of tomato seeds, a few peppers, a couple herbs, and more varieties of eggplant than any reasonable person should plant. (That would be 7 different varieties!)

The first task….filling the pots with soil. We use a basic, soilless potting mix. I never spring for the more expensive “seed starting mixes,” although I do only use a mix that doesn’t already have fertilizer incorporated. I also recommend that you fill your pots with soil all the way to the brim and very gently pack it down. Don’t press hard, but you want to make sure you don’t have any air pockets in the pot. By filling them all the way to the top, you will have some space once the soil compacts during watering and you guarantee that all the pots have the same amount of soil. Why is that important? Because then they should all need watering at the same time, rather than some drying out faster than others.

The next step (if you didn’t do it already) is to write out your labels and stick them in the pots. We put one label in each pot, because things do get moved around a bit throughout the spring, and I hate having unknown plants. It also makes it really easy to make sure you are planting the right seeds in the right pot and that you have enough of each.

Then the fun part! Planting the seeds. I’m a stickler about one seed per pot (as long as the seeds are fairly easy to handle and only get one per pot). We usually only need one or two plants of each variety in the Demo Garden, so we plant extra pots rather than planting extra seeds in each pot. This year we only need one tomato plant of each variety, but we planted three. One of the extra is just in case germination is poor and the other extra is just in case something goes wrong when we transplant. Because a lot of our varieties aren’t available as plants locally, if we were to only plant one pot, we would be in trouble if something happened.

We don’t currently have a good watering can with a fine mist ability, so we have been using the spray attachment on the sink in the response center to thoroughly wet down our pots after seeding.

I now have six and a half flats of seeds under my lights in my office. And one 4-cell pack in the refrigerator.

Oh yeah, I was going to tell you about that.

You see, one of the things we were going to plant was this ‘Candy’ Stevia. Why wasn’t ordinary stevia good enough? Well, this variety is supposed to have 4″ long by 2″ wide leaves! Huge! So we’re getting ready to plant, and I turn the seed packet over to check the planting depth and read this:

Well then. Can you explain to me why the seeds need light to germinate, but then it is recommended to cover them with either loose mulch or put them in a refrigerator? Any why didn’t the catalog give me any warning about the crazy germination requirements?!? (It lists the “ease of germination” as “Moderate” and says that the seeds can be planted “anytime.” Yeah, right. Just it might be months before anything germinates. OR MAYBE TWO WHOLE WINTERS OF COLD!!! Couldn’t they put the seeds in the freezer for a year and sell me pre-cold treated seeds?

Anyway, we dutifully put the seeds on top of the soil and then gently watered them in. I put the cell pack in a plastic bag and then put it in the refrigerator. We’ll see how long it takes for me to get annoyed with it and throw it away.

And that is Why We Research Before Planting Something New.

The First Time Gardener: How I Decide When to Start Seeds

Figuring out the right time to start your seeds isn’t really that difficult. In fact, some people just start them at the same time every year and consider it done. That is certainly one option. I tend to go about it the long way around, even if it does usually end up the same. Here’s the process I use:

Step 1: Make a list of everything you are planning to grow.

This might seem very basic, but not everyone makes a list before planting! There are people that just go buy plants and seeds and stick them in without even considering anything else. If you were ordering seeds from a catalog, you probably already have a fairly comprehensive list. Here’s what my list currently looks like.

Veggie List

Step 2: Figure out what you need to start from seed indoors.

This step isn’t always as straightforward as you might think. A number of things can go either way. For example, lettuce. Are you going to direct seed it into the garden or are you going to transplant it? Are you harvesting it for baby salad leaves or as a whole head? Sprouting Broccoli? I don’t know…I’ve never grown it before! In the picture above, you can see I have a column marked DS/TP. That is my code for Direct Seed/Transplant. I’m going to go through the entire list and fill in one or the other. This way I can sort my list by that characteristic later if I need to.  It also gives me a quick reference for when I’m filling in the other columns so I don’t have to think.

If you aren’t sure what gets planted from seed outside vs. inside, here is the ever-handy Vegetable Garden Planting Guide. (You want to check page 2, column 2, where it says “Type of Planting.” Things you start indoors are labeled as “transplant.”)

Step 3: Decide how many of each thing I’m going to plant.

Again, this is a little trickier than you might imagine. If I were starting seeds for myself, I might just plant one extra of each thing. (I’ve told our Master Gardeners in the past that I always expect everything to grow, so I don’t like planting multiple seeds in each pot! Same goes here.) Because we are demonstrating a wide variety of different things, sometimes we are only planting one of each variety. Not much room for error! Because of that I typically will plant 3 when I only need one. That allows for germination problems and transplant problems. In my spreadsheet, I will just note the row length for direct seeded (DS) plants. (In the Veg. Garden Planting Guide, page 2, the columns labeled Avg. Spacing will help you figure this out if you aren’t sure how many plants fit in your space.)

TP and Number

Step 4: Determine when you are going to be transplanting all of these different vegetables.

Trust me. You have to decide when they are going out in the garden before you can determine when to start them. This year is a little trickier than normal, because we have a lot of things that are going to be transplanted in the latter half of the summer. If it is horribly hot, I would probably prefer to wait until August to plant. If it is an average summer, we could plant just before Tomato Day, which would be nice. Refer to page 3 of the Vegetable Garden Planting Guide to see approximate “plant outside” dates.

Obviously the things that will be direct seeded I mark with “NA.”

Transplant Date(Also note that I pick a specific day because we always have Demo Garden work days on Tuesdays. Occasionally the weather will outsmart us, but it usually works out.)

Step 5: Decide how many weeks you need to grow something and count back on the calendar from the projected transplant date to the projected seed planting date.

I typically allow 4 weeks to start tomatoes, because they are usually plenty big in that time. I would rather have them slightly small than slightly big. Basil is a quick grower, so that gets 4 weeks as well. Peppers and eggplant can be a little slower to germinate, so I will allow 6 weeks for them. In the fall, most of the brassicas only need 4 weeks to be large enough to transplant.

Complete Seed StartingHere you can see the completely filled in spreadsheet. This is the base plan, divided by garden. From here I will manipulate it so that everything is in chronological order. That way we don’t forget to plant something!

If you are interested in seeing the complete spreadsheet, here it is: Seed Starting Plan

Step 6: Start Planting!

If you are looking for some more in-depth information on seed starting, here’s another article: Seed Starting.

Starting Seeds

I put the first seeds of the new garden season in the soil this morning. Most of these are going to be for my class on “Grow Your Own Salad” at the Grow Good Food Workshop in a couple weeks, but the two rows of labeled lettuces will be for the Demo Garden.