Seedling Update

It’s been two weeks since I started my seeds and all but a few seem to have germinated really well. The only seeds that have not germinated yet are one of the varieties of bell pepper (maybe old seeds) and the Greek oregano (which seems to be really slow to germinate).

Tray of seedlingsI have been keeping the seedlings under lights for about 14 hours a day. I usually water the seedlings in the early morning and the late afternoon. Several days ago in order to keep the seed starting mix damp all day, I had to switch from just misting the seedlings to watering and misting the seedlings.

Seedlings in seed starting tray. In a few days I will thin out some of the seedlings, keeping the plants that seem to be the strongest. I will also have to transplant my tomatoes soon to small pots. I will post more on my tomato transplant process.

Happy growing..

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Seed Starting Time

I began growing my own plants from seeds several years ago when I became frustrated with the selection of plants that were available at the greenhouses. Over the years I have had good success with starting a wide variety of herbs and vegetables. The following is the process that I use.

Seed Starting Supplies:
– Seed starting tray with cover and tray cells (if cared for, these can be reused for several years)
– Organic seed starting mix
– Standard fluorescent shop lights with some way to adjust the height above the seed starting trays.
– Last but not least the seeds, the following is the list of the seeds that I started this year.

The Seeds for 2012: 
– Heirloom Tomatoes: Red Zebra, Cherokee Purple, Hillbilly, Gold Medal, Mortgage Lifter, Amish Paste, Large Cherry, and Cherry Roma
-Peppers: Bull Nose and Fish
-Herbs: Dill, Cilantro, Summer Savory, Genovese Basil, Sweet Basil, Large Leaf Italian Basil, English Thyme, and Greek Oregano.

Seed Starting Supplies

Seed starting supplies

The first step in my process is to fill a tub with seed starting mix (the approximate amount I need to fill the cells) then I add water to the mix until the mix is really saturated.

Seed starting mix in a tub

Seed starting mix

The next step in the process is to fill all of the tray cells with the seed starting mix. I fill each cell about 3/4 full with the mix. Then I make plant markers to label what plant is growing in each cell. I put the plant markers in first so that I don’t forget what seeds were planted in each cell when I am all done.
Once all of the plant markers are in place, I begin placing a few seeds of the variety in each cell to ensure germination in each cell. After the seeds sprout, I will go through and thin out the seedlings in each cell. After all the seeds have been placed in the appropriate cells, I take some dry seed starting mix and cover up all the seeds so the seeds are the correct depth. Then I take a spray bottle filled with water and mist the top of all the cells.

Seed tray filled with seeds and mix

Seed starting tray filled and ready to go

The last step in the process is to cover the tray with the clear plastic lid and place it under the lights. I use a standard 4 bulb fluorescent shop light, with standard bulbs. I have used this light system for the last 5 years with great results. My light hangs from a simple stand that gives me the ability to adjust the height of the lights as the plants grow. I usually keep the light only a few inches above the seed trays to start.

Seed starting tray under lights

The seed tray under the lights

I leave the clear plastic cover on until the first seeds start to germinate and push through the mix. Not all the seeds will germinate at the same time, so I make sure the cover is removed once the first seedlings push through. Once the cover is removed it is important to make sure that the seedlings are kept moist. I use a spray bottle filled with water to mist the seedlings.

I will keep you posted on the progress of my plants.

Happy Growing…

Peas and Onions Please

With a warmer than normal week of weather forecasted, I decide to plant my peas and onions a week ahead of my typical planting schedule.

Onion Sets

Yellow, red, and white onion sets ready for planting.

I always purchase my onion sets from our local hardware store, they have a great selection. Planting the onion sets is a pretty simple process. First I create mounds of dirt for each row then I work my way down each row pushing the onion set down until they are completely covered. I plant my onion sets pretty close together, then in the late spring I will pick a few of them for spring onions, I pick every other one or so to allow more space for plants that will grow into large onions.

Sugar Snap Seeds

Sugar snap pea seeds that I have saved from previous seasons.

Next thing on the schedule to plant is sugar snap peas.  When planting sugar snap peas I create mounds for each row, then I create a little valley in each row. I place the pea seeds in the valley then using a rake pull some soil back over the valley to cover up the seeds. One thing I always keep in mind when I am planting sugar snap peas is where and how I am going to support the plants. I have had this variety grow to about 6 ft. tall, it takes a lot of support to keep the plants up. I try to keep in mind how much space the support system will take up, allowing enough space between my rows.

Once I was completely done with all my planting I watered all my freshly planted seeds and sets. Another great day spent in the garden.

Two girls planting

My two little helpers.

Backyard Garden

Planting complete

The Joy of Saving Seeds

There is no better feeling than growing your own food with seeds that you have saved from the previous season. I am reminded of this joy as I prepare to plant this years crop of sugar snap peas.

For the last 5 years I have been saving open pollinated sugar snap peas and it’s been a joyful experience. While I have only saved sugar snap pea seeds so far, in the near future I would like to try saving other varieties of vegetables as well.

One of the reasons I decided years ago to start growing open pollinated varieties of seeds was the idea of being able to save seeds from season to season.  This seemed like a great way to save money and be more self-sufficient.

Sugar Snap Seeds

If you are not already growing open pollinated varieties, I would recommend that you give them a chance and while you’re at it try saving some seeds.

If you are interested in learning more about seed saving, I would recommend reading the book Seed to Seed by Suzanne Ashworth. Another great resource is the organization Seed Savers Exchange, which has some great resources available on their website.

I will keep you posted on my progress and experiences with seed saving as the season goes on.

Let the Planting Season Begin

With the days getting longer and the weather getting warmer it was time to begin planting. Last fall I had covered both of the garden beds with shredded leaves, so before I began planting I ran a small rototiller through each of garden beds several times to make sure that any of leftover leaves were well incorporated.
Garden with rototiller

With the tilling complete it was time to focus on planting. Using an old wooden board I created two planting rows. I planted the following seeds in each row:

Row 1: Half row: Bloomsdale Spinach & Half row: Five Color Sliverbeet Swiss Chard

Row 2: Half row: Arugula & Half row: Wild Lettuce Mix

In two weeks I will plant more lettuce, spinach, and swiss chard. The idea is to spread out the planting in order to spread out the harvest.

Garden Planting

Once all the seeds were planted I covered the newly planted area with a homemade clear plastic cold frame. In central Pennsylvania we still have some very cold days and nights, the cold frames add an extra layer of protection. I have had good success with using cold frames in the past to get an early start on the planting season.

In case you were wondering in the far cold frame are carrots, spinach, and swiss chard that I planted late last fall. All the plants survived the winter under the cold frame. Now I will have a head start on the spring growing season. I can’t wait until the first harvest.

Garden Cold Frames