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Friday, February 08, 2013

Seeds of Contentment

They're here!!  Today has been a very good day.  Not only did I discover that our income tax refund had already been direct deposited to our bank account, but  the first order of garden seeds  from Pinetree Garden Seeds arrived in the morning mail!
There are so many good reasons for growing your own plants from seed: economic, environmental, greater choice of varieties and colors, preserving heirloom varieties, avoiding GMO veggies, and so on.  But aside from all those reasons, there is something just so satisfying about the whole process, and  for me, at, least, seeing  seeds break the surface and lift their heads to the light is a wonderful and exciting experience!

I like buying seeds from Pinetree because there are fewer seeds in a package, which means less waste and less seeds I have to carry over from year to year and run germination tests on, since I hate to  waste seeds. After reading Mel Bartholomew's Square Foot Gardening, I began using  his single seed sowing method which made a lot of sense. Sowing  just  the number of seeds I needed  also alleviated the guilt pangs I suffered when thinning out  little seedlings that had struggled  hard to break free of their seed cases and emerge victorious, only to be rudely plucked from the soil and discarded!

Having already made space in the greenhouse a few days ago, and having  disinfected my seed starting  containers, I was ready to  begin sowing. I use  basically the same equipment in the greenhouse that I used  before we had  the greenhouse: A large  black plastic mortar mixing box,  heat cables,  a fluorescent light, a few plastic flats without drainage holes, and  a variety of  recycled plastic containers such as yogurt, cheese, margarine tubs and  some containers that gourmet dog food came in. I punch drainage holes in the bottom of these and have found that they last very well and can be reused several times.

First we  put some sand in the bottom of the mortar mixing box, then bury the heating cables in the sand.

I like to  start my seeds in vermiculite rather than a seed starting mix because I've always had  good luck with it.  The vermiculite   moistens easily and it's very easy to  extract the seedlings  for  repotting without damaging their roots. After making sure they all have drainage holes (I use an ice pick to punch the holes), I fill the   tubs with the vermiculite, then place them in a plastic flat  half-filled with water. Once the  vermiculite is evenly moist, I remove the   tubs and  begin to sow the seeds, using a  Popsicle  stick marked with the seed name and sowing date, and place them in a dry flat on top of the sand.

I then place a piece of  clear rigid plastic, like Plexiglas, over the  mortar box and plug in the heating cable. I keep a thermometer inside the  mortar box to monitor the temperature, which I try to keep at around   70 degrees Fahrenheit. On sunny days the greenhouse heats up and we don't need to  plug in the cables. Even when the outside temperature is in the 20s and 30s, with the sun shining, it sometimes gets so warm that we need to vent or remove the cover. I  keep an eye on the moisture so that the containers don't get too dry or too moist, and water the containers by putting water in the flat so the  the containers are watered from below.  This method seems to help avoid  the seeds damping-off. I don't fertilize at this point, since seeds contain all the nutrients they need to germinate, and once the seedlings  have developed their first true leaves I  prick out and transplant them into individual  containers filled with potting soil and begin to fertilize them. So now, all I have to do is wait for that magic moment when   I see little crooks of green poking up through the vermiculite, ready to greet the world! At that point,  I'll keep the temperature a little cooler and bring on the lights so that they  will develop into  sturdy little seedlings  ready to  move into the garden when  the soil is warmed by the spring sun.

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