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Friday, January 29, 2016

A day for surgeons, shopping and seeds

I met with the colorectal surgeon today. He's   concerned more  now with the secondary liver tumor than with the rectal tumor, which has shrunk to almost nothing. We have decided not to do surgery  until we can shrink the liver tumor so it can be removed either by ablation or resection. In a way, that's a relief. I was not looking forward to having surgery and  recuperating during the beginning of gardening season!  So I 'll be  going back on chemo  the week after next.  This time, unless the oncologist changes her mind, the mixture will not contain oxaliplatin but it will contain the 5-FU and Avastin plus Fusilev.  I don't know yet how many  rounds are planned this time, will find out  that when I meet with the oncologist on  February 10. Hopefully  there will be few side effects and I'll do as well as  I did on the first round.

After  the appointment we  stopped by Publix for groceries.  I had made up   menus for the week using my two new cookbooks plus  some recipes from Jacques P├ępin's More Fast Food My Way. I've been doing this for the last few weeks and  discovered it keeps me from buying ingredients, usually fresh produce, for dishes  that I  think  I might like to cook, then decide against, while the  lovely produce gets left in the crisper drawer until it's no longer fresh. Today I bought  a nice variety of fresh produce and have a definite plan to use it all.And that includes artichokes, which have intimidated me in the past, but after watching Annabel Langbein prepare  artichokes vinaigrette, I decided to give them another try.

Seeing all the fresh veggies, and learning that I  wasn't going to get any surgery for a while  gave me the impetus I needed to  get serious about setting up my seed starting  area in the greenhouse.  I did more than get it set up, though- I actually planted  some seeds! It's too early to start most seeds, since our last frost is  mid-April, and it's best to plant  eight to ten weeks before  the  last frost.  If I have to keep the plants in  the greenhouse too long before setting them out they tend to get weak and leggy so I'll wait  until next week or the week after to start most of the seeds.

But lettuce is perfect for starting now, and I can plant  successive crops for a while. Last  year  I transplanted the lettuce seedlings into long window box containers that I  could  easily move in and out of the greenhouse as the weather warranted.  I was also able to keep them going  in the heat without having them bolt or go bitter by moving them into  cooler  areas on the deck.  We had  lovely fresh lettuce   well past spring, enough to share with  neighbors!

So today I started lettuce seeds. Here's my seed starting set-up.Mine is in our little greenhouse, but it's basically the same set-up I  once used indoors with a smaller mortar tub. Now I use a  big  plastic mortar/concrete mixing tub on the  bench with a fluorescent light hung just above the box.  I fill the tub with sand, then arrange a heating cable in it, topped with more sand to keep it buried just under the surface. In the second picture I've moved some of the sand aside to show the yellow cable. This provides bottom heat the seeds  need to germinate and keeps the temperature in the seed containers at around 70°F, which the seeds seem to like.  Lettuce will germinate at a lower temperature, but  70° seems to work fine for it, too. I   keep a thermometer in the tub to monitor the temperature.

Next I  round up my containers. I use  whatever plastic containers I have on hand: margarine tubs,  mascarpone tubs, pet food  containers, etc. I punch holes in the bottom for drainage
I wash them, then disinfect them in some bleach water and let them dry. Then I fill them with horticultural grade vermiculite.  There are a number of different mediums   that can be used, but I've always had good luck with the vermiculite. I should have filled these up a little more since the vermiculite  didn't expand  with the moisture as much as I thought it would,  but hopefully  they'll be OK. When the containers are filled I  dampen the vermiculite by setting the containers in  trays filled with water. wetting the  vermiculite lets me plant the seeds without  worrying about displacing them by top watering later. While they're  soaking, I prepare my labels.

Finally, I plant  the seeds,  lightly cover them with a little more vermiculite, then set the containers in a  flat inside the mortar tub. I use flats without any drainage holes in the bottom so I can  bottom water the seedlings as they grow without disturbing them too much. Then I label the containers so I  know what's in them
and the date they were sown, and cover the mortar tub with a sheet of Plexiglas.  I move the Plexiglas off  on sunny days when the temperature in the greenhouse rises, then replace it  as the temperature drops in the evening.  With some seeds, I set the   fluorescent light   just a few inches above the flats and move it up  as the seedlings grow,  Lettuce isn't all that  picky about having light to germinate but as soon as the tiny sprouts appear they need light to grow.  They get a lot of natural light on sunny days, but I turn the fluorescent  lights on in the evening  to extend the time they're exposed to light and keep them under the lights on  cloudy days.

So  the lettuce seeds are now doing their thing and if everything goes as it should they'll  break through the vermiculite in a few days. It's always exciting to see them sprout! I can hardly wait!

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