Tag Archives: growing from seed

Seedy Ideas….

It’s time. Time to start the forward motion for a gorgeous and productive garden in 2012. First up, is selecting seeds. I’ve been browsing the offerings from my favorite suppliers as well as some ‘new-to-me’ suppliers to determine my projects for this year.

One of my new veggie choices for this year is beets.  I’ve never done much with them but I have become more interested since learning about all they have to offer.  For example, you can not only eat the beets but also the beet ‘greens’ a.k.a. young foliage.  Also, I have come across more and more simple recipes (TODAY FOOD,  WELL-NY Times Blog, Eighty Twenty ) that include beets and this is probably because they are known to contain antioxidants and anti-inflamtory and detoxification support. Since they are full of fiber, magnesium and potassium not to mention beta-carotene, calcium and iron and are easy to prepare there is a lot to like about beets!

So I’m trying Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds for my beet seeds (‘Bulls Blood’ and ‘Golden’).  I’ve never purchased from them before but they have an excellent reputation (only selling non-GMO seeds), very reasonable prices and the largest selection of heirloom seeds available in the U.S.  They recently put out a book titled, ‘The Heirloom Life Gardener’ that I first heard about on NPR’s Morning Edition this fall.  The book looks to be quite a resource for learning about gardening with heirloom varieties.  Have you heard of it?

Another new-to-me supplier with very reasonable prices is The Fragrant Path from Nebraska.  This company focuses primarily on fragrant plants, as the name reveals and has a nice selection of annuals, perennials, grasses and herbs.  I’m ordering Datura metel or Angel’s Trumpet as an ornamental for my back patio.

Of course, there are just too many temptations from a company like Johnny’s Selected Seeds to not place an order.  Besides, I’ve been able to germinate seeds from Johnny’s that were many years old and had not been stored properly so I think they have quality seeds.  You can always count on Johnny’s to find something you like and for me this year, it’s arugula, kale, lettuces, Gold Rave tomato, Baby Bear pumpkins and Buttercream and Chocolate sunflowers.  Doesn’t that sound fun?!

Seeds of Change, Rene’s GardensTerritorial Seed Co., and Botanical Interests are other wonderful seed companies that I always purchase a packet or two from.  I’ve got a few things from them already but have not finished my selections just yet.  In other words, I have to garner up some self-discipline and make sure my seedy ideas are not out of control before I place my order.

I had gotten away from growing with seed but went back to it last year and although it is inexpensive, gives you more control over what you grow and is very rewarding, those little guys can be time-consuming when it comes time to pot up, harden off and plant out.  So good to remember the old saying, your eyes can be bigger than…your available garden time!

How about you?  Who are some of your favorite seed suppliers?  Are you growing a new vegetable or fruit this year?  Do you have a special flower you are trying from seed? Are you planning to grow more with heirloom and organic seeds this year?

Let the Bells of Ireland Sing!

Ever mistaken a desired flower for a weed?  I have a bit of a story to tell regarding  Moluccella laevis a.k.a. ‘Bells of Ireland’.  Just in case you are not familiar with ‘Bells of Ireland’ it is an annual plant producing beautiful light green flowers, shaped like bells, on strong sturdy stems.

‘Bells of Ireland’ are used in floral arrangements and this is how I became familiar with them …hence my story…

Six years ago, I ordered some ‘Bells of Ireland’ seeds from Johnny’s Selected Seeds.  I was living in Pennsylvania at the time and had decided to start all my vegetables and some “cutting”  flowers from seed.  I saw “Bells of Ireland”  in the catalog, remembered how beautiful they were and decided they were a must-have for summer flower arrangements I would make.  I also ordered a number of tomatoes, lettuces, cucumbers, herbs, etc… and as so easily happens I ran out of time and did not get the ‘Bells of Ireland’ started that year.  I didn’t even open the seed packet!

You all  know how fast life flows, time goes by quickly and sometimes, some things don’t get carried forth…Well, last spring (2010) after five years and two big moves, I found my ‘Bells of Ireland’ seeds and decided why not throw some in my raised planters.  I still had never grown this annual but I knew it would be stunning in arrangements. I had the seeds so why not give it a whirl right?  I planted some and nothing happened, or so I thought at the time.

O.K., fast forward to this spring, (2011) and I’ve once again decided to grow many things from seed.  I find the ‘Bells of Ireland’ seed packet again and decide again to give them a try by planting some in my raised planters.

By the way, I have also found my left over tomato, lettuce and basil seeds from Johnny’s (now six years old) and decide to try growing them too.  They sprout wonderfully and I am happy to share that all but two of the tomatoes I’m growing this year came from old Johnny’s seeds that were not stored in any special environment.  Unless you consider a really cold and really hot garage (seasonally) a special storage environment!

Back to the Bells…As the spring continues, I plant my tiny vegetables starts in the raised planters along with a variety of seeds and from time to time I see a weed or two growing in the raised planter.  I promptly pull the weed to keep the beds pristine for my produce.

One day as I was about to pull a particularly healthy looking weed, something in my brain told me to STOP!  Stopping to think for just a split second before pulling made me realize this ‘weed’ looked different from all the others and was particularly healthy and vigorous.  Another second and I somehow recollected a faint memory of this “weed” last spring in the raised planters but nowhere else.

So I forced myself to leave the ‘weed’ alone to see what it might become.  I say forced because leaving this ‘unknown’ to grow was a bit harder than it should have been.  I have a thing about the raised beds being pristine and remember this was at the beginning of the season when hopes, goals and energy are maximized!

As spring evolved the seeds sprouted, the starts grew and the planter began to fill in.  The ‘weed’ also grew.  I resisted the urge to’ just pull it’ several times.  I felt the space it was taking was needed for my kale and beets and I didn’t like the look of having a huge weed growing in my raised planter with my other highly revered edibles.

Then one day after some rains and higher than normal levels of humidity I went out to the garden and spotted something I wasn’t expecting…The ‘Bells of Ireland’ had arrived!

The “weed” had grown tremendously over the last couple of days and amongst the mass of round foliage leaves were large spires and on those spires behind the round leaves were light green, bell-shaped flowers!

My intuition to not pull the plant had guided me well!  This “weed” was actually the “Bells of Ireland” plant that I wanted for arrangements for all those years!

I could see the bells so clearly now but beforehand had no idea of what to look for or what I was looking at!  Needless to say, I have finally been able to enjoy the “Bells of Ireland” I ordered so many years ago…It’s times like these that can make a gardener’ heart sing!

Do you have a funny plant story?  If so, please take a minute and share…

P.S.  Just in case anyone else is interested in growing ‘Bells of Ireland’ they seem to be very easy to grow with regular water and well-draining soil.  The plants get large offering many spires of bell-shaped flowers.  One must remove the round leaves covering the “bells” to get the final effect.  Be careful and wear gloves removing the foliage because the spires are covered with prickles that seem soft but are actually very sharp.  I have also read they self-seed freely but I do not have first-hand experience with this part of their cultivation.

Great Gardening Weekend Satisfies the Soul

Wonderful weather can make a great gardening weekend!  Of course, there are lots of fun things to do during nice weather but this weekend was very productive in the garden.  I think because it was the first real “feeling” of summer here in the Intermountain West.  Some of you know what summer is like here but for those that don’t…

Well, the temps are real warm, even hot, (meaning 100) to the point that you would never pass up a cold drink that’s offered, but not humid to the point that you have to have a cold drink.  It  feels like a soft rustling of fresh air around you but not a gust of wind continually beating at your every move.  And my favorite part is the feeling the day will never end… it might be 9:30-10:00 p.m. and the sun has not completely set.  It’s wonderful!

This weekend many plants opened their delightful blooms!

  If you checked in on Friday you’ll see a big difference in the iris and peony in just two days.

Also the only rose I grow at this garden, a true classic, Rosa Glauca, opened its blooms. I have been in love with this species rose since I discovered it during my garden days in Portland, Oregon.   And I recently found out that even Margaret Roach from awaytogarden.com feels the same way! Now that’s a confidence booster!  Anyway, back to Rosa Glauca, it is sometimes called red leaf rose cause the leaves are tinged with red just like the stems.  It is extremely hardy but I suggest planting it in spring (instead of fall) if you are in a Zone 2, 3, 4 or 5 area just to make sure it gets established.  It has arching canes that will get 6-8 feet long so give it room.  To me the foliage color all season and the amazing large, bright orange hips are the best parts of this easy to grow rose.

Oh, and I can’t help but post a photo of Cerastium, ‘Snow in Summer.’  I know it is super common but it is such a happy-looking plant that I smile when I notice it and I love it up against a big rock.  I have to give it just a bit of due credit…

Another good garden thing this weekend included the ‘builder’ fancying up the trellis/cage system for the raspberries.  Last year, we planted raspberries and a trellis system was not critical as they were young.  However, the ‘builder’ started a copper masterpiece but then was distracted with backpacking, fishing and the like and ended up rigging together a wimpy wire thingamajig.  Good thing the ‘builder’ is somewhat of a perfectionist cause now that the raspberries are off to a great start  (one year more mature) he simply couldn’t stand the trellis thingamajig and went back to crafting a copper masterpiece.

 I like how it turned out and think it will do a swell job of holding the raspberry canes.

Finally, some of my edible/ornamental pots are taking off and I can now distinguish the sugar snap peas within the mass of pansies, heuchera and astilbe.  Now, that you have found the trellis, climb, peas, climb!

And on the topic of climbing green goods, I planted pole beans this weekend.  I’m trying ‘Italian Choice’, Santa Anna beans (first time) in a couple of areas.  Some up a trellis of my square foot gardening raise planter bed and some directly in the ground with my 5 minute, homemade trellis system.

No, the little Italian flags are not something that came with the seeds. They are something I’ve had tucked in the pantry for years and I thought it would be fun to use them as plant markers until the beans sprouted.  You know, add a little extra fun to my blog photo and the garden while I anticipate the magical sprouts!

I hope you had a great garden weekend or if not that you do very soon.  I find it so satisfying to the soul…

What do you consider a great garden weekend?  Do you grow edibles with ornamentals?  How do you support your raspberries? Do you grow pole beans and what is your favorite variety?  If you have a minute, share your growing experiences…

Avert the Garden Mayhem of May! Dig, mix, plant…repeat

It’s an overwhelmingly busy time of year in the garden if you live in the Intermountain West.  The temps have climbed to a moderate 60-70ish most days and the soil is warm and ready for digging. Now you may be thinking, “Well, that’s what gardener’s love to do so really, why the drama about it being overwhelming?”

The answer to that is there is a short window of time before the temps climb real high and the air gets real dry.  Plants that need new homes must be moved, over-wintered tender perennials that need a jumpstart on the growing season must get in the ground and visiting nurseries for new, unique annuals and other additions must be at the top of the list too.  All this, plus planting your indoor seedlings outside, planting vegetable starts and taking the time to harvest the first edible arrivals of the season.  It can be complete chaos and disorder, just plain mayhem.

I notice here more than anywhere else I’ve lived the amplified pace of spring gardening.  You can’t wait around and get all your perennial moves made and then go hunting for the fun stuff.  If you don’t go out and get some seriously cool annuals in May than you better be satisfied with geraniums and petunias to showcase your ‘creative hand’.  Same goes for moving plants.  It’s not the classic northwest – you can’t move plants in mid-July (because you have finally figured out where they will be most appreciated)  put a little water on them and have them bounce back to full strength in a few days. With the heat and aridity prone to this area you figure it out by June 1 or things are staying put until Fall.

Not to mention the mayhem…or did I already mention that…

You know what I mean…  The wandering around for 10 minutes looking for the spade that was just in hand…but can’t be found because it’s on a rock near the magnolia tree where you left it when taking a closer look at the bloom about to open, but then suddenly you noticed the new growth on a conifer and rushed away to feel the soft needles…

Or the realization that the lovely just-picked radishes are drying out as they sit in the sun… they didn’t make it to the kitchen because weeds caught your eye and hands along the way.

It’s the mayhem of May.

The solution?  Dig, mix, plant… repeat.  Follow this mantra to the best of your ability. Dig the hole, mix-in the organic compost and plant the plant.   Repeat this as fast as possible until the back muscles are so tight you fear straightening up completely for the next few days may be out of the question.

I did this yesterday while planting some of my favorite tender perennials and some new annuals.  I absolutely love Salvia ‘Black and Blue’ and they are going in a prime location of my mixed border. I experimented with overwintering one in my garage this year and it was a success for any Zone 6 gardeners that also love this plant.  The flowers on this Salvia are a rich cobalt blue and profuse once the blooming starts.

Salvia guaranitica 'Black and Blue' (cold hardiness Zone 7) loves full sun

I have purchased  a few annuals (need to get more or be boring) and one is a new selection by Proven Winners called calibrachoa Superbells ‘Blackberry Punch.’  It is a new introduction featured in magazines and on websites this year and has beautiful deep wine to black flowers with a soft fleck of yellow in the center.  Like all calibrachoas they are vigorous, like heat and don’t need to be deadheaded.  They are great for containers as they provide a trailing effect or in flower beds as they wind through the garden but be careful of overwatering.

Hummingbirds are fans too.

I stayed focused long enough to stuff some herbs (Gold Lemon Thyme with a wonderful smell) into my mixed border and plant some of my indoor vegetable seedlings in the raised beds.

Dark Opal Basil

Heirloom Cherry Tomato - Koralik

But then the mayhem …

Magnolia 'Elizabeth' just about ready to open

it wasn’t long until I was in the middle of it…again.

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Need to HO or PU?

Remember the seeds we labored over a few weeks back…the ones started inside to get a head start on the growing season.  Well, if all has been growing well  it is probably time to “harden off” or “pot up.”  In the style of modern communication; HO or PU.   To HO seedlings, be patient and spend a few days giving them time to acclimate to the outdoors and they should be ready to plant.

In my area (USDA Zone 6, Sunset 2a/3b), it is a good time to plant cool season vegetables and my lettuce and kale are ready to go to their outdoor home.  They’ve spent about 3 days outside, protected from wind, but getting a bit more light exposure each day.  I would typically plant them tomorrow but the night temps are going to dip below freezing in the next couple of days so I’ll wait until they stabilize (hover around 32-33) before planting.  Most cool season vegetables can take a light freeze (29ish-32)  but I don’t want to shock the young seedlings to that extent the first night outside.

If your warm season seedlings have grown well over the last few weeks it may be time to PU. You’ll need some slightly larger containers, seed starting mix, spray bottle and pencil to begin the PU process.  The stems of the young plants are super fragile so be careful and try to handle by leaves if possible.  When they are in the new container be sure to give them a good soak and place back in the growing station for warmer days ahead.

My tomato plants have done very well and I have seedlings of all three varieties I planted.  Remember the tomato seeds my friend sent me?  They have no official name because she couldn’t remember what it was but the plant was so fantastic she wanted to share it.  Well, these babies have shot up especially well and I think just about every seed I planted sprouted!  I have given them the unofficial name of ‘Karen’ as I need to remember them somehow.  I chose terra-cotta pots to plant into as this size container should last until I can get them outside in about three-four weeks.

My Dark Opal Basil and ‘Tequila Sunrise’ Peppers have been a bit slower but I think they will be happier in slightly larger containers as well.  I’m happy they are all a good color and not too leggy.  One thing to consider if your seedlings were started in very small containers (like mine) and their growth is only about 2 inches but seems to have slowed recently,  it may be a good idea to PU.  I found with my basil and peppers the root systems were significant when compared to the size of the seedling and a larger container is perfect to continue growth until ready to head outside in mid-May.

How are your seedlings doing?  Have you successfully planted some outside or are you waiting awhile and deciding to PU?  Share some of your successes or set backs so far this Spring…

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Make some magic…plant peas with pals

Gardening with children is both fun and rewarding!  I have noticed many children have a fascination with ‘magic seeds’ (er… beans anyway) and planting seeds to grow their very own apple, cherry, whatever-they-love-to-eat tree or plant can be very exciting.  As a child, I remember planting seeds from an apple I had eaten to have my own apple tree.  And now my children have tried burying cherry, peach and nectarine pits with hopes their very own trees would soon sprout!

What have you noticed? Do the children in your life show a keen, albeit fleeting interest in growing something fantastic?  If so, how about planting some peas together?  Peas are really geared towards kids as they are easy to handle, easy to plant and grow quickly – elements required to foster the magic of growing.

Of course there’s the added bonus that fresh peas offer a mild, slightly sweet delicious flavor and can be eaten right off the vine.  Now how fun is that!!

The first step in pea planting is to pre-sprout them.  This is super simple yet important because it helps the peas germinate and begin growing more quickly than if planted directly in the garden – a key factor in keeping kids interested.  Also, it reduces the chance that the peas will rot in the cool wet soil as they will already have small roots growing, using energy from the water and soil.  I don’t use an inoculant when planting peas, instead I use this pre-sprouting method and have been pleased with the results.  However, if interested in an inoculant give it a try as it is known to increase yields.

To start, place the pea seeds in a small glass of water for a few minutes.  Next have the kids get a paper towel and wet it with water so that it is damp.


Take some peas and lay them on one end of the damp towel.  Fold the paper towel over keeping the peas in place and fold each of the sides over so the peas do not fall out.

Now gently slide them into a ziplock bag, close it 3/4 of the way (keep a little air circulation) and place in a warm spot. A window sill that gets indirect light or somewhere in your kitchen with medium light is a good choice.  If you like, have the children label the bags so they can keep track of their seeds.  Also, if choosing to grow more than one kind of pea, make a note of what is in each bag so you can remember the growth habit of the particular varieties such as height etc…

Over the next 3-4 days make sure the paper towel stays moist and have the children check the peas by sliding the towel out of the bag to look for sprouts.  Keep the towel moist by using a spray bottle to spray a little water on the towel.  The peas should start shooting out little roots in just a few days and it is now time to plant them.

(If you can’t plant them immediately, its o.k. but try not to have too much moisture in the zip lock or they can begin to mold.  I had to leave our peas in the bags for six days before we all had time to get back to our garden project and they were fine but the sooner you can plant the better.)

Before planting make sure your site gets six hours or more of sun and has been amended with some compost or organic matter for the upcoming growing season.  Also, if planting peas that climb high make sure you have a structure for them to grow on.

‘Super Sugar Snap’ grows over six feet tall, so we are planting at bottom of large iron trellis.

Have kids make approximately 1 inch deep holes about 2-3 inches apart.  They can make them with their fingers in the loosened soil or with a little stick etc…  They place the peas in the hole with the little roots placed on the down-side and then gently cover them with soil.  If planting a large row dig a 1 inch deep furrow and place peas along the bottom and gently cover with soil.  Give planted peas a good soak and let the magic begin!

Now go ahead, kidnap the children in your life from their extra curricular activities, computers, friends, the T.V. and various other distractions and spend some time together planting peas.  You’ll be HAP-PEA with the results!

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Plant Some Poppies Today!

Do you want to work in your garden but the weather is not cooperating just yet?  Well, here’s something you can do that is easy and quick and will have big reward in early summer.  Plant some poppy seeds! This is literally one of the ‘easiest things ever’ to do in your garden.  I am going with these amazing looking Hungarian Blue Bread Poppies. I haven’t tried this variety before but it promises to have beautiful blue-purple 3-4″ blooms, followed by large seed pods filled with tasty culinary seeds for delicious baked goods.  Hmm…maybe some homemade lemon poppy-seed bread in my future…

There are many types of poppies some perennial, some annual.  The bread poppies (papaver somniferum) are an annual but are considered a hardy, re-seeder.  They should be direct-sowed outside in early spring or late fall.  The description hardy, re-seeder  means you can plant them once and should have some return each year although they are technically annuals.  Bread poppies return because the blooms are followed by large seed capsules/pods and if you leave them in your garden for the rest of the season the pods will continue to mature and inside will be many tiny poppy seeds. Seeds from the pods will fall here and there and lie dormant until the following spring where they will start all over again.

If you want more poppies in your garden or want them to grow in a certain area, cut the ripe pods from the stems and use them like a salt shaker, simply shake the seeds in the areas you want them to grow.  If interested in using the seeds for culinary purposes, cut all the ripe pods and shake the seeds over a tray to collect them.

Top view of seed pod

From http://www.poppies.org/gallery/ (used with permission of site owner)

Don’t let the description “hardy, re-seeder” scare you into thinking they may be invasive.  Another great quality of bread poppies is the root system is not large and you can easily pull them if they are growing in an area you don’t want them.  Some people thin out all but the largest, strongest volunteers as the smaller, weaker ones do not produce the large blooms.  Speaking of scaring someone, I suppose I should mention papaver somniferum is also known as Opium poppy and it is supposedly against the law to sell or possess Opium poppy-seed.  However, many nurseries and seed companies sell bread poppy varieties and seeds.  So if you fall in love with bread poppies and grow them profusely in your garden, keep them somewhat in check.  Otherwise you may get unwanted attention from nosy passersby!

THE BIG EASY

To plant bread poppy seeds simply loosen the top 1/4 inch of soil a bit with a hand rake or hand spade.  Just fluff it up a bit.  Now take the tiny seeds and scatter them loosely in your area.  If you like, take your hand and lightly pat the soil where you have spread the seed.  (You don’t have to do this, but I do.) This is just to make sure seeds have contact with the soil.  Caution: Do not cover the seeds with soil. They need light to germinate.  That’s it you’re done!  So, if its cold in your area bundle up, if it’s raining wait for a break –  then got out for 10 minutes and do something easy with big reward.

Extras: Bread poppies come in many colors ranging from white, pink, red, purple, deep plum and blueish-purple.  They are usually single, but there are some doubles and some forms have fringed petals.  Most all have pretty blue-green foliage and pods can be decorative in dried floral arrangements.  They are very tiny when first emerging so look for them with keen eyes.

Seed sources for bread poppies: Seeds of Change, Urban Sunshine, One Stop Poppy Shoppe

Local source for Hungarian Blue Bread Poppy  - Boise Co-op

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Seed starting – tips and techniques for great results (II)

You’re Back!  Super!  In this post, I’ll share my thoughts on seed starting equipment and seed planting.  First the equipment.  There are two primary pieces of equipment needed for successful seed starting/growing.  Shop light fixtures with fluorescent tube bulbs, i.e., a growing station and a soil heat mat.  As you continue to learn about seed starting you may come across information that states you don’t need a growing station and that a bright sunny window will work.  This is true in some limited cases but for the best results invest in a growing station.

You can buy growing stations or make your own but the essentials are fluorescent light fixtures/lights that can be easily lowered and raised.  You do not need “grow” lights if you are making your own, regular fluorescent bulbs work.  The reason the growing station works better than a warm sunny window is because at this time of year (early Spring) it is very hard to get the duration of light  (12-16 hours) seedlings need to get off to a strong, healthy start.  It is not because the  natural light is not bright enough (although this is a challenge in some climates) but rather because it doesn’t last long enough.

The next item to consider is a soil heating mat.  Again, it is optional but very helpful. This mat is placed underneath the tray that holds the seeds and warms the soil from the bottom up.  A heat mat enables you to start seeds in an out-of-the-way place such as a basement or garage because it provides the necessary heat. If you decide to get a soil heat mat  you do not need to spend a lot of money.  You can get one that will work for one to two regular size trays for around $25 at places like Amazon.com and garden supply outlets.  Another idea is to look on websites like Craig’s List or gardening forums to see if you can pick one up secondhand.  Another option is to get creative. I’ve heard of people using Christmas lights that are encased in clear/ colored plastic tubing.  They place them beneath the seed tray to provide a source of heat.  (An insulating layer such as cardboard should be placed on the lights to set the tray on) Whatever you decide, keep in mind store-bought or homemade – soil heat mats should not get wet.  You are not looking for a makeover with a squirrelly hair do here!

As I mentioned earlier, I have this equipment (from years ago and it still works) so I have put together a station in my garage.  It is not anything fancy but includes the essentials so I should get good results.

My heat mat has a thermostat control enabling me to set the temperature of the mat. Since my seedlings are in the garage and it is still quite chilly outside I am choosing a heat setting slightly higher than the recommended soil temperature (65-70)  in order to compensate for the chilly environment.

Planting the Seeds:

O.K. so now that you have figured out what equipment you’ll use let’s move on to seeds!  There are several items you need to acquire before getting started with planting.  A quality seed starting medium, small containers, small cup, pencil, spray bottle filled with water and something to be used as plant markers.

For containers I have chosen peat planter strips by Jiffy.  They are inexpensive and easy to work with when transplanting time comes along.  They are also completely compostable/biodegradable.  There are many other options though besides some form of peat pot/pellets. Any of these items may be more accessible – small terra-cotta or plastic pots, last year’s cell packs, egg cartons, used yogurt cups or other small plastic food containers.  (I’ve also heard of newspaper pots and toilet paper tubes but have not made/used them.)  If deciding to go with previously used containers be sure to wash them with soap and a little bleach to sterilize them. If you choose plastic food cups punch a couple of small holes in the bottom for drainage.  Speaking of reusing items, I wash a few old plastic plant tags, write on the un-used side with permanent marker and use them as my plant markers. They work great and odds are you have some lying around somewhere. Very accessible!

To start, moisten the starting mix a little by spraying it (while in the bag) with water.  This gives the mix a little moisture throughout but keeps it dry enough for easy handling.  Don’t get it soggy.  Next fill your containers with the starting mix.  I use a small tea-cup (borrowed from my daughters) because it is a perfect size for filling the Jiffy strips. Now I again take the spray bottle and spray the filled planters so the soil medium is moist throughout.  (About like a sponge that has been wrung out)  This also slightly compacts the starting mix so you can see if you need to add a bit more before planting.  I recommend filling slightly under the top of container.

Once the soil is moist I take a pencil and using the eraser end create a shallow hole to place the seed.  I place the tiny seeds as uniformly as possible planting two per cup at the appropriate depth shown on the seed packets.  The lettuce, tomato and basil seeds are so small I have to remind myself to not breathe too big or there will be seeds all over the kitchen!

Once the tiny seeds have been placed into the shallow holes I use the pencil again to gently push the moist soil over the top of the hole covering the seed.  This is the main reason I use a pencil.  I find it works very well (especially with tiny seeds needing 1/8 depth) to move a tiny amount of soil over the seed. Now I pat it gently with my finger to make sure there is contact with the seed and starting mix.  When I am finished planting a specific variety I take my recycled plant tag write the name on the back stick it into the container.  I do not recommend trying to remember what you’ve planted and where.  I tried this and even years ago my memory was not that good.

When all the seeds are planted I give the containers a good spray with the spray bottle and place them in the holding tray.  I pour water into the tray so that the bottom is barely covered.  This allows the planted cups to absorb moisture from the bottom up.  Keep in mind it is important the planted cups are moist but not soggy.  Do not put too much water in the bottom of the holding tray – just enough for them to absorb some moisture but not be sitting in water.  Now it is time to create a controlled humidity environment for your seeds, i.e., a mini greenhouse.  This is done by covering your tray with plastic.  The controlled humidity ensures the starting mix does not dry out.  Many seed starting products come with a plastic dome for this purpose and they work great.  However, since I am using a tray  from my previous seed starting days I am going to create my own plastic dome.  I am using the plastic cover/slip that comes back with clothes when they are dry-cleaned. I slide my  tray into the plastic sleeve and fold the open end to close it.  The plant markers in the cups prop the plastic up a bit so it is not lying directly on the surface.

Once you’ve created the ‘green house’ set your tray in the growing station.   At the beginning it is important to set the tray approximately 2 inches below the lights.  The lights must be very close so the emerging seedlings do not stretch for the light.  This is how they become leggy  and/or weak.  It is recommended to run lights between 12-16 hours per day.  The lights are shut off during the night. Adding an automatic timer for the lights (similar to what you may use to turn Holiday lights on and off) will be very helpful in making sure the lights are running on a regular schedule. Don’t forget to check the tray every day for the next week or so and if needed remove the tray from the station and add or reduce water so the medium is moist not soggy.  Of course, you’ll be checking for the magical seedlings as well!

We’re more than halfway there but still have a few topics to cover such as what to do once seedlings have emerged.  However, I’m going to give my seedlings some time to germinate and you some time to set up a station and plant seeds.  I’ll revisit this topic next week.  In the meantime check back to see what other daily growing endeavors are taking root at igardendaily.