Monday, May 17, 2010
Spring Starts Indoors
If all of life were this simple: soil+seed+water= life
Do we really learn from lessons of the past? In terms of gardening in the high desert, it seems the 'lessons' to be learned are endless, and each situation is just different enough from those of the past to leave me guessing anew each time. The catalyst for this line of thought runs deeper than these little pots, but it does intersect with these huge squash seeds-- after starting 9 flats of various squash, I reconsidered and wished I had waited and started them straight in the soil. Hindsight is 20/20, huh?
Waiting to be tucked in
A few years ago I started tomatoes, peppers, and various herbs inside in mid-February. 6 flats stayed warm, and then illuminated by 3, 4' fluorescent shop lights. All but the peppers grew into respectable starts. However, keeping starts alive in your kitchen for 4 months before they can be planted in early June is far from ideal. Each day I would shuffle the flats around the house seeking the best natural light, and daily misting from above and weekly soakings from below kept the roots healthy. Did I mention this continued for 4 long, long months! In the end they all transplanted well and I had no problems with the starts being root-bound. So this year I'm applying the lessons learned from that year, and I waited until the first week of May to start my seeds; it seems a little late.
A new era?: plastic protects the floor. Ha.
This year I'll have to buy my tomato and pepper starts. The former taking too long to start now, and the latter never grew beyond the second set of leaves in my cold house and inadequate lighting. To start the thyme, basil, cucumbers, and squash I used the seed starting mix recommended by the nursery, Fertilome's Ultimate Potting Mix. It's an extremely fine mix of peat and compost with no wood products in it (great for dealing with very small fragile seed starts), and it completely lived up to its strong recommendation.
immature 'food' on the kitchen table
In the past I've also struggled with how dense the planting media should be when starting seeds. Too dense and the roots seem to start slowly and prone to damping off or rotting. Too loose and the roots get damaged when transplanting as the soil falls apart as you pull the plant from the plastic 6-pack. My technique this year was loosely fill each 6-pack to the brim with soil. Then I carefully banged each 6 pack on the floor which uniformly packed the soil in each cell, leaving an inch of free space at the top. I then pressed each seed onto the top of soil. Depending on seed type (bigger seeds are buried deeper), I filled the remaining space in each cell back up with more uncompacted, fluffy potting mix. Unlike, many cheaper brands of soil that are very dry coming out of the bag, the Fertilome mix was already moist when I bought it, but it still needed to be wetted after planting the seeds. Rather than watering from above which compacts all of the fluffy mix around the seeds, I placed each flat in my utility sink filled with warm water for 20-30 seconds. The potting mix wicked up water from below, wetting the soil and seeds perfectly, but not collapsing the delicate soil structure. Finally I covered each flat with plastic wrap and placed them in the warmest part of my cold dusty cottage. After 4 days the emergence began with the warmest cucumber flats and has continued steadily over the past 2 weeks as each seed variety comes up for light.