The Seeds of Wrath

In December 2008, she started ordering seeds from the various organic, heritage, heirloom, and rare seeds sources, e.g.:

Baker Creek Seeds (http://rareseeds.com/)

Heirloom seeds (http://www.heirloomseeds.com/)

Botanical Interests (http://www.botanicalinterests.com/store/index_index.php)

Seeds of Change (http://www.seedsofchange.com/)

High Mowing Seeds (http://www.highmowingseeds.com/)

And even Burpee Organics (http://www.burpee.com/category/vegetables/organic+seeds.do)

My experience consisted primarily of sowing seeds into the ground, or buying seedlings and planting them.  As a child, the Southern States store in my local town was a Mecca, along with the little red grain mill (mostly for corn meal), and the farmer’s market.  Farmer’s Market in those days meant the place where you went to buy a hog or a cow or some other animal on Wednesday at auction, it had none of the current meaning of the phrase.  Each trip was also likely to include a trip to the country store with my grandfather or my father.  We’d sit with the old men on rickety chairs and stools near the woodstove, and eat some hoop cheese and a few crackers, and maybe get a Nehi or an RC cola, or a piece of penny candy.  Talk consisted of farming, hunting, fishing, and local “news”.

What my experience didn’t include was germinating seeds indoors starting as early as January.  We did some research, read a book or so, looked at some blogs, and created our setup in the basement.

Our list of mistakes was awesome.

We bought what turned out to be sterile foam-like “starter plugs” to set in the trays and germinate the seeds.  Neither of us realized the “sterile” part, and as a result we spent weeks starving our seedlings of any nutrients save water and the grow lights.  In addition, these insidious starter plugs were a bit too foam-like, and none of the plants we started in them were able to easily or freely get their root systems through it.  Over a year later, those curs-ed plugs still lay in wait in the garden soil, though I throw out a few every time I rake the dirt.  They’re a bit harder now, but no less decomposed.

This meant that even the seedlings that survived the starvation had stunted root systems.  We were very proud of our 100% germination rate on our onions, and they looked great for the first several weeks.  Not one ever outgrew the starter plugs, and we had a 0% success rate on onions.

This year we used organic potting mix and soil-less seed starting mix.

In addition we did the following:

We left the domes on the trays for over a month after the seedlings germinated, reasoning that a terrarium like atmosphere would recycle the moisture in a positive way while keeping the temperature up.  This promotes the growth of mold, etc. on the poor seedlings and keeps them fragile which makes it more difficult to harden them off and stunts them once exposed yet again.

We left the lights on 24 hours a day so they wouldn’t get too cold.  Bad, bad.  Plants need rest from the light.  Now we have a cheapie timer and 12 hours of light.

Lack of nutrients.  Now we use fish emulsion and bat guano and liquid seaweed.

We did a poor job of hardening plants off, failing to expose them to breezes in addition to the temperature change, i.e., we still sheltered them too much.

We left the heating mats for germination on through the whole process, for months.  Don’t do this.  Turn them off as soon as the seeds get up above the soil good.

The lights were too far above the plants, resulting in spindly seedlings.  This year we put them close down on top, and used cheap 4’ shop lights with metal refractive covers instead of expensive short growlights.

Seedlings, 2010

Seedlings, 2010

The difference in the look of our seedlings from 2009 and 2010 is remarkable.  Our heirloom tomatoes look waaaay improved over last year, with much stronger stems and leaf systems.  The celery looks healthy, not anemic.  We’re even getting better germination on Eggplant, which bedeviled us last year.

Celery Germinating 2010

Celery Germinating 2010

We failed to transplant smaller seedlings into larger cups as they grew.  This year she has already moved the tomatoes to larger cups and they are responding happily.

Those items we have already transplanted to the soil outside in 2010  (onions, broccoli, cauliflower, and broccoli raab) appear to be doing well.  In 2009 they suffered, looked sad, some died, some recovered, some just never changed, appearing to be in some sort of un-dead state.

Germinating seeds and care of seedlings has been a real education, and we’re looking forward to seeing how 2010 goes.

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