Seed Tray Labeling

When I first started gardening, I wanted row labels. I fell in love with the polished brash signs on sticks. They were out of my price range.

Channeling my inner child, I looked into¬†Popsicle¬†sticks. While researching types, sizes, pricing, and local sources, my mind wandered. Did I have some Popsicle sticks in my craft shoebox? I went to look…nope. What did I have that might work?

Colored toothpicks!

Things I (re)learned (that)day:

  1. Things that are on hand are often better than specially made things that cost money and take up extra space. (I like relearning this in new areas of my life.)
  2. Reusable is important. When I’m done with this tray, I’ll simply brush off the toothpicks and put them back in their (designated garden usage only) jar.
  3. Color is fun, but not necessary.
  4. Save the gardening budget for things that actually grow, or directly feed things that grow, when at all possible.

But wait a minute, you say, how do you remember what’s in each row?

The answer is simple: Magic.

Or a camera phone (or other digital camera, or pen and scratch paper)

It’s important, I’ve found, to do nothing else with my brain in between placing the seeds, laying out the packets, and taking the pictures. I can’t move the tray (I might rotate it and if it’s just rows, or quadrants, I may not remember which way is “up.”) That sort of thing.

If you notice, the toothpick layout does not exactly match the seed packets. That is what happens when you want to make sure you take the picture before going for your nightly walk…and forget to lay the last two seed packets down.

So even though I laid out my rough “grid,” laid out my seed packets to “match,” and took my pictures, I could have still had an “oops surprise” later on trying to remember what those last two spots on the right with the orange toothpick were.

Mystery solved!

Now you may be saying, that picture is small, from a cell phone, I can’t read the fine print – what’d you plant?

Pictured above (left to right, top to bottom as you move left to right):

  • Lark’s Tongue Kale
  • Even’ Star Land Race Collards
  • Dark Green Italian Parsley
  • Lemon Basil
  • Cumin
  • Amish Deer Tongue Lettuce
  • Cimmaron Lettuce
  • Gentilina Lettuce
  • Little Gem Lettuce
  • Mignonette Rouge Lettuce
  • Rodan (Chadwick’s) Lettuce
  • Rouge Grenobloise Lettuce
  • Cracker Jack Mix Marigold
  • Red Cherry Marigold

I liked the romaine I grew last year in flavor, but not in production, and the other varieties of lettuce I grew I didn’t want to eat. That makes this season a Try Again one when it comes to greens. From this myriad of choices, I’m hoping a few stand out as delicious, productive, and happy plants. If I luck into a few such species, they’ll be rewarded in my Fall 2012 garden with more space. Whereas some of the underperformers will have joined other packets in my Trade Box.

Sprouts!

A few days ago, the first little white wriggles of onion life appeared…in half of the tray.

Things I learned:
1) Seed trays with high side edges need to be rotated to allow for even sun exposure.

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Now is a vital time in the little sprouts’ lives. They don’t yet have a root system to sustain themselves through drier times, so it’s even more important for me to remember to mist them every day than it was before they sprouted. An unsprouted seed may still sprout, but a dead sprout is mere compost.

Last night I was still without any tomato or pepper sprouts. That was ok. It was still early. I almost made it to bed without watering them, though. The heated soil dries out more quickly than the room-temperature onion soil, so I skipped the spray bottle and gently poored water over the surface.

This morning:

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The odd looking fellow in the corner is an unhappy Donkey Ear offshoot. I need to move him to the succulent pot.

Most exciting about these first tomato sprouts is that they are saved seeds! The ones on the left are from a local farmer’s market, where you can purchase a pint of mixed miniature rainbow tomatoes. The ones near the top of the photo are from a farmer’s market in Newport, Oregon.

And while there’s all this excitement already, the mailman delivered even more excitement:

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These will come in handy in two ways.
1) I can plant these in the garden in a few days or a couple of weeks, depending on my taste for risk taking.
2) If my onion sprouts from seed turn to compost again this year, I have these for Plan B.

Ordering starts like this is also handy because I don’t have to plant them right away. They can hang out just like they are for a few weeks, feeding off their little bulb.

Being the cautious adventurer that I am, I’ll put some of these out this weekend, some out in two weeks, and the rest the first weekend of February.

Also this weekend:
– Starting seeds for beets, kale, collards, and other pre-FFD greens.
– Hopefully a road trip east for some cheap organic manure
– Continue addition to garden bed
– Soil testing and amending as needed
– Research soil desires of blackberries, melons, and ground cherries.

What is going on in your neck o’ th’ woods?

Growing from seeds – Tomatoes and Peppers

I try to grow my garden from seeds as much as possible. My first garden (and second, and third…) watched sprouts appear through the glass, but never held the plants in their soil. Why? For one reason or another, it took multiple rounds of trial and error to succeed in getting seeds to sprout, those sprouts to thrive, and those seedlings to harden off properly and make it to harvest outdoors.

Last year, I solved the Great Pepper Secret.
1) Sow seeds indoors weeks before final frost: check.
2) Use seed starter mix*, or your own mix of lighter soil particles: check.
3) Keep seed bed evenly moist**: check.
4) Place in sunny window***: check.

I waited. I misted. I kept it humid. I waited some more. I checked the expected time for germination on the first seed packet, and the second. “First sprouts to appear in 7-10 days.” “Days to germinate: 10-14 days.” I was two weeks in and then some. Nothing. I checked my books. I read forums online. Finally, I reread the seed packets.

And there it was. The missing piece. “Soil temperature for germination: 75-85 degrees F.”

Well, didn’t I feel a fool. It was January. My house was lucky to hit 70 with the heat on. I needed to warm up the seeds without killing the heating bill. Online digging lead me to “seed tray mats.” Funny. Those look like big heating pads. I had a heating pad. Free and less-stuff-friendly!

I remove the fabric sleeve to avoid any stains it may acquire, set it.on.medium, and voila!

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Due to the added warmth, I mist it at least once a day, and check it twice a day to make sure it’s not too dry.

Last spring was a proud season for me. Each plant in my garden bed was grown from seeds in my entryway. (My lovely Other Half quietly and patiently awaits the day in March when the entryway is Obstacle-Free.)

This year I have some new seeds to try for the first time,
– Melons
– Winter squash
– Ground cherries
– Beets

or for the n-th time (so far without successfully reaching harvest.)
– Onions

Any experience with the above? Any tips to share?

*My first seed attempts involved regular soil. Results were less than exciting.
** My next mistake was to water as often as a houseplants, which is to say, not nearly often enough and with much too much water.
*** Indirect morning sun is not sufficient. Lesson learned 2009.