Saturday was our first seedling session of the season. Sheltered from the cold, we planted seeds for our early broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbages, leeks, lettuce, onions, shallots and spinach. And there's much more to come!
Elisabeth and I have developed a system for the seedlings we start indoors. She has a cold basement and a shady backyard. I have a warm basement and a good-sized sunny patch in my backyard. She starts the cool weather seedlings (like the brassicas) in her basement, and I start the warm weather seedlings (like the nightshades) in my basement. When the seedlings are ready to go outside, they go first to her backyard, and then to mine.
Today was transfer day for most of the warm weather seedlings, from her backyard to mine. My car was completely filled (the back, the floors, and all the seats except the driver’s seat) with tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, and tomatillos. It did all fit, but barely.
I know that these peppers are very popular with the gardeners (and with me, definitely) but maybe there’s a reason why they’re so expensive when we typically buy them as seedlings. This year, we’re growing them from seed, and they've definitely been the most problematic of any of the seedlings I've been fostering.
This is a picture of their current state (on 4/29). I don’t keep detailed records like Elisabeth does (I should probably do that), but we planted the seeds on 4/4. The largest seedling probably sprouted about 4/13. The next largest seedling probably sprouted about 4/23, and the 2 smallest seedlings just sprouted yesterday. Maybe we’ll get some more!
With only a foot of the over 8 feet of snow that fell this year still with us, the seeds we planted indoors on March 7th have begun to sprout. (Reasons to be cheerful, parts 1 and 2.)
The broccoli, Brussels sprouts and cabbages are solidly up. The leeks, lettuce, spinach and onions are beginning to sprout and we await signs of life from the celery.
The photo shows green and red cabbage in the foreground, broccoli and Brussels sprouts in the middle, and leeks and onions in the background.
Some of the seedlings that I'm fostering under lights are almost ready to go outside into the garden. Seen here are several different kinds of lettuce, leeks, spinach, red and green cabbage, and Brussels sprouts. The cabbage and Brussels sprouts are a bit slower and will probably need another week under the lights.
This was the year we dove head-first into seedling starting. Last year, we got our feet wet with early lettuce and spinach. This year, we took on a dozen more crops for a total of 350 seedlings! Here's what we did... and learned.
We started the seedlings in two main groups: early (sown on March 9th) and late (sown on March 30th).
Our early seedlings were Greens (lettuce & spinach), Alliums (leeks & onions) and Brassicas (broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbages & cauliflowers). They were first transplanted into 6-packs, then planted in the garden on April 21 (6 weeks after sowing). We had a long cold early spring followed by a heat wave, so the transplants took some time to take hold and have suffered some heat stress. Yet, we've had an excellent harvest of early greens and most of the alliums and brassicas have hung on and are now growing well.
Our late seedlings were the Nightshades (eggplants, peppers, tomatillos & tomatoes), along with okra, basil and a smaller, second crop of lettuces. They went into the garden on May 27th (8 weeks after sowing). Unlike the early seedlings, they required transplanting twice: first into 6-packs and then into 4-inch pots. The tomatillos and tomatoes may have been slightly overgrown (over a foot tall, some with flowers) when planted in the garden. The eggplants and peppers were strong, stunningly perfect 6-9 inch tall seedlings.
We experimented with sowing in soil blocks this year. The lettuces and spinach were planted directly into pressed soil blocks made with a press borrowed from fellow gardener, Donna Kray. It took some experimentation to get the soil consistency and moisture level right (quite heavy and wet). It also took some practice to perfect the pressing technique, but the seedlings did very well. The soil block presses come in graduated sizes – with the smaller ones fitting into the larger ones -- so they could also be used for the late seedlings.
The seedlings that weren’t in soil blocks were transplanted into 6-packs 2 weeks after sowing. The late seedlings were transplanted into 4” pots after an additional 2-3 weeks of growth. We made our own planting mix of coir, sterilized compost, vermiculite and sand. Unlike mixes using peat moss, no lime was needed to neutralize the acidity. We increased the amount of compost and decreased the vermiculite in the mix each time the seedlings were transplanted, always making sure to include a sprinkling of organic fertilizer.
Our seedlings began indoors under lights. Three 4' dual fluorescent fixtures were suspended below the upper shelf of a sturdy 4' x 2' x 6' tall shelf unit. Three 18" x 24" trays holding the seedlings were slid in on the shelf below. Two of the bulbs were Ecolux T8 and the others were older Paralite grow lamps.
The lights were run through a simple timer, set for 15 hours a day. The distance of the seedlings from the lights was adjusted by the number of trays (these trays have a 3/4 inch thick rim) and by switching out varying length S hooks made from heavy gauge wire suspending the light fixtures.
The only way we could grow so many seedlings was with the coordinated efforts of our dedicated seedling committee (Lisa, Michael, Mike, Sue and me). We gathered for planting and transplanting sessions, and took on caring for the seedlings at different stages of their development.
The grow lights in our basement made it easy for me to oversee the sprouting and early stages of growth. When it came time for the seedlings to be hardened off and given real sun, Lisa, Michael and Sue took over their care. We were able to spread the work and all reap the rewards -- awesome!
Patriot's Day weekend is a terrific time to plant the bulk of the spring seeds and seedlings (at least, here in Massachusetts). We were fortunate to have fantastic weather, and a 57.5° soil temperature.
We planted seeds of Arugula, Bok Choy, Carrots (a rainbow of varieties), Collards, Kale (green & dinosaur), Leeks, Mizuna, Mustard, Onions (red, white & yellow), Radishes, Scallions, Swiss Chard and Turnips (salad & cross types).
We also planted seedlings of Broccoli, Cabbage (green & red) and Spinach. Cauliflower seedlings would have been planted as well, but they weren't yet available from our local farm supplier.
The seeds and seedlings from previous weeks are growing fast. The Lettuce seedlings are particularly colorful!
Alas, our water supply remains unavailable, requiring the transport of dozens of gallons of water to the garden to give all the new seeds and seedlings a drink during the recent dry spell.
Ever wonder how to get exactly the seedling varieties that you want to be growing in YOUR garden? Grow them from seed yourself! It's easy, if you follow these instructions from High Mowing Organic Seeds: http://tinyurl.com/How-to-Grow-Your-Own-Seedlings
Growing your own favorite varieties from seed can be very fun and rewarding -- and you end up with exactly the plants you want in your garden, not necessarily the varieties that the local nurseries "guessed" that you'd like to have.
Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds - one of the largest selections of seeds from the 19th century, promoting and preserving our agricultural and cultural heritage; headquartered in Mansfield, Missouri.
Botanical Interests - founded in 1995 to supply the highest quality seed (much of it organic) in the most beautiful and informative seed packets on the market; headquartered in Broomfield, Colorado.