Tag Archives: seed starting

Leaves & Shoots: A tale of basement gardening success.


It may not be the coldest March on record, but it’s starting to feel like the longest.  At least here in Wisconsin, where I haven’t seen the grass since February.  And the sun, haven’t seen much of that either.

But I can’t complain too much.  You see, despite frightful cold and lingering snow, I’ve been gardening.  Not outside like last year, when record warmth allowed peas and radishes to go in the ground in March.  No, this year I’ve got a basement garden up and running.

I started it back in January so that I could grow wheatgrass for juicing.  That was so successful that I thought I might expand into lettuces.  Success again!  And now that it’s March I have my garden starts growing under the lights too.

This is the only grass to be found at my house.

This is the only grass to be found at my house.

Has wheatgrass been the key to staying healthy this winter?  Hmmm...

Has wheatgrass been the key to staying healthy this winter? Hmmm…

I’m having so much fun experimenting with this.  My setup is simple–two grow lights hung from the rafters and heat mats below.   The lights are on a timer system, so they come on and shut off automatically.  I just have to make sure everything has enough water.

Basement gardening.  Our basement is typically 55 degrees in the winter, but the heat mats and lights make it warm enough for germination.

Basement gardening. Our basement is typically 55 degrees in the winter, but the heat mats and lights make it warm enough for germination.

You should know that I have no idea what I’m doing, I’ve never done this before and I did basically no research before setting it up.  But it’s working!  And I’m pretty excited about it.

Last week I enjoyed my first salad from the basement and today I had another for my dinner.  Because I planted a whole tray of “cut and come again” leaf lettuce, I’ll get to enjoy 3 or 4 more salads at least.  And by the time I eat the last salad, I should be able to do some potted lettuces outside.  In fact, the spinach that I overwintered will likely be producing by then.  (Fingers crossed!)

Lettuces under the lights.

Lettuces under the lights.

The lights stay on for 12 hours a day.

The lights stay on for 12 hours a day.

I brought the lettuce up to a sunny spot today before cutting for dinner.

I brought the lettuce up to a sunny spot today before cutting for dinner.

This is probably enough light to keep them up here... if only we had sun like this every day.

This is probably enough light to keep them up here… if only we had sun like this every day.

Tray after cutting of lettuce.  Now it will return to the basement or sit next to the patio door and grow more lettuce leaves.

Tray after cutting of lettuce. Now it will return to the basement or sit next to the patio door and grow more lettuce leaves.

Lettuce ready to be dressed for dinner.

Lettuce ready to be dressed for dinner.

Tomatoes and other veggie starts easily germinate under these ideal conditions.

Tomatoes and other veggie starts easily germinate under these ideal conditions.

I have also started some herbs with the intent of growing them in a pot in the house.  In addition to that, my kids planted some peas in take out containers so that we can add pea shoots to our salads.

I’m not going to let this miserably cold weather stop me from enjoying my hobby.  I’ve just had to find different ways to grow while I wait out winter.

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Seedling Update


Seedling setup.

It’s been a few weeks since I started my second tray of seeds.  For the most part, nature is taking its course and itty bitty versions of my favorite plants have popped up.  There are a few stinkers in the bunch though, a problem that vexes me year after year.  Why don’t some seeds germinate?

These imapatiens are some of the few that germinated out of a tray of 64.

It’s obvious that conditions are not right for the tray of impatiens I had hoped to grow.  I’m not sure where I went wrong with this one.  A few seeds seem to like the accommodations I’ve provided, but the vast majority do not.  Maybe the starting mix is too wet, or too cold.  My previous experience with starting flowers from seed was extremely successful–I grew six varieties of zinnias, they were so healthy and beautiful.  This tray of impatiens is a pitiful sight.

The good news is that veggies and herbs are thriving.  Thinking about the tomatoes and eggplants that these tiny plants will become makes me happy!  Maybe I’ve started too many plants, but I do this in case there is any trouble.  I like to have some back up plants just in case.  It’s insurance.  Inevitably, I’ll be searching out adoptive  parents for my extra seedlings come Memorial Day.

This tomato is showing some nice leaves. All tomato varieties came up with no problems.

Every day I turn the tray around because these tiny plants lean right into the sunlight.

Noticeably, eggplant and pepper seeds are taking longer than the others.  I hope they come up just fine in the next few days.  I’m trying to keep them warm by putting them on the heat vent at night.  They are getting plenty of warmth from the sun during the day.  I’ve never had a problem with these in the past, so I’m expecting them to pop up eventually.

So what’s the next step?  Well, this weekend I will be transplanting some lettuces and spinach into pots outside.  If we are threatened with hard frosts I can always haul the pots inside or cover with a blanket.

I have begun planting seeds outside.  This week my son and I put in the peas and arugula.  I hope to have the head lettuce and radishes in by the weekend as well.  It’s still cold at night here, but not too cold for these types of seeds.  They even like the cold.

Our weather in Southeastern Wisconsin has been cool, damp and rather dismal.  It’s to be expected, but I long for one of those freakishly warm April days that are just right for working outside and getting that first touch of sun on my white wintry skin.  Wouldn’t some warm sun feel good about now?  I think my plants would agree.

I’ve been taking my rosemary and lemon tree outside during the day.  They’ll need a few weeks of this to adjust to outdoor conditions.  The lemon tree has set some new buds and I’m hoping that taking it outdoors will toughen it up enough to hold onto those buds rather than dropping them like the last set.  In a few weeks I will pot it up to the next size of pot and add organic fruit fertilizer to the mix.  With any luck it might produce a lemon or two this year.  Now if I could just get some bees to come back to my yard to take care of pollinization–that lemon tree’d be all set!

A new set of lemon tree buds brings new hope that this tree may produce fruit in 2011.

I’ve always enjoyed videos that show how a seed grows (thanks to my 80’s childhood watching Sesame Street I’m sure) so here is a link to a nice example from Nova:  Teachers’ Domain: From Seed to Flower.

It’s the beginning of an exciting time of year for me.  A time of hope and expectation, a time for work and play.  It’s off to a good start!

Photos from the third week of March.


Sidewalk chalk outside with the kids.

 

Tulips continue their ascent.

More tulips, a welcome sign of spring.

 

Rising temperatures made for a very pleasant week.

 

New life on old wood--this is the honeysuckle.

Meanwhile, indoors the lemon tree has set a few tiny buds.

 

More seed starts--tomatoes, eggplants, a few flowers, many peppers, fennel and cabbages. Filled another 72-cell tray... we will have plenty of plants this year.

Seed Starting


March is here and with it comes the task of transforming tiny seeds into herbs, vegetables and flowers for my (slowly) thawing garden.

But first, a confession.  I’ve been struggling for a week to write this post.  I think that writing from an instructional point of view isn’t working for me.  Since there are so many resources available on seed starting, I’ve decided that rather than give instructions I’m just going to report my experience and forget a step by step analysis.  It just isn’t my style. 

Whew!  Now I feel free to write.

Being a visual person, I like to map my garden, I also like to map my seed trays.  This seems to work better for me than using seed markers, and it feels like less work to me.  I especially like color coding my seed tray map!

I use a different color for each type of seed.

My kids' crayons come in handy for this project.

As it turned out, the above map–while lovely–did not have the correct layout for the 72-cell trays I am using.  So I had to redo it.  Such is life. 

For this tray, I’m starting some random things that seem like they need more time than others.  This works out well because by the time these seedlings are done with this tray I’ll be ready to start some more seeds.  I have two trays and will probably use each one twice this season.  I’m growing some flowers from seed this year, and they’ll take up at least one tray on their own.

I use a standard plastic 72-cell tray.  These trays come with a drip tray that the cell insert sits in, and a lid.  It’s easy to purchase extra cell inserts as needed from my local garden center.

I always read the seed packets before starting seeds.  Here is where I can find out when to start the seeds, any special information such as planting depth, sunlight needs, etc.  Seed packets contain all the information I need to be successful. 

Seed packets for Impatiens.

The back of the seed packet is loaded with information for seed starting, transplanting, growing and harvesting.

This seed starting mix came from Gardens Alive.  I had a coupon for $25 off (I believe every catalog they send has a coupon of some sort) so I used that to order some trays and seed starting mix.  It’s just as easy to visit a local garden center or hardware store and pick up needed materials.

My seeds have come from many different sources this year.   I purchased some at the garden center, others I ordered from Johnny’s Seeds, Seed Savers Exchange and Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds.  I wanted to try several sources to compare, and also just because it’s fun to collect seeds from various sources.  I like the different seed packets.    It’s been fun going through the catalogs as well and receiving orders in the mail. 

Using my map I carefully put the seeds into each cell after the soaked seed starting mix was in place.

Seed starting mix works well.

 

We added water to the mix and spooned it into the tray.

 

Alternatively, you can put dry mix in the tray and then add water.

 

Once the seeds are in, the tray goes to either a sunny place or a warm place out of direct sunlight. I had one tray of each, this information is on the back of the seed packets.

 

I either put the tray in my bathroom, where it is always very warm, or if the seeds require light for germination they go next to the patio door where it is warm and sunny.  Trays in the bathroom are moved to the patio door once the sprouts emerge.

Current setup--my mini greenhouse.

 

My son and I love to peek at the seed trays every day to see what has poked through.  It’s amazing how quickly they change, sometimes they can grow an inch or more in less than 25 hours.

Here's something coming up!

 

It’s not hard to start seeds.  I’ve been doing it for a few years now and have always been pleased with the results.  It’s much more affordable than buying plants at the garden center, and there is no limit to the varieties I can grow when I start the seeds myself.  I’m not limited by what a store may have in stock.

It’s certainly possible to be a lot more scientific about this process.  That’s just not me though.  I do this by look and feel and rarely consult the numbers.  I don’t really know what the temperature is in my bathroom or how many days it takes for seeds to germinate.  I don’t really care.  (Sorry!)  If they come up, I’m happy.  I move them to bigger pots as needed and when the weather feels good, I put them outside.  I guess this goes to prove that it’s really not that complicated to grow things at home!  I just follow the directions and that seems to work.

Now, I can’t wait to get everything outside and out of my dining area.  But for at least the next 6 weeks, the seedlings and I will just be hanging out waiting for the earth outside to come alive again. 

I just finished reading The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett and want to share this passage in which Dickon describes Spring:

“Just listen to them birds—th’ world seems full of ’em—all whistlin’ an’ pipin’,” he said. “Look at ’em dartin’ about, an’ hearken at ’em callin’ to each other. Come springtime seems like as if all th’ world’s callin’. The leaves is uncurlin’ so you can see ’em—an’, my word, th’ nice smells there is about!” sniffing with his happy turned-up nose.”

Now isn’t that nice?  It’s almost here!

Photos from the third week of February.


Early in the week, seeds began to sprout.

 

Lake Michigan, icy blue.

 

On Wednesday, the temperature started to rise!

 

Snow retreated and revealed our long lost deck.

 

By the end of the week, the herb seedlings are really looking great.