Friday, June 15, 2012

Home Grown Part 1: from compost to seedlings

For months now I've been meaning to start writing posts following the progress of my garden. It was on my list of things to do before I went back to work, and like most things on that list, it didn't get done. So instead of a bunch of short, detailed posts, I'm writing a couple long, summed up versions.

We started from scratch over the winter with a compost. There are plenty of composting options out there, but we chose to build one that had direct contact to the ground to optimize decomposition. It was built with leftover material from the quick fence we had to put up to keep Logan from running into the woods, something he did often! A flexible plastic fence wrapped around four metal posts. Simple as that.

The most anxious step for me was starting the seeds. I've never started from seed before, and had no clue how to do it. With some Internet research I came up with three different methods. For all three I used an organic seed starting mix, with a top dressing of sphagnum moss to hold in moisture. I bought organic Burpee seeds from Lowes. They had a great selection and I found everything that I needed.

The first method was to plant seeds in egg cartons. With cartons donated from friends and family, I poked drainage holes in the bottom of each one, and planted one seed per cup. The carton was covered in plastic wrap to hold in moisture, and placed near a heat lamp, since seeds prefer warm soil to sprout. This method, while simple, was the most ineffective. The seedlings grew too big before they were able to be transplanted, and once they sprouted they didn't get enough light to properly grow.

The egg carton method

The second method involved planting the seeds in toilet paper tubes. I cut the tubes in half, put them in a tray, filled them with seed starting mix, and one seed per tube. I had the same problem as the cartons with them not getting enough light, but some of them made it, and they were extremely easy to transplant. I just unwrapped the cardboard tube and put the seedling straight into the ground. Not one of these plants were damaged while being transplanted.

The tp tube method.
The tubes made transplanting the seedlings very easy.
This last method was the most creative. I found the instructions online and was pretty skeptical, but I gave it a try anyways. Using a hot poker, I poked holes in the bottom of a water jug. I then cut a slit all the way around the jug, leaving a small piece just under the handle intact. I filled the base of the jug with seed starting mix, and planted 9 seeds in each, covered with a sprinkling of sphagnum moss. My eggplants, tomatoes, and peppers were started this way. The slit was taped shut, and these greenhouse jugs went outside.. in March. Put in direct sunlight, they didn't need to be watered or otherwise cared for. I left them alone until the warm weather we had in April, when I flipped open the tops to give them sun on nice days.

Holes poked in the bottom of the jugs.
The cut
9 seeds in each
Greenhouse jugs ready to go outdoors.
Tomatoes starting to outgrow their container.
The greenhouse jugs worked the best. The seedlings grew sturdy and strong, and they thrived even through the freezing nights. Plus, they didn't take up any counter space in my home! They grew a little too well, actually outgrowing the containers before I could get them in the garden, and becoming tangled in each others roots.

All in all I had a successful start to my first year gardening from seed. Next year, I'll combine the second and third method to perfect the seed starting process, by putting the toilet paper tubes in the jugs so the roots don't tangle. I'll also start them a little later so they don't grow too large. Starting them in mid March will ensure that they're perfect for planting in mid May.

My garden assistant, Logan.
Another great gardening tool I used is Plug in your zip code, and they'll tell you what USDA zone you're in, when to plant, which seeds to start indoors, and which to plant directly in the ground.

I didn't start everything from seeds. Some plants can be propagated, like leeks and celery. Just cut the plant an inch or so from the bottom and replant. So easy!
Leeks grow on the left, celery on the right.

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