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‘Seed Starting’ Category

  1. Organic Gardening #5-Early Spring Garden Tasks

    May 15, 2013 by Jocelyn

    Hey folks! Well, I know that many of you are dealing with scorching hot weather right now, but in my city the weather is just starting to warm up. It’s like we went straight from winter into summer! Who needs spring anyway, right? Of course I’m kidding; there is actually a lot of spring gardening preparation to be done before your last frost date arrives. So, what can we do?

    Hardening Off Seedlings

    Even though your seedlings are in a simulated outdoor environment, it’s very important to move them outside gradually. The sun is much more powerful that most normal grow lights, and your little plants will get scorched if they’re immediately moved into full sun for too long. Hopefully you’ve also exposed them to a bit of a breeze while indoors, so the first little outdoor breeze won’t knock them over. I had to cover these little guys because it was so cold that day:

    Hardening Off Seedlings

    Days 1 through 3

    I like to cover my plants for the first few days that I set them out. This gives them a bit more shelter, and makes the temperature adjustments a bit easier for them. On Day 1, start by putting them out only for 1-2 hours. By Day 3, you can bump the time up to 4-6 hours. If it’s particularly cold or windy on any given day, you can either cover your plants, or leave them in for a day.

    Days 4 through 8

    Now that your plants have been exposed to periods of sun and wind, you can start leaving them out for full days. By Day 8 or so, you should be able to leave your plants out overnight.

    Days 9 through 12

    Your plants should be hardy enough to be transplanted into your garden. By this time, they may be getting too big for their small pots, and you’ll likely see quite a bit of growth once they’re accustomed to their new garden home. Once planted outside, you may still have to cover them a few times if the weather gets too cold or windy.

    Direct Sowing Early Crops

    Last week I planted pea, beet, and spinach seeds right in my garden. These are all vegetables that will grow well in cool weather. They generally grow quickly, and will produce fairly early. Here’s a short list of cool weather crops that can be started from seed directly in your garden before your last frost date:

    • peas
    • beets
    • spinach
    • lettuce
    • kale

    Spring Garden Cover

    Preparing Soil for Planting

    Last year I got some good advice from my fellow community gardeners. I noticed that several of them had covered their garden plots with black plastic. After asking why they did this, they explained to me that the plastic has multiple uses. First, it will retain heat and help the soil warm up more quickly. Then, because of the heat and moisture any weeds that overwintered in your soil will sprout. Once sprouted, the weeds will die because they are unable to get sunlight. And guess what? It worked! I had far fewer weeds in my garden last year after doing this! It has now become part of my annual garden bed prep.

    In a week or so, I will also buy several bags of organic compost to add to my raised bed and help replenish the soil levels. Once this is done, it will nearly be time to plant everything! The only thing I really have left to do is design my final garden layout plan, and that is what I’ll be talking about next time!

    What about you? What kinds of things do you do in the spring to get your gardens ready for planting? Let us hear it!

    Thanks for reading!


  2. Organic Gardening: #4 – How to Thin Seedlings

    May 1, 2013 by Jocelyn

    Despite doing my best to ignore the never ending winter we’ve been having, I still can’t help but feel that summer is really far away! I suppose that’s what happens when it’s May and there’s still snow in the forecast.  

    So while I continue ignoring our terrible weather, I bring to you Part 4 of my Organic Gardening Series: How to Thin Seedlings. Below you can see a photo of my little tomato seedlings, which are doing quite well. I have cabbage and onion seedlings that should technically be outside already, but I’m waiting another week or so for that.

    Thinning Seedlings

    Why You Should Thin Seedlings

    When you live in a cold climate where the growing season is short, it’s very likely that you’ll be starting seeds indoors up to 10 weeks before planting them outside. That’s a long time, and your little plants will need a lot of room to grow before being transplanted. If seedlings are not thinned down to 1 plant per potting cell, there won’t be enough room for all of the roots to grow and none of the plants will thrive.

    I Know It Hurts

    As much as it pains me to snip the little guys down, I’ve come to realize that it’s something that needs to be done. It’s so hard when seeing the first little sprouts come up give you such joy, and then you have to go through and take a bunch of them out. I’ve gotten better about thinning my seedlings over the years, and my plants have been stronger for it. My recommendation for those of you that have a hard time with this is to take your little seedlings and put them right into the compost bin. This way their sacrifice isn’t going to waste!

    When to Thin Them
    I generally start 3-4 seeds per pot, and thin down to the strongest one as soon as the leaves start touching each other. At this point, they’re usually between 2 and 3 inches tall.

    How to Thin Them

    The easiest and least invasive way to thin your seedlings is to use a pair of scissors and snip them off at the base. If you’re careful and your seedlings are still small, you may be able to gently pull them out of the soil without disturbing the roots of the other seedlings.

    Before:
    Thinning Seedlings

    After:
    Thin Seedlings

    Voila! Once thinned out, you’ll be surprised at how quickly the remaining seedlings seem to grow! Next time, I’ll be talking about transitioning your seedlings to the outdoors, and getting your garden planting started. Hopefully after our record-breaking snow amounts in April, May will quickly turn around and warm things up for us. Here’s hoping!

    Thanks for reading, folks!


  3. Organic Gardening: Part 3 – Starting Seeds

    April 11, 2013 by Jocelyn

    This is Part 3 of my Organic Gardening Series: Starting Seeds. The series of images below is a really fast and basic guide to seed starting if you’re already familiar with some of the details. For those that are very new to gardening, I’ve elaborated on each step in the process below. If you still have any questions, please comment here and I’ll get back to you!

    Seed Starting Steps

    Step 1: Gather Your Supplies

    You will need the following:

      Seed trays with plastic containers and clear lids
      A spray bottle full of water
      Seed starting soil (quality is important)
      Paper and pencil
      Grow lights

    Step 2: The Dirt

    Fill your containers with your soil, and spray it really well so the top layer is nice and damp. A good seed starting soil will be loose and fine, not dense. After they’ve sprouted, your seedlings will require a lot of nutrients to grow as quickly as they do. This is why I use Fox Farm soil; it’s fine enough for seeds to easily germinate in, but it also has the nutrients they need to grow big and strong! I also don’t have to worry about manually fertilizing the seedlings this way, which is much easier in my opinion! If you want more information about choosing a seed starting medium, check out my previous post: The Importance of Dirt.

    Since I only sprayed the top of my soil, I add some water to the bottom of the tray so the soil can wick moisture up to the seeds as well.

    Step 3: Planting the Seeds

    I’m a lazy seed planter, I’ll admit. I don’t read the seed packets for every variety to see what their planting depth should be. I just sprinkle some seeds on the dirt, very lightly tamp it down, and then sprinkle a little more dirt over the top of the seeds. A good rule of thumb is to have your seeds at a depth that is approximately 3 times that of the seed’s diameter.

    For really small seeds like Petunias or Snapdragons, I just sprinkle them on top of the soil, tamp it down lightly and call it good.

    Step 4: The Lighting

    Without at least 12-16 hours of bright light every day, your seedlings will get tall, stringy, and likely fall over after a few weeks. We want strong, sturdy little seedlings that will be healthy enough to withstand their eventual transition outdoors! For this reason, I recommend getting some good grow lights, and connecting them to a timer. If you’re on a budget, these are great bulbs. It’s best to keep the lights between 2-4 inches away from the tops of your seedlings.

    Lastly: Ongoing Care

    Once planted, water, light, and air are the three things your seedlings will need to thrive.

    Water

    If you watered your seed trays from the bottom as well as spraying the top, you probably won’t have to water much for the first week or two, since the seedlings won’t have any developed root systems yet. If the top of the soil looks dry, just give them a good misting.

    Once sprouted, your seedlings will need a fairly steady supply of water. It’s just as important to make sure that they aren’t too wet, either. If you’re unsure of how much water to give your seedlings, I would recommend watering less. If you water too much, you risk mold, which means you could lose all of your seedlings. If you don’t give them enough water, you’ll likely notice their leaves getting a little wilted, and they should respond well to a good drink of water.

    Light

    As we discussed above, your seedlings will want at least 12-16 hours of light each day. They will also want a period of darkness to rest. This is why having your lights on a timer works so well. If you don’t have an automatic timer, just make sure to turn the lights off at night.

    Air

    Air circulation is important for two reasons. First, it is a preventive measure against mold and mildews. Second, it will help strengthen your seedlings so they will better be able to withstand outdoor winds when being transitioned outside. I like to put a fan near my seedlings once they’ve sprouted; it should be on the lowest power. If it still seems as though it’s creating too much of a breeze for your seedlings, then I just move it a little further away.

    Finally, it’s important to note that a little attentiveness can go a long way when starting plants from seed. I check my seedlings every day, sometimes every two if I’m busy. It’s definitely more important to watch them closely when they’re just sprouting. Once they’ve grown a bit, then you don’t have to worry about them as much.

    Well, that’s it folks. Thanks for reading! I hope all of you are enjoying nice spring weather! In the meantime, I’m wishing I could stay snuggled up at home right now.
    Spring Weather?
    PS – Stay tuned for Part 4, when I’ll talk about pruning and hardening off your seedlings!


  4. Organic Gardening: Part 1 – Ordering Seeds

    February 12, 2013 by Jocelyn

    This post is Part 1 in my new Organic Gardening Series.

    The days are getting longer, and hopefully warmer, which means it’s time to start ordering seeds for your garden. When looking for seeds, you will find that seed companies can vary greatly in quality. After starting seeds from many different companies, I can honestly say that I’ve had the very best luck with seeds from smaller companies. Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds is absolutely wonderful; they are a small family owned farm in Missouri.

    So, if you’re planning to have a garden this year, your first step should be to order seeds. If you’re anything like me, you’ll want to order at least a couple good seed catalogs to look at during the gloomiest months of winter. Here are the two I got this year:

    Organic Gardening Seed Catalogs

    Request Your Own Seed Catalogs
    Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds
    Seed Savers Exchange
    Territorial Seed Company
    Johnny’s Selected Seeds

    On Choosing Seeds

    So, you’ve got your catalogs, and you’re ready to decide what to order. It’s important to know what can easily be started from seed in your area, or if it would be best to purchase transplants. This is something that I always have to consider, being in zone 4 with a short growing season. It’s important to know how long your growing season is, and to consider how long each plant will take to produce.

    If you’d rather not start seeds indoors, then make sure you’re only ordering seeds that will do well to direct sow in your garden. In Minnesota, there are certain things that I cannot grow by direct sowing. Tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant are a few examples. If I didn’t start these plants from seed myself, I would have to go to my farmer’s market and purchase transplants for them because our growing season is too short.

    Tip #1: Know your Terminology: Heirloom, Hybrid, Genetically Modified (GMO), Determinate, Indeterminate, etc. etc.
    Heirloom seeds have been around for generations, and are the most reliable if you intend on saving seeds from your garden. They are the most likely to give you viable seeds that will produce plants that are the most genetically similar to the parent plants.
    Hybrid seeds will give you child plants produced from the cross pollination of two different plants. Often times these hybrids are purposefully bred to gain the most beneficial characteristics from the two parent plants; disease resistance, better productivity, etc.
    Genetically Modified seeds are seeds that have been genetically engineered in a lab to have specific properties. This is very different from hybridization because they can combine genes from two completely different plants that could never naturally crossbreed. Doing this can actually damage the DNA of the plant, and create unwanted (and potentially harmful) genetic mutations. This means that the genes of the original plant may change the way they function, possibly activating genes that can trigger allergies, or even create specific biological toxins. Moral of the story: try to avoid GMO seeds.
    Determinate and Indeterminate are terms that you will most likely come across when looking for tomatoes. So, which type of tomato plants should you get? Determinate or indeterminate? Well, that depends on your garden, and the answer could easily be both! So what’s the difference? Determinate tomato plants are generally more compact. The plant will stay more bush-like, and will bear it’s crop all at once. Determinate varieties are better suited to containers, so they would be the best choice if you’re garden is on your patio. Another thing to note with determinate varieties is that you should NOT cut off the suckers of the plant, as doing so could stunt it’s growth. As for indeterminate varieties, they are pretty much the exact opposite. They will grow large and vine-like, while producing fruit throughout the entire season. Because they get so big, they will likely need more staking than determinate varieties, and also do well when the suckers are cut off.

    Tip #2: Have a (Basic) Garden Plan
    At this point, you should have a very general plan for what you want to plant in your garden. It’s important to know how much you can expect to fit in your garden, and how much of each plant you’ll have space for. If you’re an experienced gardener, this will be fairly easy, since you’ll already have an idea of what will go where, etc. If this is your first time gardening in a specific space, I would recommend staying tuned in for the next post in this series, which is going to be all about Garden Planning!

    Tip #3: Try Something New
    Last year I tried Quinoa, and this year I’m trying out several new things. Chinese Noodle Beans, for instance. I’m pretty excited about those, and I also plan to grow Bok Choy and Kale for the first time. I also found a variety of Canteloupe called the Minnesota Midget, that I’m going to try growing, as they are a small, shorter season variety. I found a fantastic pin on Pinterest about how to grow melons in cool climates.

    With these tips, you should be ready to order your seeds. I almost never use all of my seeds in a year, so don’t be afraid to ask a friend to go in on your seed order with you! Also, don’t forget to read reviews and do a bit of Googling if you’re unsure of a certain seed type. Or comment here, and I’ll do my best to help you out!

    Thanks for reading!


  5. The Importance of Dirt: Seed Starting Soil

    May 25, 2012 by Jocelyn

    I originally put my veggie seeds in cheap seed starting soil, and while it was advertised as organic, it just wasn’t high quality. My seedlings sprouted and after a couple weeks they started to die. I knew I had to do something fast if I didn’t want to lose all of my baby tomato plants, so I did a bit of research about seed starting soil.

    The photo below was taken right before re-potting. The sad looking little plants you see below were that size for at least 2 weeks. They had sprouted, grown a few inches, and then started to die. I was really bumming out, because I’ve been plagued with poor seed starting results for years. This year is the first year that I’ve used a Grow Light System for my seedlings, and I thought that it would miraculously make my plants invincible. I was wrong.

    Another shot of the dying seedlings
    Sad little plants :(

    If you look at the photo above, you’ll notice a difference in the soils. The one nearest the camera is darker, and is the new and improved dirt. The rest are all still in the older, crappy seed starting soil.

    Believe it or not, the healthy looking plants below are the same plants! And this second photo was taken only 10 days after I repotted them. (They’ve since doubled in size again, and are nearly ready to go outside).

    Healthy tomatoes in new seed starting soil
    Happy, healthy seedlings

    So, you may be asking what this magical seed starting soil is. Fox Farm (click HERE to see a retailer near you) is the creator, and the soil is Ocean Forest. It’s all organic (yippee!) and has plenty of nutrients for your little seedlings. The nice thing about this soil is that it holds moisture! My first seed starting soil was really bad at holding moisture and always seemed dry; water would either sit on top of the dirt or go right through. Boo.

    If you don’t have a Fox Farm retailer near you, you can get a 12 quart bag of Ocean Forest Organic Soil here. (The two Amazon links in this post are through my affiliate account. If you make a purchase, I will receive a small commission, at no additional cost to you. If you use either of them, I’d like to thank you for your support!) Any seed starting soil will be a bit more expensive to buy online, but well worth it if you’ve had troubles with starting seeds. With a quality soil, you should have strong and healthy plants!

    I’m still waiting to put a lot of mine out in my garden, but they’re quickly getting too big to keep in the house! Our weather forecast for this weekend is not great for tiny plants; we’re supposed to have temps in the low 50’s, rain, and winds gusting up to 30 mph. Yikes. I think I’m going to have to wait and plant them next week on one of my lunch breaks. It’s tough to wait when I’m feeling so impatient to get my garden started, but I know it’ll be more beneficial to wait at this point.

    So how are everyone else’s gardens doing? I realize I’m usually planting my garden much later than most of you, seeing as I’m in chilly zone 3b. But if you’ve already started your garden, I’d love to see photos! Feel free to comment with links to your blogs, especially if you have jealousy-inducing garden photos!

    Have a great weekend everyone!