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Friday, March 25, 2016

Off To A Good Start #Seedstarting #VegetableGardening #Gardening #Transplanting

Off To A Good Start #Seedstarting #VegetableGardening #Gardening #Transplanting

Vegetable Garden Beginning of the season 2015

Finally! You've read through post after post about gardening and vegetable gardening and what you should and shouldn't do to prepare. You read through the long, but very informative and helpful post about the things that you'll need if you want to make this gardening thing work, while limiting as little waste as you can, right? If not read, it at Tools For Gardening. You've even gone to other gardening websites that just say to throw the seeds out on the ground, water and watch them grow and figured, "Why the heck is this guy making everything so long, complicated and boring when it could all be so simple?" Well, because I want to not only grow good food, but save you money, and more importantly give you a method that works for both novice and experienced gardeners alike. I know this way renders fantastic results so long as you put in the work at the beginning, two months from now in middle-to-late May you'll be enjoying a beautiful garden that's off to a phenomenal start, with slightly less work put in than others who grew from seed. Also, you'll know precisely where your food comes from and what it's been treated with unlike people who buy from gardening shops, not that they're bad people. Hey, if this fails or you feel like giving everything up when one or all of your seeds dampen off, there's no harm, no foul and no shame in rushing to your nearest Lowe's to grab a pepper or tomato plant and plopping it into a plot. So long as it survives, it should serve it's purpose. But if you want something better, you usually have to grow from seed. And yes, maybe I have over-complicated things. Did I really need to explain every detail about compost, or about wind traffic in your home? No. But it'll come into play later, I promise. And is this paragraph way too long, violating nearly every English principle I learned in Spanish class? You bet. But I wasn't supposed to learn about English in Spanish class, even though comparatively, I did. So let's get this sucker a-goin'!

Previously on: #Seedstarting!
  • We started seeds for cruciferous and cold-hardy plants, including: broccoli, cauliflower, kale, collard greens, lettuce, brussel sprouts and the list goes on.
  • Using the seeds pictured below, we took half-sheet paper towels, wet them, threw seeds in them, folded the paper towels and slid the moist towels into an open Ziploc bag.
  • We placed the bag in a warm place (not on a heating mat), like, in front of a gas fireplace, atop a refrigerator, or just on a table in a room no cooler than 70 degrees, making sure they stayed out of direct sunlight (definitely not in a windowsill).
  • Jimmy fell down a well and is trapped in the wormy muck of a winter's cruel end, breathing its blistered breath upon Vern's back.
  • Betty had a pie to bake but not enough peaches to do it.
  • Paiges got turned and Words got red.
  • And that damn dog Bartholemew keeps yapping about Jimmy. "Bark! Bark!"
  • Will we ever return to the seeds? Will Jimmy be saved before he dies of frostbite or hypothermia? Will Betty actually be able to bake that pie? Who the hell taught this talking dog to yell bark? Will this ridiculously nauseating tangential stream of consciousness ever end? Let's find out!


To start I will point you once again to the post on Tools For Gardening where I went through a list of tools and supplies you'll need going forward. For those who have already gone through the list, I will briefly list the items once more so you can go and get them now!

You will need:

Multiple cups for however many things you plan to plant. Again, I would say that for every intended number of plants you want to grow, have double the amount of cups. Example: Want to plant 5 broccoli plants, have 10 cups ready (you should have germinated 10 seeds). Not all of your seeds will grow, but we'll plant 80-100% of what has.

A good seed-starting mix that is preferably soil-less. Again, sand and vermicompost or vermiculite (worm castings... sort of) can work for some things, though you may have to baby them even more than just getting a seed-starting mix.

A basin or water reserving tray to water stuff from the bottom. We don't want to drown the seedlings.

A full bottle of water. As stated many times before, it doesn't have to be store-bought (I already drank what was inside that bottle; the water you see is tap). You should let the water sit for a day at room temperature, but straight from the faucet is fine in many areas, so long as it is tepid or room temp--no hot or cold.

The lights as the newly planted seeds will need to go under them immediately.
The actual germinated seeds, silly! We can't pot-up seeds without the actual germinated seeds, now can we?
You may want to get a pen or pencil or something long and cylindrical to make a little divot in the seed-starting mix if you're too prissy to get your hands dirty this early in the season. I just use my finger, because, unlike Trump, I actually am a small-fingered vulgarian and proud of it.

You may also want to get some kind of scooper. While I would say a hand trowel is too big, a plastic spoon works. In fact, the other end of the spoon could be used for divot making. You can also just scoop out the soil with one of the cups. Either way, it doesn't matter.

Step 1.
Open the bag (remember, it shouldn't have been sealed) and pull out your paper towels one at a time. You want to check how many seeds germinated in each towel. If you're organized, then you'll have labeled the bag with the name of that particular plant, this is why you do one paper towel at a time, putting it back after planting the germinated seeds. Looks amazing, doesn't it?

Count how many have germinated. If none, then place the towel back into the bag and move on to the next paper towel. It's OK. Not every seed germinates at the same rate. Keep going until you find some that do.

Step 2.
Stop gazing at the seeds and being so amazed with yourself. Yeah, you grew somethin', big whoop! OK, take a little time to pat yourself on the back, but that's enough. Two, maybe three pats max! Now it's time to fill up the cups. Again, either scoop the cup into the bag of seed-starting mix or fill it to about 3/4ths the way by spooning it in. Yes, only fill it 3/4ths of the way. There's a reason for that.

Step 3.
Place the cup inside the water reservoir (note: it should not have any water in it currently). Take your bottle of water and pour a few drops of water into the cup. For everything except sand, the mix will bubble and want to flow overtop. That's fine. Wait a minute and let the water drain through. If it hasn't drained after a minute, lift the cup, hold it over the reservoir and allow it to drain. With the cup filled only 3/4ths, no soil should spill. Take another dry cup or your spoon and scoop out a little more of the mix to cover the top fourth of the first cup. Return the cup to the basin.

Even when pouring the water in, not all of the starting mix will get wet. 

Step 4.
Now look at the germinated seedlings. You want to choose the strongest ones: ones with the greenest leaves, ones with the biggest leaves, ones with good roots (roots that are already spiking out or have more than just a taproot), and ones that have completely shed their hard-shell seed coating. Yes, it's tiny but you can see that the plants have burst from their seeds.

Here's where things get tricky, some argue that the oil on humans' hands will hurt the seedlings. I haven't found this to be true. So long as your hands have recently been thoroughly cleaned, they should be fine. Do not lotion them before doing this. Gently grab hold of the seed root near the leaves, and pull. The roots will have tried to bury themselves in the paper towel fabric. You want to lead it out of the fabric as delicately as you can until it is free. If the root is exceptionally long, don't worry about getting all of it out. So long as the root is fingernail's length and/or has other roots spiking off the taproot, it can recover.

Step 5.
Once you have the root free from the paper towel, place it in the flat palm of your hand. With your other hand, make a tiny divot with your finger or with a pencil in the dry top soil of the prepared cup from step 3. If you only have one hand (not a joke. Some people don't have the luxury of two working appendages), then you can drop the entire seedling onto the top of the soil, then make the divot. Slip the seedling into the divot and cover its bottom tip (the white part) with soil, leaving the leaves above ground. Finally, pat the top mix down around it, just hard enough to make the dry "soil" start absorbing some of the water of the wet soil.
And there you go. Repeat steps 1-5 until you have planted everything you wanted to plant for that session before continuing to step 6. Note: Some of the seeds will not have germinated. For those that haven't, place back in the bag and put the bag back where you had it until they germinate or until they start to rot and turn black. If they do the latter, then you have bad seeds that won't germinate. Sorry. It's still early enough in the season to go and buy more from a different company.

I apologize the basin is already dirty as this was the fourth transplant before I remembered to take pics.

You can use the end of the spoon (optional), to make sure the root is properly buried. Notice the mix looks wet. 

Step 6.
Once everything is planted, check the amount of water you have in the bottom of the reservoir. Lift one of the cups from out of the water. You want the water at its deepest to be no higher than the length of a modestly cut fingernail--from the skin to the tip--usually less than half an inch. If less, add more water directly to the basin and not to the cup, before replacing the cup. This should last for a full day and is the way you should water for the next two weeks.

Step 7.
Take the reservoir with all the cups inside and place it under the fluorescent light. We want extremely close, no more than 1 to 2 inches of space between the bulb and plants. Seedlings crave light. Early inundation is a good thing, but they won't do well in window sunlight. That light isn't strong enough for them and doesn't provide enough heat. Plus, windows often seep heat and the seeds need to stay warm, however, this method does not call for a warming mat. So long as the lights are close, the seedlings won't need to be warmed.

These are established plants to show how close to the light they are. Some leaves are even touching. 

And that's it. Leave the light on for no less than 12 hours (seems like a real power suck but it isn't as bad as you might think). No need to cover them for a greenhouse effect. The soil surface should look moist. You want to water them through the reservoir whenever the top starts to look crusted, hard or no longer shimmers. You're good either until you have to pot them up, something which you should only have to do for non-cold-hardy or summer plants like tomatoes and peppers, or until you have to start hardening them off which will be another week and a half to two weeks. Don't feed them anything but water. It would be a bad idea and could destroy your plants. They can't take too many nutrients this early. Nothing against non-organic gardening, but stuff like Miracle-Gro is too early (let's not get into a debate about the seed-starting mix). Lower them from the lights one inch for every two inches they grow. And you should soon have these tiny, but large seedlings.

What do you think? Is this informative to you? Is there anything about the process you aren't understanding? Are you not convinced that here-on out will be much easier and far less involved? Or can you just not wait to tear into your... uh, Kale? Brussel sprouts? Carrots? Well, what did you plant? Let me know in the comments below (hint: click the no comments button if you see no comments).
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Until next time, "Wow! That's a lot. I usually just throw my line out there and let them get a hold of that slippery worm."

P.S. Family Guy reference. Yes, it's lazy. It's the one where he was a fisherman and the guy switched his signs to say something perverse about how he caught the fish. I ain't got time, look it up! I was actually trying to impress the reason why I don't just throw the seeds out into the ground anymore (though I still do that for lettuce sometimes), and why I don't direct germinate the seeds in a soil-less mixture. I've seen tons of videos about seed-starting where they start seeds in a cup or a pre-fabricated tray--you can buy those at your local Wal-Mart and they do work wonderfully as I used one for the first two years--with seed-starting mix poured into the tray of, like 30 cells. They'll take three seeds and put them in one cell and expect to grow one plant from that cell. But then when the seeds germinate, they do what is called "thinning out" or pluck out the seedlings that did germinate but look the weakest. I find that to be a waste. For one, while beginners may feel fine with buying a seed packet for 1.48 at your local Wal-Mart (god, I mentioned that store twice. They really should pay me), and spreading out the entire pack or at least half of it trying to grow two, maybe three plants, you know no better. You're just happy something grew and produced food. But as you get better at growing, suddenly things like heirlooms and exquisite tastes of stranger vegetable varieties you want to try begin to seduce you. You suddenly start realizing that there's more than three varieties of watermelon: oblong, round and seedless. And while you might not have heard of a Janosik Watermelon before (delicious in my book), you suddenly wanna try this yellow-fleshed melon, because... I mean, it's yellow for goodness sake! And then you realize, "Holy cannoli, those seeds cost $3.00 plus shipping from online vendor." And suddenly you don't want to chance planting 9 seeds, 3 in one cup, to have them duke it out in survival of the fittest, and end up with one viable plant in the end. No, I use my method because when I do plant those more expensive seeds like melon seeds, I can put four seeds into a paper towel, and have three of them germinate and end up with three healthy plants by planting time (if they germinate at all; buyer beware). I'm a utilitarian and a minimalist, haste makes waste and he who wastes not, wants not. Therefore, I still have seed packets that I bought three years ago that still not only have viable seeds, but are plenteous just in case I want to give them away to family or friends who may want to start growing their own veggies.

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