Saturday, February 9, 2019

Indoor Gardening 4:Seeding Hope

Snow pea microgreens. Because I had to have a photo of something
besides soil-filled pots.
Another morning with a single-digit (Fahrenheit) low.

So what did I do yesterday?

I planted!

I know have two full flats of cabbage seeded, and a half-flat each of broccoli, lacinato kale, celery and radicchio. They sit on my light shelf now. In a few days, the seeds should crack open and send down their radicles (seed roots) and poke up green seed leaves. In about six weeks (weather permitting) they will go into the garden to become tasty vegetables.

I hope.

Each time I plant a seed I am filled with optimism and hope. And I understand it's a gamble. So much can go wrong. But either it doesn't go wrong, or I am able to mitigate and overcome. I am optimistic that the weather will be at least somewhat hospitable for the plants and hopeful that all the things I do will bring a good outcome.

Every year I do this. Start plants indoors to transplant later. This is how I harvest cabbage and broccoli before the height of summer heat; and how I start more cabbage and broccoli during the summer heat to harvest in the fall.

Starting your own transplants requires a little equipment and planning. I have four five-foot long shelves each outfitted with two four-foot fluorescent shop lights. But you don't need that large of a rig to start your own transplants. I start a lot of plants -- I'm expecting 60 cabbage plants, 12 broccoli plants, 12 lacinato and 12 each of celery and radicchio. And that's just the beginning. One year I had to replace most of my cabbages and broccoli because of late cold and nearly choked when they rang up my purchases at the nursery.

But even if you don't plant that many vegetables (or flowers and herbs) starting your own transplants has its benefits. Even if you only plant a half a dozen of any one thing.

Pots filled with soil and waiting for seeds.
First of all, by buying seeds you have more control over what varieties you grow. The local nursery will carry only a few popular varieties of plants, so you might be missing out on something you like even better. Maybe cabbage varieties don't matter much to you, but what about tomatoes? Probably thousands of tomato varieties exist, but the local nursery may carry only six, plain, ordinary, everybody grows them varieties. Maybe they carry a couple of heirloom varieties... but listen -- thousands exist! Pink ones, red ones, yellow ones, green ones, white ones, orange ones striped ones, giant ones, smaller ones, cherries, currants, plums, pastes...

Another factor in favor of starting your own: Your local nursery may not carry vegetable plants for your fall crop.

On top of this, starting your own transplants is satisfying and a good way to get an early start on gardening when the weather outside is frightful.

You need:
Containers. I used to start my transplants in little pots I saved from buying plants. Then I stopped having to buy so many plants, I started planting more stuff and didn't have enough pots, and those pots started getting broken up. So I wound up having to buy some. Because I plant a lot of stuff. But you can repurpose a variety of things to use as pots. Just wash plastic and styrofoam drink cups you get from the fast food joint, poke a few holes in the bottom. Voila! A plant container. You'll want something to catch the water dripping through the holes, but you can repurpose a lot of things for that.
Pots seeded and marked (I cut up plastic lids from large yogurt containers
and mark them with a permanent marker. "Bruns" stands for Brunswick
cabbage, while "EJW" stands for Early Jersey Wakefield cabbage. You can 
use any number of things to mark your seedlings. You'll want to know 
what's supposed to grow. The brownish powder is cinnamon, which I hope
will prevent damping off disease (see my last post for more on that).
Soil: Don't just dig some from the yard. It will probably get hard as a brick. Buy a good potting soil, or soilless planting mix. I always wet mine before putting it in the pots.
Light: Even a south window might not provide enough light. You don't have to buy grow lights, though. Fluorescent lights are suitable, even led bulbs might work fine. Whatever size fixture fits your operation.
And finally -- Seeds!

Some seeds require more warmth than others. Check the seed packet for tips on what is needed, or search online for growing tips. The cabbages will sprout in relatively chilly temps, while pepper and tomato seeds must have some warmth. Find the warm spots in your home and put the pots there until the seeds sprout. They won't need the intense light until they have leaves. Cover the seed pots to maintain moisture until the seedlings are an inch or two tall -- or more. If you're repurposing things and don't have the handy clear plastic "domes" that go on seedling flats, use plastic bags, but stick popsicle sticks, broken pencils, or sticks from the yard in the soil to hold the plastic off the soil.

Even though these plants you're starting are intended to live most of their lives outdoors. This is still indoor gardening. Enjoy the adventure.

NOTE: If you have any questions about starting transplants, please leave a comment below and I will do my best to answer it.

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