Saturday, February 27, 2010

Seedling Sunday: The Delicate Art of Seedling Transfer Part 1 - Paper Towel Seedlings

One of my favorite forms of germination is sprinkling the seeds on a damp paper towel, covering it with a plastic bag, and leaving it alone for a few  days.  It's almost insta-growth.  Even the most hard-to-germinate plants will start out quickly this way.  It only takes a few days to a week.

Take your base (I use meat trays that have been thoroughly washed) and lay two or three sheets of paper towel down.  You want enough ply so that the cloth will stay damp, but not too few so that the seeds are in water.  Sprinkle your seeds on top, spray gently with water, and seal in a ziploc baggie.  Don't forget to label.  A few days later, you'll see growth.

You don't want to leave them in the paper towel for very long.  Once you see a couple tiny leaves, you'll need to transplant.  Too much longer past that, and you'll damage the roots when you start manipulating the paper towel.

This is what you'll need:  Water, seed starter mix, potting soil mix, a place to transplant, and a spray bottle full of water.

 Now, a lot of people just use seed starter, but I'm a creative cheapskate.  Comes from growing up poor.  Seed started is expensive, and I don't like the way it holds water.  So, I fill y pot 3/4 with good old fashioned cheapy potting soil. 

Then I top it off with seed starter, and drench with water.

Now, the delicate part.  You can try to pull individual seedlings out, but I find that to be way too time consuming, with low returns if you damage the fragile root.  So I cut swatches out at a time.

Pull off the bottom layers of paper towel, leaving only the topmost layer.

If you turn it sideways, you'll get a really cool visualization.

Now lay the sheets on top of the pot.

Add a handful of more seed starter on top.  You can either leave the soil covering the plants, or gently blow on it to expose them to light.

Spray the whole lot with enough water to dampen the seed starter.  If you missed the pre-plant watering of the dirt, ever so carefully do it now.

Now revel in the new growth!

Well, I guess not all of are so easily pleased. 

Thursday, February 18, 2010

A Sunshiney Day!

I got home from work, turned the faucet on to get a drink of water, only to look up and notice a strange, rarely-seen phenomena.


Sunshine!!!!!  ( Seen here through the Mullberry tree row between my yard and a neighbor's.)  I, of course, immediately grabbed my camera and ran outside to record the moment.  Did I mention sunshine?  In February?  It was a moment to revel in!

It was also above freezing, so I got to check out some plants that had until recently been completely snow covered.  Like this branch of my sage bush.

And this lemon balm bush.  (Which, when mixed with chamomile flowers, makes my absolute favorite summertime tea.)

The sky was an amazing azure blue barely marred by only a few clouds, seen here through the lovely (though problematic) walnut trees.  I didn't edit this photo at all except to crop it.  The sky really was that exact color!

I also took the opportunity to take my boys out for some fun in the sun.  We raced around a local church parking lot with our two Traxxas RC cars, the Slash and the Stampede.  We even invited out our favorite neighbors, Ela and Kristian.  For the first time in months, they didn't need snowpants!

It's supposed to be more or less sunny for the rest of the weekend, but we'll see.  I hope so!  The cars aren't the only things that need to recharge their batteries;)  And, I'm in desperate need of a tan.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Played in the Dirt Today

Look what I got in the mail yesterday!

I can pull of this many experiments because at the place I order from, the small packs are 35 cents, and the big ones $1.  Cool, eh?  I'm so excited.  There are 48 varieties of plants here, from herbs to flowers to veggies, ranging from incredibly common to exceptionally unusual.

Such power in such small packages.  These are Immortelles seeds.  Aren't they cool and funky looking?

Here is what I did today.

This is only a small fraction of seeds to be planted, but not all are suitable or in need of being started early.  Some are soaking on paper towel  on styrofoam trays inside plastic bags to germinate, and others are already in soil.  Some will take at least  month to germinate, others days.  A green clock counting down the days until spring.  :D

In case you were wondering, in these pots are:

Basil (Genovese)
Basil (Lettuce Leaf)
Chinese Wolfberry (Goji)
Fuller Teasel
Immortelle (Everlasting)
Lemon Grass
Pumpkins (Jack O Lantern)
Pumpkins (Lumina)
Yarrow (Pink, White, and Yellow)

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

The Who-What-When of Starting Seedlings

Spring is in the air!

OK, maybe that's an exaggeration. I mean, I’m currently sitting cozy in my house watching Farscape while a snowstorm dumps almost a foot of snow on my back porch.  However, looks what’s growing in my windowsill!

It’s lettuce and eggplant, in case you’re wondering.

Two Saturdays ago, I was in dire need of some quality play-in-the-dirt time.  Luckily, I have an awesome boss who has not only an indoor greenhouse (a glorious tiny glass room accessible through a sliding glass door behind the kitchen), but is generous enough to invite desperately cabin-feverish moms and their boys over for some planting!

I didn’t purposely plant lettuce (which won’t be transplanted, merely eaten when it gets large enough) and eggplant (which will eventually be transplanted) together.  They came home from Jean’s in separate pots.  But a certain little puckish boy decided he wanted to play chef with plastic spoons and dirt.

Yep, that’s him.  I’m just grateful anything came up at all!

I’ve ordered buckets of seeds from catalogs and while I’m waiting for them to get here, I started cleaning and organizing the containers I’ve been saving all winter for seed starters.

Oh yes, it’s recycling at it’s finest!  The plastic carryout container is an ideal starter because, while closed, it retains heat and moisture.  The bottom of a milk jug is perfect for shallow-rooting seeds.  Don’t throw the top away, though!  You’ll be using it as a heat cover for tender tomatoes or other heat-loving plants.  I like the cardboard soup bowls and OJ boxes because you can easily remove the paper without damaging the roots or plants when it’s time to transplant.  Also pictured are yogurt, fruit, and pudding cups and the bottom of a plastic water bottle.

Why use these?  Because they’re free.  Because they’re small, so you don’t waste lots of expensive seed starter or dirt and vermiculite.  (For some great recipes for potting soil mixes, check out The Artistic Garden’s page on the subject.)  Because it’s irresponsible to buy new containers when you’ve got lots of usable stuff lying around already.

Next comes the question of what to plant when.

First, figure out your zone.  You can find zone maps on the web, but in my experience, most of Michigan is roughly Zone 4b/5a.  The Detroit area is Zone 6.  Southern Delta/Schoolcraft area is, oddly enough, Zone 3.  But from Copper Harbor down through southern Michigan, you can be sure to grow plants rated for zone 4.  And even though many zone 5 plants will make it, some of them don’t when the winter is particularly hard or when there isn’t enough snow to keep the plants insulated.

(Note: You can also plant tender perennials for zone 6 or 7 in sunken pots, and pull them and keep them a Michigan basement to over-winter.  Rosemary is a good example of a tender perennial you can grow this way.)

Now you can figure out your last date of frost.  Though you can find them here, in my experience, you’re usually safe to get the hardy stuff (peas, cabbage, lettuce, etc.) by Mother’s Day.  You can also put tomatoes and such out as long as you provide some cover, such as the tops of milk jugs, or if you want to get really fancy, heat tunnels made of polythene film draped over wire hoops (made of coat hangers or bent fencing).

Now time for some simple math.  Counting backwards from that date, create a calendar that looks something like this:

Last Date of Frost  in Grand Rapids, MI (90% certainty): May 19th

10 weeks from LDF: March 24th
8 weeks from LDF: April 1st
6 weeks from LDF: April 7th
4 weeks from LDF: April 21st
2 weeks from LDF: May 5th

Now, check the back of seed packets.  For example, my gourd seeds tell me they can be started indoors 4 weeks before the date of last frost.  April 21st it is!

There are, of course, some variations.  I have a couple home-made coldframes out back, so I can plant stuff really, really early.  I’ll have started radishes, carrots, lettuce, and other crops out in my coldframe in March.  Some I will transplant when the ground is ready.  Some will stay there until maturation.

I also use my coldframes to harden off crops.  Most of the plants you start indoors can’t be planted outside as soon as it’s safe.  You’ll have to spend a week or so taking them out and leaving them in the cold for progressively longer periods of time so they don’t die of shock.  Read more here.

Finally, with some plants, bigger is better.  I’m starting some perennial plants (columbine and hollyhocks) right now.  The bigger they are, the longer the growing season, the better chance they have of surviving.  Their flowering cycles will be messed up for a season, but after a winter they’ll be fine, perfectly in sync with the seasons.

My seed order should be here any day now.  I’m so excited!  Among the plants are some old friends of mine that I’ve haven’t grown in a decade, like woad and rue.  You can be sure that I’m gonna be playing in the dirt again as soon as the seeds get here!

Thursday, February 4, 2010

My Street Cred in Photos

Like most Michigan kids, I've been digging in the dirt since I was kid.

But when we moved to a 3 acre place in the midst of a bunch of fields and swamps, we suddenly had lots of land. And no money. We were so broke that oftentimes we could only shop the second hand stores when they had sales.  In an effort to alleviate the grocery bills, my mother (who had been an urban girl her entire life) decided to start gardening.

And typical of my mother, once she decided to do something, she did it with a fervor, scale, and energy that make most normal people jealous.