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Making the cut

March 27, 2009

I used to get in a hurry to get plants started, and I made many mistakes and discoveries along the way to where I am at now, gardening-wise.  What taught me the most was succession planting for mesclun sales.  I learned the ways of the plants, and that the “rules” (see sidebar for quote) are merely guidelines with many variables. 

Yesterday I thinned my two flats of greens that I seeded March 4th- what! you say, that is almost a month!  Yes, things are growing slowly, I provided bottom heat to jump start germination and now the plants are growly ever so slowly, but they are stocky and healthy looking, and just waiting for the time when I can plant them out.  If I get in too big of hurry, the weather will not cooperate and I will have wasted my seeds and time.  So finally I have learned some patience.

Remember those old 1995 mizuna seeds I started?  I planted 5 seeds to a cell, thinking I only needed one seed to germinate.  Well, I guess 14 year old seed can still be viable, all 5 came up.  I am not too surprised since brassicas are oil seeds and therefore will keep longer.  But, geez, am I a packrat or what?


My task today was to thin/cull down to one plant per cell.  I always seed two seeds per cell, so I can end up with one.  This is where you cull.  Look at the plants and thin to the healthiest looking seedling.  I always wait until true leaves appear, so I can see how vigorous the future plant will be.  A weak plant that never gets beyond the cotyledon stage, means the seed was weak, with not enough food for the future plant, and those are obvious culls.  If all your seedlings look good, then just bite the bullet and pick one.  You do have to be ruthless in thinning at this stage, and in the garden later when you direct seed.  Always plant more than you want to end up with – so you can pick the obvious winners.

To thin you can cut with scissors, or snip with your fingernails, or horror of horrors, just pull out the weakling.  I pull, and it doesn’t seem to have slowed down my production of food any.  The old time gardeners around here all seeded in seed beds, and when the plants were up to transplant size, they dug up the plants and pulled them apart and planted them out in their gardens.  I was the recipient of many of these extras when I was starting out gardening, and the old timers believed that the new fangled way with pots was more detrimental because of the potential for the roots becoming crowded, and checking the growth at critical times. 

Brassicas are supposed to “like” the shock of transplanting, so do whatever method feels right to you, just make sure you thin. 

Good ol’ Ruby Ball, thinned and ready for some warm weather!

Tomatoes and peppers in the forefront, and celery, celeriac, and herbs in the back flat.  These were seeded two weeks ago, and some of the slow peppers are just peeking out.  These will be thinned when the true leaves appear, and potted on a little later.  These solanums definitely would like some warmer weather!  Me too!

13 Comments leave one →
  1. March 27, 2009 10:43 pm

    As an ambitious backyard gardener just venturing into the world of seeds, can you remind me where I can order quality seeds? I have none of my own (other than carrots, green onions, and some herbs) and would like to get some. The seed catalog that I ordered months ago and had set aside to order from was accidentally recycled! Sob! I don’t even remember the name of it as I think I had read about it here or on one of the blogs connected to yours last year and immediately requested a catalog. I suppose I can always get seed at the store, but the catalog was just full of varieties that I’d like to try. My youngest is ready to get going on our starts as am I. Any suggestions? Oh, one more thing, thanks for the tips on thinning. 🙂

  2. March 28, 2009 4:02 am

    Wow…14 year old seed! That is so cool. How did you have it stored? Everything looks beautiful! I have a hard time culling the seedlings. It just seems so unfair…but it has to be done. 🙂

  3. March 28, 2009 5:59 am

    Paula, there are so many, but Territorial Seeds come to mind. Go to their website and click on retail sites – there should be someone on your side of town with a seed rack. I know Portland Nursery (50th & SE Stark)carries almost the whole line, and you can get a free catalog there too. However, I don’t know if you come across the river… .

    I know from personal experience, one can have too many seed catalogs 🙂 I don’t recycle any until, I have a replacement! And some I keep for reference.

    CW-J, I store my seeds in those plastic Sterilite boxes with snap on lids, and then I keep them in cabinet in our mudroom which keeps them dry, cool and in the dark.

    I know what you mean the culling is the hard part. But like you say, it does have to be done. 🙂

  4. March 28, 2009 7:18 am

    Thinning is always the hardest thing for me to do. I’m such a softy and always want all the plants that germinate.

  5. March 28, 2009 10:00 am

    Oh Happy Day! That’s it! That’s the catalog I had! I visited the Territorial Seed Company website and recognized it immediately, plus it still had all my information in it when I went to the catalog page. Oh, you don’t know how happy you’ve made me! Thanks so much! Of course, I’m tantalized by their veggie starts page … we’ll see if I give into temptation and drive to Cottage Grove! 🙂 PS: I do venture to the east side, mostly for the kids’ activities. My kids are in CYO, and traveling to all their events taught me my way around greater Portland! In the summer, my hubby likes to go hiking in the Gorge to escape the heat! Weekends now are eaten up with kids CYO sporting events (track season!). Fun stuff!

  6. Catholic_mom permalink
    March 28, 2009 11:34 am

    This is my learning year. I have never planted seeds before, but my son and I are trying to learn how to grow some food so that we can be a little more self-sufficient. I don’t think we will end up farming. I am hoping we can end up with a large vegetable garden, though.

    I planted tomatoes, sugar snap peas, and cucumbers. Later on I will plant peppers. I wanted to plant fingerlings and potato onions too, but I’m told it is too late?! (Oh well… mistake number one, get the seed potatoes and the onions in February next year.) All these things, my family will eat till there is nothing left, so I wanted to try them. I don’t know how they will grow, I have a black thumb, but we have 3 books we are constantly referring to, and I will hope for the best.

    I also want to plant mesclun today or tomorrow, but I am afraid it is too late again and I might just waste the seeds. According to my book, mesclun is a cool-weather crop and we are already at 60 degrees here, on average, in the daytime.

    It is really helpful to read your blog. Especially all your descriptions of growing and planting. It makes me feel like maybe my seeds are progressing normally instead of being slow. I have bookmarked the raspberry blog post too, because my son wants to try raspberries at the bottom of our garden.

  7. March 28, 2009 6:42 pm

    That is impressive that 14 year old seeds sprouted! I admit I have a hard time thinning . I have been reading up at growing carrots and what I have done wrong all these years is neglected to thin them….hello. As far as seedings I always start a couple in each and just transplant them if more than one sprouts.

  8. March 28, 2009 10:29 pm

    they are sooo pretty. How could I possibly thin them.. ha ha.

    (my daddy didn’t thin them until they were big enough to eat… thats what I remember having as our first fresh veggie of the season: the thinned beets and chard.

  9. March 29, 2009 5:00 am

    14 year old seeds, wow. I have cut/pasted your entire post into Word and saved the whole document – it is invaluable to me. Like one of the other posters, this is my learning year. I just got my seeds under grow lights after learning that led to the legginess of the first round of lettuce seeds…. and am headed to the store to get more lights as I want to get in some more seeds today. And it is reassuring to know that things can work out even if the “Rules” about timing the planting are not strictly followed – there *is* some flexibility!

  10. March 29, 2009 8:06 am

    Lucky (of course it’s really better planning, more skill) you to have seedlings to thin. A rodent (vole, I think) just ate all my brassica, lettuce and onion seedlings. I have set a lot of traps and hope to get them before they get my tomatoes and peppers. If the three different kinds of traps don’t work I’m going to leave the cat in the greenhouse a few nights.

  11. March 30, 2009 2:31 am

    Seed that old must have definitely come from some nice strong plants! Maybe you just have the very best storage method ever.

    Your little seedlings looks so wonderful and strong!

  12. March 30, 2009 5:37 am

    Chiot’s, I used to be that way too, but got tired of my meager results – and once I saw how much better the remaining plant grew, I made myself do the deed.

    Paula, I’m glad that was the right one, it was just a stab in the dark. There are so many seed catalogs, it is hard to pick just one.

    Catholic-Mom, it sounds like you’re on your way to a great garden! I’m not sure what state you’re in, but I don’t think it is too late to plant potatoes. The St Patrick’s Day for potatoes and President’s Day for peas is bunk for my garden at least.

    As for the mesclun, it isn’t too late, it will just grow faster, and the only problems will be that some of the plants will just try to bolt (set seed, by sending up a seed stalk) and can taste hot or maybe bitter. It is better to try to make your own mesclun by planting greens that you like. In the summer, mesclun should lean to more lettuce and less mustards and cool crops, but I would say try to plant anything that you have, and don’t worry too much about doing something wrong. I learn the best from my mistakes, I can only read so much about a subject and then I have to see it for it to stick.

    Your son sounds like a smarty! Raspberries are fun to grow and even more fun to eat! Thanks for reading!

    Kim, I’m guessing there will be more carrots on the menu this summer?? 🙂

    Pamela, just think of giving the survivor a better life! Your daddy was one smart cookie!

    Mangochild, you still have plenty of time, and it is hard to sift through everyone telling you what to do.

    I think the light will do wonders for your next batch. 🙂

    EJ, Arrgh, I hate those buggers! I have my seedlings up on a makeshift bench, so the rodents (it always seems the cats never get them all) don’t get them, but the chickadees love greens so I have to mess with a net over mine. Good luck on your trapping!

    I have been meaning to answer your question about greenhouse insurance… not sure where you are with that. Just make sure that your policy will cover the storm damage of ALL kinds. Our original insurer went out of business about 5 years ago and this was the replacement policy we ended up with. Sadly we assumed the policy would cover the same types of things our previous one did. Ironically, (insert sarcastic look here) our policy covers things that are not likely to happen. Live and learn (to grow without a greenhouse that is.)

    Christy ACB, I think the seed was exceptional, and I did get the seeds from Johnny’s who have been the best company (seed-wise) that I have ever dealt with. I wish they carried more organic offerings, but that will come with time.

  13. March 30, 2009 11:12 am

    Enjoyed my visit to your blog. I will sure to come back to read more posts.
    Thinning has always been the “hardest” part for me. Last year I carefully separated the roots and transplanted each into their own separate containers.
    I can’t believe that those 14-year-old seeds are still good!

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