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Not the Garden Advice You Would Expect

March 8, 2012

Or maybe a garden confession… I don’t use grow lights.  It’s not because I am worried about power usage, because I use a heat mat under my flats.  But I have found that using lights lets me get a jump on things and this time of year that isn’t necessarily the right way to proceed with the garden starts.  Light and heat are the limiting factors in plant starting.

I also think in hard times, heat is something I can provide here via manure hotbeds, and to seeds, heat is heat.  Sunlight, that’s  different.  Plants under artificial light do not act the same as plants under the sun.  And when you use lights early, you risk the chance of the sun not cooperating when it is time to transplant.

So I wait until the first week of March to start my plants, and by the time the seeds have germinated the light is strong enough in the greenhouse to grow the plants.

Our snow is gone and we are having a sunny day or two, on days like today, I can unplug the mat let the solar energy do it’s thing.  Heat mat space is at a premium, so I use small cell flats, and once the plants germinate I can move those flats and start more.  Here is a post showing my mouse proof starting area, in the brooder/greenhouse.  Hopefully that idea will continue to work.

Bok Choy

When you start planning a garden for year round harvesting you will notice that the plants that commence growing first in the spring after over wintering will also be the plants that you start the earliest.

Arugula

Lacinato Rainbow Kale

Rhubarb Chard

How is seed starting going in your neck of the woods?

 

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22 Comments leave one →
  1. March 8, 2012 12:22 am

    I am so glad you posted this, it is so tempting to get started growing things but we are still deep in winter here in the hills of Latvia. Downhill they can see grass but we can’t. The sun is shining though and our season short so it is so tempting to get a head start and so your words of wisdom are a relief. Thanks also for showing us your rodent proof hanging tables – I think we shall be doing the same – once our greenhouse stops dipping well below freezing that is.

  2. March 8, 2012 3:39 am

    To be in the 60’s today, then drop back into the 30’s/day, teens/night. I do use lights because I don’t have a greenhouse and must stack trays on shelves in front of windows. I don’t use mats because shelves near the wood stove have worked excellently for decades here. I have thought often about what if.. and wondered what I would do in regards to light.

    Mostly I live vicariously, watching how you and others with greenhouses do. Maybe some day…

  3. March 8, 2012 4:31 am

    We are in the middle of maybe moving, maybe not. Got a trip to the farm (retirement property – hasn’t been a working farm in decades) at the end of the month to move some stuff.
    We’d like to plant, but I think ours will be a fall garden, if that, this year.
    Love your plants!

  4. DEE permalink
    March 8, 2012 4:52 am

    It would be going great if the wind would ever die down enough for us to put the plastic back on greenhouse!!! 45 mph gusts and plastic sails are not a good combo….I am getting anxious even though I know how fast plants will catch up in the greenhouse enviroment. Guess I’ll plant some peas and annoy my cat watching for the arrival of her kitten babies!

  5. Wendy permalink
    March 8, 2012 5:13 am

    Tomatoes and peppers are doing well here, and herbs are just starting to sprout, all in the house. We still have 4 feet or so of snow here, so it’ll be a bit before I get out to the greenhouse.

  6. March 8, 2012 5:19 am

    oh I am so behind on starting seeds. At least I have them all though.

  7. March 8, 2012 5:29 am

    I’ll have to give some thought to not using any grow lights. Because I live in such a cold climate (it’s -8F right now), I don’t start using the greenhouse in ernest until April or so (to save on heating costs). The seeds I’m starting now I do in the basement of the house where the temperatures are constant but then I have to use lights…

  8. March 8, 2012 6:22 am

    I just bought my germinating mix (organic!) and am hoping to start things this weekend. I really have to decide WHAT I want to plant and where. This year I’m hoping to incorporate more of my vegetables into the traditional “flower beds”.

  9. March 8, 2012 8:04 am

    Ugh…not going well here. It must be me. Bad germination rates. Bad.

  10. March 8, 2012 8:17 am

    I’m so glad you posted about this. In past years I have setup this elaborate system of lights and fans to get a jump start on the season. This year I decided I have room for only one set of grow lights and I’m running behind. I just now have my first trays of seedings sprouted and growing happily. After reading how you move them into the greenhouse with heat matts, I realized this is how I can start all that I want to start using less space. Probably something I could’ve figured out on my own but you get the credit for making the light bulb click on today, thank you!
    Elizabeth

    • March 8, 2012 8:45 am

      Elizabeth, I’m starting them in the greenhouse with the mats, it’s been freezing here at night so I put a mini greenhouse over the flats and it keeps the temp at about 70F under the plastic, although it is freezing in the greenhouse. I have when it’s been a cold snap of long duration, used the heat mats as heat for the flats once the plants have gotten some size, by putting spacers under the flats so the heat is not so direct. Works like a charm, I have always found the humidity level in my house too low for plant starting 😦 So it’s only greenhouse starting for me.

  11. March 8, 2012 8:21 am

    I thought I was the only tomato gardener left who does not have lights on purpose. I garden in the Pacific North West. I just started my tomato blocks on the 7th of March. What I traditionally do is take the trays of sprouts outside as soon as the temp hits 48 degrees and bring them back in at night. It gets to be quite the marathon. It is my crazy train and I rather enjoy the ride. Thanks for letting me know that I am not alone.

  12. March 8, 2012 8:36 am

    I’ve been starting seeds since mid February (which is showing restraint for me. It’s been Jan. the last two years.) We’re on the Front Range in Northern Colorado, a mile up, with 25 pc more solar energy hitting us as a result. That gives me a leg up on light, combined with our generally sunny weather (Feb. is one of the least snowy months of winter for us, thanks to the aforementioned range stealing all the snow in winter — we get our big storms in spring and fall when the storm track slips to the south and does a u-turn, hitting us from the eastern plains).
    We’ve had some nice stretches of 50- and 60-degree weather this month too, so I’ve been walking flats out for sunshine on those days. I’m growing starts for some friends and my own 2000s/f garden, so I have the time for this sort of babying and so far, the space (though once you pot them up, their space demands really multiply. It’s like watching someone split a downed tree. The final log pile is so much bigger!)
    I do have two banks of growlights in the basement, for the cloudy days. Most of my germinating has been around the woodstove, as I only have one heat mat for seedlings. One of the reasons I start so early is that I can’t provide 24 hour warmth (Stove goes out middle of the night) and I think that slows germination.
    I am just potting up brassicas into 2 inch pots from mini flats. I plant to plant some of them out into hoop-covered beds in another week or two and the rest out in the open garden early April. I’m seeding into the garden under another hoop in the next day or so (peas, spinach, lettuce and the crops you show above).
    Loving this time of year!

  13. Greg O permalink
    March 8, 2012 9:35 am

    Now, if you could do that hanging table thingie with carrots and parsnips so the gophers can’t get to them, that would be a trick, wouldn’t it? Instead I’m constructing little combination sheds of cow panels & pvc with 1/4 inch hardware cloth on the floor. Several birds with one stone: keeps chickens out of the greens and gophers out of the garlic, and a bit of plastic extends the season. But it isn’t simple or quick, and I very much like your tables. My greenhouse full of mouse traps might like them too!

  14. March 8, 2012 12:19 pm

    Got started just a week or two ago here in the north end of the Puget Sound. Little bits of green poking up in the hotbeds, in the greenhouse. Hoping to get more done this weekend.

  15. March 8, 2012 1:37 pm

    I don’t use lights either…the sunshine coming in through our conservatory is warmth enough for my seeds and seedlings. Some of them even go in as early as January…

  16. March 9, 2012 4:10 am

    This year was the first time I had one little flourescent light over my plants because of the constant rainy days. It didn’t help a bit. I don’t usually worry about my plants getting a bit leggy because eventually they get enough sun and grow just fine.

  17. March 9, 2012 8:46 am

    Seedlings are starting to take over my house here! I’m annexing the south-facing window in the spare bedroom next 😉
    -Jaime

  18. March 10, 2012 10:14 am

    I really appreciate your insight to artificial light and sunlight. I have similar experience and found that starting later was better for our area too. Maybe it was procrastination, but it has worked out for the harvest! ~ Kari

  19. March 11, 2012 5:03 pm

    Great post. I have a tray with leeks under grow lights, and a month later started a tray with miscellaneous early greenery that is much too leggy. Tomatoes will be started any day now. The residual snow got some reinforcement today. I checked out the greenhouse yesterday to look for signs of life among the overwintered babies. The endives looked healthy and promising a week or so ago, but had been hit by the ENEMY. Voles. They ate all the growing hearts.

  20. March 11, 2012 6:55 pm

    We have a glowing sunny day here and I am excited to get started on my over-sized beds and the carrots and onion starters I am going to plant. Bok Choy looks lovely with the snow around … nice! 😉 I actually host a weekly gardening link up every Friday on my blog. I’d love for you to drop by and join in.

  21. March 12, 2012 6:50 am

    This is my first year with a greenhouse and I didn’t use lights either. I did start in January so germination was slow with the short days and chilly nights. But they are nice hardy seedlings now and I saved myself the hassle of electricity in the greenhouse. I still hope ot have the first tomato on the block!
    Stevie@ruffledfeathersadnspilledmik.com

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