Expensive Real Estate
I’m in the midst of starting seeds for the growing season that is about to begin soon…I hope. Snow on the ground again as I write this. Sigh.
I use heat mats in a small hoophouse. But no matter what your method, lights, mini greenhouse, or sunny windowsill, the space is always at a premium because the plants are in an incubation state. And with succession planting you need to keep at it. Since heat mats and lights are expensive but very important for season extension, it pays to use them wisely. To maximize my space I use small cell flats in my 10″ x 20″ trays. I have the larger four flat mat size, and I find it just about perfect for our needs.
I use 200 and 48 cell flats the most. The 200’s get seeded with tomatoes, peppers, herbs, celeriac and any other fine seed suitable for transplanting. All need to be transplanted on for many weeks before they will be ready for the garden or hoophouse. Once a flat germinates, I can move it off the heat and start a new flat of something else.
The 48’s get most of our salad type plants, or miscellaneous greens, by the time they fill the cell they will be ready for transplanting.
Another expensive real estate tip is to use extra seed. I seed two seeds per cell, and if my seed is old and I am testing it, I may put several more. Seed is inexpensive compared to the labor, energy, potting soil, and time you spend waiting. If I want 200 celeriac plants, I plant accordingly so every cell has a plant. Further, I have 200 cell flats that I have cut in half to give a 100 cell half-flat. Perfect for those times when I have just one slot open on the heat mat but I don’t want to seed 200 small cells. I can fit four 6-packs on one side and the hillbilly 100 on the other side and voilà, I have 124 spaces to seed, where 48 would be not enough and 200 would be too many. There is more than one way to skin a cat!
My final heat mat frustration buster is to seed like things together, tomatoes love heat like peppers, but the tomatoes germinate in about 5 – 7 days and the peppers may take two weeks, if you have them together, you risk the tomatoes getting too hot, so keep them separate. Another way to say this is lump your germination times together and you will find it a lot easier in the long run.
For me the flats system with a heat mat works well, and doesn’t take up too much space for a boat load of starts and I have the equipment. To start over with soil blocks or to use recycled containers would mean that I would have to recycle the perfectly good flats I have. My favorite thing about it all is though, that it is outside! No potting soil inside, and even on snowy days the hoophouse is a spring-like place to hang out.
What system do you use? What would would you change?