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Expensive Real Estate

March 19, 2012

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?

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25 Comments leave one →
  1. Lisa permalink
    March 19, 2012 3:55 pm

    Do you use commercial seed starting mix?

    • March 19, 2012 7:08 pm

      Lisa, I just use a commercial organic potting soil. Lots of good recipes for making your own though in books and on the web.

  2. March 19, 2012 4:36 pm

    Man, I don’t even know what I don’t know about starting seeds. OK there’s 3 eaters in your house? And 200 celeriac? How many mangels for Jane?

    How many tomatoes? I fit my whole garden into 2 trays – of course some stuff is direct sow, but I didn’t start more than 9 of any single variety. And I was stingy with the seed….

    I’m guessing I may have some do-overs coming up soon….

    • March 19, 2012 7:13 pm

      AMF, we went through almost 100 celeriac this winter (still some left) but I could have used more, I was kind of scotch with them. Some of the 200 are for a neighbor, though.

      I’ll probably plant about 25 tomato plants give or take, and I have no idea on the mangels because I direct seed those, so that is just a row foot type of measurement. Last year I planted about 75 feet of mangels, probably double that would do for Jane with the other roots added in.

  3. March 19, 2012 5:50 pm

    It pains me, PAINS ME, to thin plants, and so I am a stickler about only putting one seed in each space. I know it is a bit ridiculous, and it also means I never exactly know how many plants I’m going to end up with. Logically, I know it doesn’t make sense, but it just feels so wasteful otherwise!

    • March 19, 2012 7:14 pm

      Kara, I know thinning is hard but pretty necessary in gardening. Just think of it this way, if you put two in, and you thin out the weaker one, you are going to growing better food 🙂

  4. March 19, 2012 6:12 pm

    MOH, what kind of outside temperatures are you dealing with when you start seeding? Daytime highs? Nighttime lows? I’ve been considering the the plastic bags that come with our big totes of grain screenings with an eye to recycling them into a small hoophouse. Is this the same one you have the chickens in, so there would be some heat generated by chickens and deep bedding? Any idea what the temps are inside the hoophouse? Thanks!

    • March 19, 2012 7:35 pm

      Bee, it hasn’t been that cold, just down to freezing, and maybe forties during the day and we had one or two 60 degree days a while back. My hoophouses aren’t heated, so the heat mat acts as the heat for the plants.

      Here’s out it works in my unheated hoophouse which is about the same temperature as outside during the night. My shelves are hanging for mouse proofing, so I start with a piece of rigid foam insulation, heat mat, flats, thermometer, and then I cover the flats with a small plastic tent made from leftover greenhouse plastic. This gives me a miniature greenhouse, the plastic keeps the heat in to keep the temperature in the 70F range. However, 5 minutes of sun during the day can heat the hoophouse up to 100F. Most days the plastic tent comes off and if it reaches 65 or 70 I turn off the mat until nighttime. Obviously I am home so this system is not full proof for people who work, but growing our food is my work – so I don’t mind the micro-managing 🙂

      No the chickens are NOT near the plants, they have their own hoophouse! Only babies will be later, the full grown hens dust too much! Not to mention I would not have any plants 😦 Been there, done that one! I have used manure though in a hotbed for seed starting, my choice would probably be horse or cow, which heat up faster than the chicken. That would be my off grid choice, I mentioned in an earlier post that I can duplicate heat with manure (in hard times) but not light, so I wait to start my plants until the natural light is strong enough to grow the plants once they germinate.

  5. March 19, 2012 11:21 pm

    I start my tender plants off indoors but our season is shorter and no electric for our greenhouse. The less tender plants we have started off this year in a small greenhouse inside our big greenhouse. We will see how that works and may jiggle around with that next year. Maybe some manure in there to heat it up would be good but not sure I could work with the smell 😀

    • March 20, 2012 5:40 am

      Joanna, heck just add carbon 😉 Actually for a hotbed you make it like a compost pile, a mix of brown and green so you shouldn’t have any smell just like with deep bedding 🙂

  6. March 20, 2012 3:41 am

    I do much the same with seeds and matching like plants within a flat. I don’t have heat mats, just a wood stove. Usually this time of year is fine, lots of snow on the ground and cold. This year we’ve not burned the stove since the end of February and it’s in the 70’s. So things aren’t coming up as fast as I’m used to.

    But once up, they’ve grown well and because it’s so warm, I can move them out to the cold frame. I just dream of a hoophouse now….

    • March 20, 2012 5:42 am

      Pam, yeah a hoophouse is pretty nice 🙂 I’m hoping for some of that warm weather, this is the third cold spring we’ve have had in row. Darn La Nina!

  7. March 20, 2012 6:13 am

    I have a few flats on my box brooder but only the beets came up. All the beets came up. I need to get started again. Only 6 weeks till we’re frost free though it feels like summer now.

    • March 20, 2012 6:27 am

      It still feels like winter here 😦 Have you had much luck transplanting beets?

      • March 20, 2012 10:56 am

        This will be my first try. Found something online that said to get them up to an inch, dip them in manure paste and replant them. Not going whole hog on the first try.

  8. March 20, 2012 8:53 am

    MOH, there was a great post recently at 47th avenue farm about their new germination station that I would like to try some day (when I have the room!). The heat source is a bucket heater in a small water trough under a commercial shelving unit all inside of a plastic mini tent inside the hoop house. The heater is wired in line with a thermostat so you don’t need to turn the heater on and off with the weather. It might need some modification to make it mouseproof (put the feet in buckets of water?), but looked like a super cool system.

    • March 21, 2012 5:20 am

      Spudlust, I had to go look, it looks like a 50 gallon trough, that is pretty slick. The mice have me bummed, which is the price to pay when you involve stationary chicken housing. The buckets of water might do the trick! What a great idea!

  9. March 20, 2012 9:30 am

    OK, I’m in. Fodder beets and Styrian pumpkins on the way for the Ladies! I’m kind of excited.. I like them to have something succulent in the winter months. Do you feed them to your horses too?

  10. March 20, 2012 10:22 am

    I keep thinking about heating mats but people keep telling me they are not necessary. This is the first year I’m growing my tomatoes from seed. I’ll see how it goes.

  11. March 21, 2012 8:04 pm

    I use a west facing window sill. I get great afternoon sun. Most of my starts are ready to get into the ground this coming weekend. Unfortunately, I’m losing all my heirloom starts to one of the wilts this year already, I think.

    • March 22, 2012 5:02 am

      OS, wow, in the ground! I’m jealous. Sorry about the wilting thing 😦

      • March 22, 2012 7:40 am

        Oh yes! Spring has been here since the first of Feb! It’s been in the mid-80s all month. Or, maybe that’s more like Summer is here already. I delayed my in ground planting fearing a late frost that didn’t happen. Usually the first safe planting date is April 10th.

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