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Some Seeding Done

March 14, 2013

In the gardening game it does not pay to hurry.  The sun streaming in the window makes me want to hurry but I do know better.  My gardening season runs about three weeks behind Portland and the Willamette Valley.  No, we don’t have snow or frozen ground but we run just a few degrees cooler, and in the temperature game that is huge.  It was sunny yesterday, and I seeded to the chorus of the frogs trying out their voices, but if I stepped out of the warmth of the greenhouse, I needed to put my sweatshirt back on.



Even with the season-extending greenhouse, I still won’t transplant my tomatoes and peppers until May.  I have also discovered the hard way that seeding too early just leaves me with plants that have been stunted by a check in their growth.  I don’t necessarily want big plants, I want plants that are just ready to go into the ground.

I thought this would be a good time to share some of my greenhouse seed starting tips because I don’t follow all the “rules.”  Imagine that :O

I like starting my plants when I have enough natural light in the greenhouse to do so.  I’ve done the light thing before in the house and it just doesn’t work for me.  While I am using bottom heat provided with a heat mat (love those things), lights just get me into trouble.  Namely, plants that grow too fast for the real life conditions they will be subjected to.  Starting seeds in the unheated greenhouse keeps me humble.  We are still harvesting from the gardens now, so it makes little sense to me to panic and get started too early.  Planning for a year round harvest takes the urgency out of my food planning.  We always have something to eat that is fresh, and heaven knows we have lots of preserved items too.

We just have a few simple “rules” we follow when seeding.  My daughter does custom starting for folks and sells starts too, so we have to coordinate our efforts to make the best use of the heat mats.

♥  We use potting soil with a little added organic fertilizer like this.

♥  Always make sure to make a firm seed bed in your cells, potting soil is very fluffy.  Depending on cell size, gloved fingers work well or a dibble that fits the cell works great.  I’m using the term dibble here loosely, we have a 2″ x scrap block of wood from the batter boards from the actual greenhouse construction that works great.  The pointy end is a real dibble and the flat end makes a good pusher-downer for the potting soil.

♥  We always use a heat mat for quick germination until about June.  After that the ambient temperature is high enough for good germination.

♥  We always group seeds together in flats by germination times.  For instance, don’t seed Bok Choy, which takes about 4 days to come up in the same flat with celeriac that may take 3 weeks even with bottom heat.  In other words provide the conditions that the seeds need for the time the seeds need them.  Seed packets aren’t always a lot of help in this regard, memorize the culture boxes in your seed catalogs.

♥ Always seed two seeds per cell to ensure that you really utilize that seed starting space.  Seeds are cheap compared to the electricity, time and labor you use to get your seeds to transplant stage.  If your seeds are old, seed more than two per cell.  This helps you achieve 100% germination.

♥  Always label, while it’s nice to be a carefree gardener, you need the information.  Our labels contain variety name and if appropriate the company name also.  I also write down the date seeded on the seed packet for future reference.  Some seeds last for years, and I buy large quantities so that date information is at my fingertips when I’m seeding, and I don’t have to go digging around in my garden notes or a spreadsheet somewhere to figure it out.  I went through some old seed packets yesterday, and could tell at a glance that I had last used those seeds on 3/14/12.  Only one day difference from last year to this year.

♥  We water from the top.  With a heat mat the edges of the flats tend to dry out first and the middle tends to sag a bit and hold more water, so we monitor this carefully.

♥  We fashion a makeshift greenhouse with a scrap of greenhouse plastic over the plants to keep the temperature high enough for germination.  On sunny days, that gets removed, on cloudy days we leave it.  If we are leaving the farm, and there is any chance of sun, we remove the makeshift cover, the plants will recover from being a little cold, but they will not recover from being cooked.

While maybe this seems a little labor-intensive, I actually think that is a good thing.  We are after all, growing our food, it doesn’t magically appear like it does at the store, so I need to be paying attention to it.  If I’m not home, my DH or Ruthless keep a weather eye, they are invested too.  It’s a long way from that handful of celeriac seed to the eating.

As of yesterday this is what is seeded, some are for our own use and others are custom seeded, so we will get to try any extras of different varieties, which is a great way to experiment with seeds I may not purchase.

Costoluto Genovese – Cook’s Garden, Seeds of Change, Salt Springs Seeds
Pantano Romanesco
New Girl
Japanese Black Trifele
Amish Paste
Maria’s Paste
Sicilian Slicer

Numex Joe E. Parker
Red Ruffled Pimiento
Anaheim Hot
Sweet Cayenne
Numex Conquistador

Orient Express

Brilliant Celeriac
Bandit and Blau Gruener Leeks
Dakota Tears, Stuttgarter, Red Long, Walla Walla onions
Sweet Marjoram
Greek Oregano
Garlic Chives

That’s a good start anyway,  on to greens today!

26 Comments leave one →
  1. March 14, 2013 9:19 am

    Happy Planting:)

  2. March 14, 2013 9:46 am

    I though you said you didn’t start any Tomatoes till May? Are those all for custom starts for other folks, or have you started tomatoes now?

    • March 14, 2013 10:37 am

      I don’t set out tomatoes until May, but it takes about 8 weeks to get them to that stage. So the first or second week of March is about right for seeding.

      • March 14, 2013 11:19 am

        Glad it wasn’t just me who got confused :). So now if I plant my seedlings, they will hopefully be ready to plant up when I get back off my hols, providing my sitter remembers to water them

        • March 14, 2013 12:08 pm

          Joanna, you and Adam got me on that one! I went back and edited that paragraph for clarity. So in case anyone missed it, I plant tomato starts about the first week of May in the greenhouse, and those plants are started from seed in the first part of March.

  3. March 14, 2013 10:07 am

    so…why the gloves?

    • March 14, 2013 10:39 am

      To keep my fingers clean silly 😉 Really, though the soil is kind of damp, and it’s a bugger to handle those little seeds with damp fingers, and it does keep them cleaner, although that is a relative term, my hands look, uh, well-worn for sure. So gloves for flat filling and bare hands for seeding.

      • March 14, 2013 11:52 am

        We should compare hand scars sometime. You should see the rip I got on my right hand while driving t-post. That was almost more wound than I could superglue shut.

        I find gloves get in the way of work. I’m always taking them off and putting them back on. Makes sense though.

        • March 14, 2013 12:38 pm

          HFS, I got a twin to that on my forearm from a nail with no head on a field pen. Gah! I was surprised though that the cottonwood salve healed it pretty good, but I still cringe at the thought of it – OUCH. I like New-Skin for my quilting finger( along with Vetrap), do you think super-glue would work too? DH uses it on his cuts too and it works ok but sometimes the cut is little too big 😦

  4. March 14, 2013 11:50 am

    I loved reading your tomato list! I tried a new variety of paste tomato this year specially cultivated for the Northwest and seeded them 3 weeks ago with a heat mat and over head lights. They are up and hardy! Along with peppers, a’ course. I plan to keep them going early with makeshift mini greenhouses over them until our weather improves around June. (Here’s hoping!)

    Have you ever tried melons? I was at Jubilee Farm last fall and they had a whole field of melons and they are in Fall City, WA. Cool and rainy. I was able to get some seeds, but don’t quite know when to start or how to keep them going. I’m thinking heat, heat, heat, right?

    • March 14, 2013 12:52 pm

      Lindsey, I’m hoping for a more normal spring too! Fingers crossed!

      I’ve grown melons inside and out and both benefited from black plastic, melons really like it hot. Delicious 51 PMR has been the most reliable for me and easy to save seeds from. They are small, but oh my goodness they really perfume up the greenhouse when they are ripe, and the smallness helps too if you are hurting for space and want to trellis them. Melons are easily grown in Portland so Seattle would probably be fine too.

  5. March 14, 2013 11:53 am

    I have been harvesting my celeriac and enjoying it immensely, thanks to you. The celeriac I grew last year created little daughter plants off the side of the main bulb, which I pulled off and replanted. Does yours? Have you ever replanted them? So far they seem to be doing well…but I will be curious to see if they go to seed or bulb up this year.

    • March 14, 2013 12:41 pm

      SL, I haven’t seen that too much, and I dig a bunch and then look them over, so most of the time the daughters go in the hen food pile 😉 I save some full size ones for seed, so it’ll be interesting to see how your youngsters do – seeds or bulbs? Both are pretty yummy 🙂

  6. Anna permalink
    March 14, 2013 1:01 pm

    Yay! It’s not too late to seed celeriac! I thought it was. Happy dance! 🙂

    • March 14, 2013 3:23 pm

      Anna, nope, but don’t be surprised how slow it goes, but once it does take off it does really well.

  7. March 14, 2013 1:41 pm

    I am about 3 weeks into my seeding and getting ready to move my seedlings to cold frames. So far romaine lettuce, broccoli, cabbage, bok choy and onions. It will be first of June before I can transplant tomato and peppers so I wont start them until last of March or April. I don’t sell my produce and have plenty canned so I can wait so there is no rush to have those tomatoes so early. I do hope to plant my green peas and some leaf lettuce this weekend and maybe potatoes. Here’s hoping for a bountiful 2013 harvest for both of us : )

    • March 14, 2013 3:23 pm

      CQ, yum your starts sound delicious! I think I’m going to seed a flat of these tonight and then I’m done for a while.

      Yes, I agree, a bountiful harvest!

      • March 15, 2013 1:23 am

        Like you I always label. Last week my two year old grandson came in behind me and switched all my labels so this year I will have a surprise garden : ) By the way we have planted the Constaluto Genovese before and loved the taste. Extended family members that I shared with complained that they were hard to peel though. Also great minds think alike because I have some of the same white turnip seeds.

  8. March 14, 2013 5:26 pm

    Always label, Oh I do hear you! I was a horror for thinking i would remember! c

  9. March 15, 2013 2:37 am

    This year I’m trying something new. Instead of using the standard 8, 10, 12 week starting for my May 31 last frost date, I’ve pushed the dates forward 1 – 3 weeks on the ones I thought might do better. After 2 years of hearing John Kempf say older transplants are stressed, I thought I’d try younger ones and see how they did.

    Even though the climate change has meant really early springs here lately, I’m not trusting all my hard work to it. I simply can’t be restarting or losing plants. Last year, many people got caught out by a late hard frost. Unfortunately you can tell apple trees, etc. to wait, and so the apple harvest was very poor.

    Another thing that was brought up was that seedlings tended to do better in larger (fewer) cell trays. I’ve not used cell trays which may be why my plants always got so big. It seems the smaller (more) cells can be another stressor affecting production.

    Anyways, another experiment happening this year…

    • March 15, 2013 5:49 am

      Pam, I use lots of different cell sizes, depending on what the seed is, and lot of it comes down to space, for instance the 200 cell flat I use for celeriac, herbs etc., would take up way too much space if I put them in a larger cell flat. What does John Kempf say about fertilizing something that is in too big (IMO) pot for so long that the seedling depletes the fertility in the soil mix? I suspect it’s all about trade-offs, I would rather start my plants fast, re-pot when they need it in fresh soil instead of dealing with lots of larger pots and having to fertilize constantly.

      I guess I am at the point in my gardening that I don’t see much need to improve or change what has worked well for me in the past. I’ve never been a fanatic about frost-free dates anyway, since our ground is rarely ready to work by then, so the frost-free date really has no bearing on when I plant. I can manipulate the season somewhat in the greenhouse but me planting garden here right after our frost-free date is a pipe dream.

      • March 16, 2013 3:06 am

        Basically, he says they should not need transplanting, as that can be a stressor. By that I mean, they are planted, tended, and put into proper temp ground as soon as possible.

        He grants that is not always possibly, as you well know where you are. By having a larger cell, it gives you the extra week or 2 you might need. And of course, part of not stressing them is to keep them fed if need be.

        His experience has been that if the plant has many fewer stressors, particularly in the first weeks, it’s hugely more productive. And keeping them sufficiently fed will only add to that.

        So it’s an experiment here, this year….

        • March 16, 2013 4:24 am

          Pam, interesting, I see that in comparing direct seeding with transplanting on some things, but I don’t have the space to start that much in larger pots. Some folks say the the root pruning done when transplanting certain plants like any brassicas etc, cause them to grow even more roots, I believe I’ve seen that in print in Territorial’s winter catalog, besides the old timers here who transplant acres of cabbage telling me that, but that may be just brassicas. All the old time gardeners I knew used seed beds and planted thickly and just pulled the plants out when it was planting time. They still plant cabbage here commercially in mid summer (our regular drought time) with no water, and the plants never seem to suffer at all.

          I’ll be interested to hear of your experiment and see how it goes for you. Gardening is a great learning experience every year that is for sure 🙂

  10. Tim Williams permalink
    March 15, 2013 9:53 am

    Love the posts. May I recommend Seeds from Italy for all seeds (duh!) Italian? Their prices are competetive and the seed count per pack puts most to shame. Excellent packaging also. I mention it b/c I noticed Pantano and Cost. Genovese in your list. They really do give excellent value for money.

  11. Trish permalink
    March 15, 2013 11:01 am

    In early March we left cold, snowy interior Alaska and went to OR for a weeks vacation and I just drooled over the sight of green grass everywhere! And so much livestock out in the fields. What a difference. BUT we still start some seeds in late March here, so we are gearing up. Of course, up here if you don’t want to pay out the eyeballs to heat your greenhouse you need to use a light table indoors in addition to the heat mat. I have some serious Oregon envy right now, but after looking at real estate websites I’m not sure we could afford to buy a home with any land there anyway! So looking on the bright side, with our sunny days, even if its +10 degrees outside (and heck, that’s pretty good compared to what it was in January) it gets up to 55 in the greenhouse for a few hours! Almost Oregon like except for all that white stuff outside.

  12. Elizabeth permalink
    March 17, 2013 6:56 am

    I TRY and hold myself back from starting seeds indoors until after spring break (my sweet mother-in-law just chuckles at me when we bring tomato seedlings in the car for a visit). We can’t put anything in the ground here until the very last days of May and by that time, plantlings started inside before April 1st are leggy and stressed (ask me how I know this :).
    But this year I was pretty convinced that we would be having an early spring….warm, sunny days, actual rain instead of a rain- snow mix….
    So today I was going go against what I know to be true about Montana springs and start some seeds.

    Guess what we woke up to this morning?
    Yup- snow. An inch or 2 of new snow. Sigh. I guess I’ll just look through my seed catalogs again and dream some more of the “garden-yet-to-be” for another several weeks.

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