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Some Seed Starting

March 6, 2016
plastic reinstalled

plastic reinstalled

Now that my daughter and I wrestled the plastic back on one greenhouse – ugh – we are waiting for the soil to dry enough to work for planting, and for a day when we have more help for the next one.  Too. Much. Work.

The sorghum sudan cover crop winter killed as I had hoped and really protected the soil from our heavy winter rains.  In December we received 25.4″ of rain, it’s a blur now, but I don’t think we had more than a handful of days without rain that month.

Now the tedious seed starting season commences.  Lists of varieties and succession dates will be the job now.

February 10, 2016

February 10, 2016

Plants I seeded in early February are almost ready to transplant in the ground or be potted on in the case of slow growers like herbs and flowers.

Heat mat real estate is at a premium so I have to be on my toes when planning how to best use the heat mat to my advantage.  The heat mats I have utilize 1020 flats, which means the flats are 10 x 20 inches.  You can purchase inserts with many different cell sizes to maximize the use of each flat. I most commonly use 200 cell, and six-pack size that give me 48 cells per flat. Determining cell size depends on what each type of plant needs.  Or actually how long that seedling going to be in the cell before you transplant or pot on is the most important.  The heat mat supplies bottom heat for germination and usually runs about 20°F more than the ambient temperature.  We start our seeds in an unheated greenhouse, where the temperature ranges from 30°F at night to as high as 100°F during the day with a few sun breaks.  We don’t use a thermostat, so we have to rely on our wits and paying attention to the weather to keep from freezing or burning up our plants.  Most days the heat mat is off due to higher temperatures during the day even if it’s cloudy or rainy.  Definitely not a hands off system.

My goal always is to get the seeds germinated and off the heat mat as soon as possible and use that heat mat space to start more plants.  If I use the 200 cell flats as opposed to the 48 cell for instance I can start 200 plants in the same time that I can start 48, and the sooner you can get the flats off the heat mat, the less it costs to use the heat mat.  To make sure I am not wasting time though by being so efficient with my 200 cell inserts, I have to make sure I group my seeds in groups of plants that need the same temperatures to germinate and most importantly, seeds that have the same germination times.  I does me no good to plant slow germinating celeriac that may take 21 days to germinate in the same insert with quick germinating bok choy or something of that nature.  To remedy this, I simply took some of my 200 cell packs and cut them in half length-wise to give me 100 cells, and that will take up only half the flat.  Many times I use the home-made 100’s with each other and simply remove the fast germinating 100 insert when it’s time, and then I can replace it with another, or 6 packs and still use that heat or actually not waste it.

Size does matter in determining what and how many seeds to plant.  Fast germinating and fast growing peas can be started in a 200 cell insert too, we just need to move them out sooner than some other plants.  By starting peas in a flat instead of direct seeding we can shave off about a week of worry in case the weather turns on us.  With a hoophouse you make your own weather, so to speak.  And a 200 cell flat works out perfect for our pea system.  We use hog panels for pea trellising, simple to move and install, a couple of t-posts and some scrap twine and you have an instant trellis that lasts for years, and can even keep a hog in too.  Note: if you are growing tall peas you might want to use a cattle panel to give your peas enough trellis height.

pea plugs in the furrow last summer

pea plugs in the furrow last summer

Hog and cattle panels come in 16′ lengths, and it just so happens that 32 row feet of peas (a row on each side of the panel) is about all I can keep up picking during the growing season.  So how many peas do I need?  First I determine plant spacing which can be found either on the seed packet or in a seed catalog under the culture box.  I usually plant peas about 2″ apart, so I need to know how many inches I have to work with.  I figure it out like this:  16′ (hog panel length)  x 12″ (number of inches per foot) = 192″ / 2″ = 96″  Perfect, I need 96 pea plugs (or seeds if direct seeding) per side of my hog panel trellis.  If you round up, and I always do with live things, a 200 count cell insert is perfect for pea starting.  Simplified, one flat of 200 starts is needed for each panel, this is good to know if I want to increase my plantings, or if I need to squeeze another succession of peas in on the heat mat.  I could use less cells and give the peas more room, but then I would need 2 or 3 more flats to germinate the same amount of starts.


Our peas we planted the other day are already showing signs of germinating, so we really have gained about a week with just this crop alone.

I learned my lesson long ago to not be in too much of a hurry, one year with grow lights on my plants allowed me to start plants too early.  I ended up with a lot of plants and cool, inclement weather.  Now I wait until our greenhouse has enough natural light to sustain the seedlings and it seems to coincide with proper conditions for planting when the plants are ready.

A couple of rules I stick by:

♥  Organic potting soil for seed starting.  It has a little bit of organic fertilizer and when the plants get started they don’t miss a beat.  It also is less troublesome than seed starting mix when it comes time to keep the flats properly watered.  For plants that will be in the cells for a month or so, we add extra fertilizer to the mix before filling the flats.

♥  I make sure my heat mat is working before I want to start seeds.  Hard lesson learned by the Queen of Procrastination.

♥  I buy extra and seed more than I think I need so in case of some type of failure, I will have enough plants to fit my planting plans.

♥  Keep good garden notes, so I can see what worked and what didn’t.

I think the hardest part of writing a blog post is a conclusion…no way to conclude a post about seed starting except to say Happy Seed Starting!



26 Comments leave one →
  1. March 6, 2016 3:57 pm

    You can’t be the Queen of Procrastination! I AM THE QUEEN OF PROCRASTINATION!! 😀

  2. deb permalink
    March 6, 2016 4:58 pm

    Teacher, can I be excused? My brain is full.. ☺

  3. deb permalink
    March 6, 2016 7:35 pm


  4. March 6, 2016 10:07 pm

    Hi, Nita – I thought you had those roll-up thingies for your plastic. Would that work – to roll it all up to the ridge, then leave it there for the few months you let the ground rest?

    • March 7, 2016 6:03 am

      Marilyn, we tried that the first year we decided couldn’t deal with overnight snow in depths that would collapse the hoops. It didn’t work very well, we ended up slitting the plastic to relieve water weight 😦 The water was so heavy that it was bowing the ridge. One more set of hands would have made all the difference this time, we were too slow, and the wind came up, and it’s surprising how just a breeze you wouldn’t even notice will take a large piece of plastic and make it into a sail. Patience was the lesson I needed to learn here, just wait until you have someone to help. Patience comes hard for me 😦

  5. quinn permalink
    March 6, 2016 11:38 pm

    Look at those beautiful pea plugs! 🙂

    • March 7, 2016 6:04 am

      Quinn, that was August and those peas produced until they froze out in November. It was so hot and dry and I never would have gotten them germinated in the garden as easy as I could in the shade of the orchard where I could tend to them.

  6. March 7, 2016 3:59 am

    Keeping notes is crucial for me. My notes for each variety of plant go back to 1995. Not heat mats here, just the wood stove for the ones who like warm. Fastest seed starting ever this year, and they weren’t even by the stove: Vates kale up to 1/2″ in 48 hrs. Just in a south window, like every year. And it was older seed too!

    What is it with herbs and flowers, taking forever to come up? Vegs are up in days, the others weeks to a month.

    As usual, major greenhouse envy….

    • March 7, 2016 6:05 am

      I know those darn tiny little herb seeds! My sweet peas did show off though I was hoping the others would take notice 🙂

  7. Craig permalink
    March 7, 2016 4:16 am

    I’ve never tried to start peas in flats before. I’ve always directed seeded them because that’s what I was taught by my parents. Wish I had tried it this year, my germination rates in the garden has been horrible.

    • March 7, 2016 6:10 am

      Craig, me too, but once I got the use of the greenhouse earlier (we used to winter our egg layers in there) I realized oh wait…this is a garden not just a summer house for tomatoes and peppers. So garden it is, in March no less. For us where it rains until July, making getting a garden in before the end of May difficult. A greenhouse and transplanting more really gets us in fresh food faster. Even transplanting peas outside would gain you weeks if you have spotty germination.

  8. JessB permalink
    March 7, 2016 7:04 am

    We use cattle panels for all our trellising. They are fantastic.

  9. Bee permalink
    March 7, 2016 8:16 am

    I second (or maybe third or fourth) the panels for trellising. Back in the days before there were such things (and I couldn’t afford them, anyway), my hubby, who is a very skillful welder, re-purposed some old metal fence posts into trellises for me: two side pieces like a broad-topped, upside-down V, joined in the middle. We took some old woven wire fencing and ran it up one side and down the other, then wired it to the fence post structure. Each side is about four feet wide, and they’re six feet high; I plant things like peas on both sides of the wire panel, so one trellis equals 16 feet of growing space. Other than a few dollars for the welding rod, they were free (I like free!). These things are highly likely to outlast me, but they’re light enough to be portable. I use them in the kitchen garden, where I have a raised bed system. They also make band of shade in which I can grow stuff like lettuce during the hotter days of spring and fall — I don’t grow much lettuce around here in the middle of the summer; it bolts too fast. I’ve also hooked them together with a pole across the top and a string trellis to increase growing space. For larger areas, though, I think cattle panels work better.

    • March 7, 2016 9:29 am

      Excellent! I wouldn’t want to be without panels now, so useful for so many things. But you can’t be a handy and skilled hubby for repurposing and making something useful again. Mine spent his birthday making brackets to keep the greenhouse roll-up sides from going gaga when the wind blows. It will save the sides and him some extra work in the long run, but I appreciated him taking time out of his day to make something for me.

      You might try some of the hot weather lettuces like Jericho, Anuenue and Thai 88, or I guess it’s called Thai Oakleaf now, they would do well in the shade in your trellis system but they do great here in the hoophouse in heat of summer, shade or not.

  10. Karen permalink
    March 7, 2016 8:52 am

    The first two comments were too funny! Ditto for the comebacks Matron. 🙂

    Always try to plan for extra transplants. The birds have this thing about decapitating my fledgling peppers and tomatoes. Grrr. If I do end up with too many, there are always people very willing to take them off my hands.

  11. March 7, 2016 11:19 am

    Greenhouse envy – again! If I were a tad bit closer (and I will be when we move fulltime to the farm), I’d jump in the truck and head your way to help with that next greenhouse in a heartbeat! All the wisdom you share deserves paying forward.
    Now I have to head down to my tiny mudroom/makeshift greenhouse and figure out how to squeeze more stuff in…

    • March 7, 2016 3:36 pm

      LFF, that would have been great! You know how those projects that seem so easy and fast turn into a long drawn out affair? This was one of those and no turning back 😦

  12. Carrie permalink
    March 8, 2016 4:44 am

    Great post, thank you.

  13. Allisa Imming permalink
    March 8, 2016 9:53 am

    Reading this really gets my enthusiasm up!

  14. Adam McClory permalink
    March 8, 2016 8:33 pm

    Great post, thanks! It was nice to see that you are starting your peas in a 200 cell flat – I have my snap and shelling peas in a 72 cell flat and I wasn’t sure if that was quite big enough – now I know that it is! Did you ‘pot up’ the peas before transplanting or did you just put them in the ground directly from the 200 cell flat? Thanks again for all of the great information.

    • March 9, 2016 6:24 am

      Adam, I just plant them directly from the 200 as soon as I can pull them out. These are going in the greenhouse anyway so they don’t have to have too much size. If I could plant outside I would want them a little larger maybe the 72 or 98 size.

  15. March 8, 2016 8:35 pm

    How old is your daughter? She sounds like a great girl. My grandkids are 14 and 16 and work on the family farm regular, sometimes not really happy about it but usually are very good workers.

  16. Mads Stub Joergensen permalink
    March 9, 2016 5:39 am

    You are a true inspiration, keep up the good work. I love your blog.

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