Some Seed Starting
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.
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.
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!