Garden Journal: Starting Seeds

So I’ve been thinking that instead of whining about my life, I could also write about gardening here.  It would be very responsible of me to start keeping a gardening journal, and doing it online would make it easier to include photos.

So today I started a bunch of seeds.  Last year I think I started seeds in late March, and my plants weren’t as big as I would have liked them to be when it came time to plant them outside.  I made a LOT of mistakes with my gardening last year because I wanted to learn by trial and error rather than looking everything up before I did it—or maybe I was just lazy.  This year, I’ve been doing my research.  This page has a lot of helpful information, but looking at gardening forums also helps to get feedback from people on what they’ve tried and how it turned out.  So it seems that last year when I tried to start seeds indoors, I did several things wrong: I left the greenhouse covers on after the seeds had germinated, I had the plants in holes that were way too small, I didn’t fertilize, I started them a little later, and worst of all, I didn’t think to acclimate them to the outdoors before trying to transplant them, so transplanting just didn’t really work.  Other things I learned last year include that tomatoes really prefer growing rightside-up, that rabbits will eat everything if you don’t have a good fence, and that it actually is pretty important to amend the soil before planting.  I’m afraid I’m kind of screwed on that point because I’m not going to dig up the perennials I already planted in half the garden, but I’m going to try to find some mulch or something to add to it in the spring.  So I made a lot of mistakes, but at least I learned a lot in the process.  (Another benefit is that this is a rental property, so whatever I mess up, I, at least, don’t have to live with forever.)

Today, I started by emptying two bags of Jiffy Organic Seed-Starting Mix into a big plastic pot which I put on my fire escape, and then I boiled a big pot of water and poured the water over the soil to sterilize it.  I had read that one should bake soil in the oven to sterilize it, but people on gardening forums seemed to conclude that the stench that creates outweighs any benefits and they recommended the boiling water method instead.  For my plants, I used two four-packs of those compostable fiber containers that hold eight plants each (so 64 cells total), along with a flat that holds 18 three-inch pots (which I bought perennials in last year—I’m glad I thought to save the containers), and a few other small pots I had around.  For most plants I put two seeds in each cell in case one didn’t germinate, and I plan to thin them out later.  I planted Salvia, scallions, dill, basil, chamomile, cucumbers (both Burpee seeds and seeds I saved from an actual cucumber I grew last year), Romaine lettuce, “Sweet Snack Hybrid” tomatoes, sunflowers (American Giant and Autumn Beauty), snapdragons, arugula, moonflowers from my parents’ house, columbines from my parents’ house, soy beans from my garden last year, and mini sweet peppers from a pepper I bought at the grocery store.  I’m also considering trying to plant seeds from the organic grape tomatoes I buy every week.  The plan is to try to plant new lettuce every two to three weeks so that I can have lettuce all summer, instead of just for a month.  I had thought about starting the carrot and poppy seeds I bought as well, but Google searches advised against it and recommended planting them directly in the ground.  I also plan to plant beans and potatoes directly in the ground, as that worked well last year.

After my seeds were all tucked into their pots and nestled under their soil blankets, I sprayed them with water so they would be moist, covered the trays with plastic wrap, and set them up in a little growing area I made in the basement.  Our basement is SCARY in the dark.  It makes weird noises and is full of strange things, some of which are undoubtedly harmful (such as asbestos, lead paint, mold, or weird spiders).  Property records show that this house was built around 1890.  Most of it has been remodeled at least a couple of times since then, but the basement is the one part that really looks about 120 years old.  It smells funny and is covered in cobwebs and water runs down the walls whenever it rains.  I cleared out the cobwebs from under the stairs (along with some random debris and a reeeally old faucet), hammered some nails into the beams and suspended a huge fluorescent “shop light” there.  The folks at Home Depot helped me find one bulb with cool light and one with warm light so my plants would get the full color spectrum.  It was tricky to set it up and get both bulbs to light up and not fall out of the fixture.  I am not the most electrically-inclined person, and the warnings on the box about the light bulbs containing mercury made me kind of nervous, but I survived and it works.  I’m going to go down there and plug it in as I leave for work in the mornings (around 8) and unplug it when I come home.  I’m also considering trying to find one of those timer-things like my parents used to use for the lights when they went out of town to discourage people from trying to break in, but I have no idea where to find one or how they work.  The major advantages of the basement setup are (1) more space; (2) seedlings growing straight up, hopefully, instead of leaning toward the window; and (3) landlord pays for the electricity and hopefully doesn’t figure it out.  (Yes, I am a bad person.)

Seeds & Grow Light