I love starting plants from seed! It’s a fun and fascinating challenge to figure out what works for which seeds. And the best part is watching them grow from nothing into a full grown plant out in my garden. That said, I do not advise you to try it unless you, too, really love the whole process and are willing to devote more time and resources toward getting your plants than it would take to go to a plant sale and simply buy them. I’m certainly not saving any money by doing it this way! And I’m also adding to my lengthy to do list for every spring; it takes up a lot of time that could be spent on other tasks. Yet I can’t help myself–it’s addictive! To be involved in the process of starting new plants from seeds and watching them grow is to witness a miracle that dates back all the way to the third day of creation (Genesis 1:11-13). What a wonder!
Vegetable Seed Starting Report 2012
So here are my notes on this year’s seed starting at Chez Rea. I feel like I’m doing better than last year when I started ONLY tomatoes because (A) I was out of the country for a week in April and (B) I had 23 different varieties of tomato seeds to try. Thus I had to buy my broccoli seedlings and basil from Woldhuis when I went there for annuals in May, and my broccoli did not get a nice early start. The broccoli still turned out ok, just not as prolific as other years.
Therefore, broccoli is what I started with this year. Unfortunately, I did not see seeds for my favorite variety, Green Goliath, at my local Menard’s and Home Depot. We’ll see how this year’s variety, Waltham 29, turns out. (Great–one of the websites I found while googling for a link to put here says not to use Waltham 29 for spring planting. Sigh.) I planted the seeds on 3/7/12, and they germinated just a few days later. I took them out of the dome and set them under the lights. They did quite well, and on 4/14/12 I put them outside in a greenhouse tent to start hardening them off. Then I planted them on 4/19/12. Don’t worry: broccoli is a very hardy vegetable so it can handle some frosts.
For the most part I have not had a great deal of success in growing peppers in my garden. One exception was several years ago when one Slim Cayenne plant produced so many peppers, which were easily air dried, that I am still using them today. I also did great last year with the two patio pepper plants–one sweet, one hot–I grew in containers on my driveway. They flourished! I decided to try some from seed this year because (A) I still had several varieties of pepper seeds lying around, (B) I figured I might want to plant one or two more either in my garden or in containers again this year, and (C) I could sell off the remaining seedlings.
In addition, I thought this might be a good trial for my new Burpee Self-Watering Seed Starting system. I have not, however, tried out the self-watering part yet because I felt it was more important for the pepper seeds to get heat than to be self watered. I do not usually have a problem anyway with seeds drying out before germination because they are under a dome. Therefore I planted them in the Burpee system cells but put those on a heat mat instead on the watering mat. This first experience with the Burpee system, by the way, was a bit of a disappointment as the grow pellets included did NOT all expand well when I added water my usual way–pouring it into the corner of the tray directly from my utility sink faucet. Next time I will have to try it the way they show in their video–pouring warm water gently from a watering can over the top of each cell.
I fluffed up and replenished the planting medium in those cells and planted (around 3/12/12?) almost half the tray with Red Bull bell pepper seeds (among the many free seeds from Sakata I got at last year’s Joliet Garden Day) and the rest with some of each of the other varieties I have left over from years past. NONE of those other varieties germinated, not even on the heat mat. Clearly, it’s time to throw those seeds out! Then on 4/18/12 I transplanted the Red Bull seedlings into small pots.
Tomatoes AND Tomatillos
Oh yeah, tomatoes are where it’s at! Of COURSE I started tomatoes this year–not as many varieties as last year (23!) however. I did not try to replace seeds that I’ve run out of because I had not run out my favorite varieties that I want to grow every year. I also did not plant seeds of varieties that I definitely do not want to grow again, such as Great White tomato–bleh! But I did pick up two new varieties–Delicious and Tumbling Tom Junior–to try because I had to add a few bucks to my Gardens Alive order in February (Remember, when “I shopped for garden stuff“?) By the way, there really were only 10 seeds in that package of Tumbling Tom Junior. And I picked up some tomatillo seeds, too (why not?), while they were one sale at Menard’s.
My main concern this year is that I started the tomatoes too early. That is mostly because I was concerned about being out of town during the last week-and-a-half of April, and I knew I’d need to get them all transplanted into little pots before the 19th. Also it didn’t help that this year–as every year–I started hearing about other master gardeners who had already begun theirs. I don’t know what they are thinking! Maybe if they’re just doing a few, they can keep transplanting them up to bigger and bigger pots. But that’s not practical for me as I tend to start about a hundred extra seedlings and then sell them off at my friend Donna‘s annual plant sale. NEXT year I will try to channel the desire to start seeds early into starting some flower seeds that really need to get off to an earlier start than the tomatoes. And maybe I should start fewer tomatoes.
Anyway, I started the bigger, slower growing varieties, such as Brandywine and Big Rainbow, on 3/10/12. Sometime later (around 3/27/12) I transplanted the taller ones of those into pots and planted the smaller, faster growing varieties, such as Sweet Millions and Yellow Pear. Because I was busy preparing my garden talk during the last week before my trip, I was worried I would not get everything transplanted into pots before I left. However, I managed to do that and more: I also planted my broccoli transplants outside into their garden bed. On the morning of the day I left home, I covered that bed with light insect barrier, too, because I had mentioned in my talk the night before how important that was to protect them from the cabbage white butterflies that were out to lay eggs on them. As for the extra broccoli seedlings I left behind, those are small ones still in cells, so they won’t grow to a good size in my absence. That’s OK. I managed to get ALL the tomato and tomatillo seedlings into pots, and I fit everything under the grow lights. Huzzah! Now I just need my husband and sons to keep them alive while I am gone.