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Posts Tagged ‘plant peppers’

Small Kitchen Garden Seed-Starting Shelf

Before I started this simple project, my larder was a mess: two shelves of canned goods and empty jars jumbled every which-way. The lower shelf, I decided, could hold all the canned goods if I put the empty jars in boxes and stored them out of the way (actually on the very highest shelf where I’d stored several dozen empty jars I’d bought on sale at the close of 2009’s canning season). Once cleared, the upper shelf would become my seed-starting station.

I’m ready to start seeds for my small kitchen garden! I recently posted about my epiphany that I could clear a shelf in my larder and use it to start seeds. Today, I did the heavy lifting: I consolidated the canned goods onto one shelf, packed the empty jars into boxes, and cleared the way for seed planters.

I’m showing the setup to encourage you: you don’t need anything particularly fancy to start your own seeds prior to planting outdoors. I was lucky to have a shelving unit that I could repurpose, but last year I’d used a ping-pong table. There are only three critical issues you must address:

Seedlings Need Plenty of Light

Standard incandescent or fluorescent light sources aren’t adequate unless you can get them very close to your seedlings. Last season I planted tomato seeds in a table-top greenhouse, and positioned fluorescent lights about eight inches above them. The seeds sprouted in only two days (I’d expected it to take a week or more), and almost immediately grew too tall and slender reaching toward the light.

Small Kitchen Garden Larder & Seed Starting Shelf

The lower shelf holds seven gallons of applesauce, five quarts of squash, a quart of red pepper relish, a gallon of salsa, two gallons of tomato sauce, two quarts of halved tomatoes, about three gallons of assorted jams and jellies, a quart of black raspberry syrup, and about two quarts of pickles. When I took the photo, I’d already hung a shop light above the upper shelf. The four-foot by one-and-a-half-foot space will be plenty for the number of seeds I plan to start indoors this winter.

When seedlings emerge, the light should be within three inches of them… and as the seedlings grow taller, you need to maintain the light source just a few inches from the leaf-tops.

If you want to grow large seedlings… or even grow plants that are flowering by the time they can move outdoors… a single light source above the leaves may not be adequate. While the top layer of leaves may get enough light, lower leaves won’t, and the plant could have weak stems, withered leaves, and other growth problems.

For typical seedlings started four-to-six weeks before your area’s last frost, lights a few inches above the plants will be adequate.

Seeds and Seedlings Need Warmth

Small Kitchen Garden Seed Starting Shelf

With one light fixture mounted, my seed-starting shelf could already accommodate three starter trays holding more than 200 seeds. I hung two light fixtures so one can illuminate the shortest seedlings while the other handles taller plants.

This is less intuitive than the light issue, but it’s more important at least until your seeds sprout. Some seeds will sprout when the soil temperature is above 40F degrees while others wait until the temperature is 70F degrees or higher. A tomato seed that takes seven-to-ten days to sprout at 70F degrees may sprout in two days at 85F degrees.

After sprouting, seedlings may not grow robust if the temperature is low. Tomatoes and peppers, for example, originate from warm climates and do best in summer heat. Chances are you don’t keep your house anywhere near as warm as these plants would like; it’s important to compensate on your plants’ behalf.

Last year, I’d used picture-hanging wire to dangle one shop light from the suspended ceiling in the kids’ play room, and twine to hang a second shop light. It took a few minutes to tie those lights to the frame of one of my larder’s shelves. It will be short work to raise or lower the lights to optimal heights above the seedlings that emerge in March.

Last season, I pushed the ping-pong table against a wall above a baseboard radiator. Warm air from the heater kept my seed planters warm. This year I’ll probably put a heating pad on my seed-starting shelf; I keep my office about 62F degrees, and I don’t want my seedlings to have to meet the world with cold feet.

Seeds and Seedlings Need Moisture

Of course you need to keep the soil moist as a seed puts out roots and then a seedling. It’s also a good idea to keep the air around the seedling moist. The tiny peat pellets or starter pots people typically use to start seeds can dry out very quickly. By keeping them in a moist environment, you reduce your need to water.

I may wrap my seed-starting shelf with plastic to trap in heat from the lights and moisture evaporating from the seedlings. By erecting a tent around the plants and lights, I’ll create a greenhouse environment that should make young seedlings very happy indeed.

Small Kitchen Garden Tomato Starts

With both shop lights mounted, the first four residents of my seed-starting station moved in. A few weeks ago, I decided to test the tomato seeds I harvested last season. I planted four in a single peat pellet and all of them sprouted. I’m determined to keep them alive until I can move them outside… in April or May. The plants are already stressed from being crowded, so I’ll be transplanting them into pots later today or tomorrow.

 

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Seed-Starting Epiphany for my Small Kitchen Garden

This is where I set up the ping-pong table and started seeds indoors last March. The cardboard boxes and other items are props for an Odyssey of the Mind (OM) team’s upcoming performance. OM is a youth competition in which teams follow detailed instructions to build things, create stories, write scripts, and put on performances… all with no instruction from adults. I love the organization (my kids obviously love participating), but I hate what it does to my basement for three or so months each year.

For every small kitchen garden in the northern hemisphere, it’s time to get organized for the coming growing season. In hardiness zones seven and warmer, you could already have seeds starting indoors, while folks in zones six and colder should at least be getting organized to start seeds.

I’ve been musing about last year’s seed-starting: Last year I set up the ping-pong table and hung shop lights from the suspended ceiling in the kids’ play room. However, I didn’t start seeds until mid-March… pretty much after the annual Odyssey of the Mind disaster cleared out of the basement.

This year, I want to get seeds going a little earlier. Actually, I already started four tomato plants that are ready for “potting up.” That is: they’ve outgrown the peat pellet in which I planted them (yes, four seeds in a single peat pellet), and they’re ready to go into individual nursery pots. After that, I’d like to start broccoli and cauliflower within the week so I have some well-established plants I can set in the garden when the ground thaws.

My larder is at least as messy as the kids’ play room. However, if I consolidate everything from two shelves onto one, and store all the empty jars in boxes, I can clear a shelf to hold my seed starting planters and some fluorescent lights. I might even wrap the space above the seed-starting shelf with plastic and add a heating pad to create a warm, humid space that will coax tomato and pepper seeds to sprout.

Where to Start my Small Kitchen Garden?

Odyssey of the Mind is in full-swing in the kids’ play room; there’s no chance of setting up the ping-pong table until after March 13th. So, I’ve been musing about where to fit a seed-starting operation into the rest of my messy life.

In the meantime, I continue to create photos and videos that I might some day incorporate into blog posts… and yesterday I took some shots of my larder: there’s a story there about how full my larder was in November, and how empty it has already become in January.

Actually, my larder is no emptier than I expected it would be. I put up dozens of eight-ounce jars of jam and jelly during the growing season, figuring they’d vanish in December as my kids and my wife gave them to teachers and coworkers. That nearly cleared one storage shelf, while our steady consumption of canned tomatoes, apple sauce, syrups, jams, jellies, squash, and pickles has cleared quite a bit more space.

The shelves are messy as I’ve grabbed jars randomly, and put back the empties. But when I was taking pictures of the clutter, I had this epiphany: If I consolidate full jars onto one shelf, and box up the empty jars, I can clear a shelf and start seeds there!

The steel grill shelving of my larder provides plenty of places to tie up four-foot-long fluorescent shop lights. In case you’re looking for a dedicated seed-starting place, I want to emphasize: it’s hard to provide enough light for plants—particularly for plants you hope to eat some day. When sprouts emerge, they should find either full spring sunlight shining on them… or light from a fluorescent bulb or tube mounted within two or three inches of the leaves.

A Kitchen Gardener’s Seed Starting Setup

My canned goods sit on a steel shelving unit. I can hang fluorescent shop lights from one shelf so that I can easily raise them as plants grow tall. I’ll line the shelf under the light with something to catch spills, and set my seed-starting pots and containers there. Setting this up will be very simple, and caring for the seedlings will be convenient as my larder is in my office where I work nearly every day.

I especially like the idea of using my larder shelves for starting seeds because of the continuity it highlights: The shelves become the birthing room for the plants that will eventually provide food I’ll can and store on those same shelves. It’s the circle of life!

 

More articles about starting seeds

  • GlowPanel 45 LED Grow Light Seed Starting Shelf – I have 8 GlowPanel 45 LED grow lights on this rack (2 per shelf). I’ve been using them to start my seeds in peat pellets, then move them up to my bottomless pipe pots which are sitting on capillary mats, with a water reserver under them …

  • Design*Sponge » Blog Archive » small measures with ashley … – I saw this clever seed starting shelf http://www.finegardening.com/how-to/articles/nurture-seedlings-tiered-growing-stand.aspx and thought, ‘I bet ikea has something that would work!’. The addition of bottom heat is essential! …

  • Pure-N-Simple Gardens: Whats Growing On Under Those Lights? – You can view my step by step instructions on how to build a seed starting shelf here. This is a very simple building project that will allow you to easily assemble, and disassemble your shelving unit each year without having to unscrew …

  • Seed Starting 101: Seedling Heat Mats and Inexpensive Alternatives – Whether you buy a seedling heat mat or put together a DIY alternative, I hope you’ll consider adding extra heat to your seed starting shelf this winter. The results will amaze you! For additional information on seed starting, …

  • A Few Seed Starting Tips – I’ve just turned the seed-starting shelf lights on for the first time this season. I would have turned them on yesterday, but with the lack of outlets in my basement, it would have necessitated me emptying out the basement chest freezer …

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