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Posts Tagged ‘seeds’

Gardening Edibles on my Ping-Pong Table

Canna sprouts on my ping-pong table

I harvested roots from last year’s cannas and found many new “buds” on them. I broke apart the roots so that each section had at least one bud, and started all of them in containers in January. I started two roots in this container, and both have pushed up healthy leaves… they’ll look great in the garden in late May.

This time of year, if you’re at all interested in my gardening activities, the most appropriate question to ask is, “What’s up on your ping-pong table?” So far, I’ve only a few things going on there, but over the next two weeks, my ping-pong table will hold fully 75% of my gardening projects for 2017.

My earliest ping-pong table project was to start canna lilies from roots I harvested at the end of last season. One variety I grew last year took a very long time to flower, so I planted roots this year in January and they’ve gotten an appropriately slow start. I’ve heard cannas that spend too long in a container before getting planted in the garden tend to fall over. That would slow them down. So, I’m keeping the plants in low light and hoping they don’t grow too tall before temperatures rise in May.

I’ll be starting a second variety of cannas soon as well as some elephant ears. These will mostly go into our “Hawaiian corner” which will be in its third year this season. When the cannas and elephant ears mature in late summer, the Hawaiian corner becomes a dramatic focal point in the yard.

I started three other ping-pong table projects in February:

A sprout from grocery store ginger roots

I’ve never had trouble starting ginger plants from roots I bought in a grocery story. This one sprouted about a week ago more than a month after I planted it on my ping-pong table.

1. I planted several pots with ginger roots I bought at a grocery store. These languished for weeks under lights on the ping-pong table before I decided the basement wasn’t warm enough for them. I moved three of the pots into our living room, and in the past week sprouts have appeared in all three. With a single ginger plant I started in November from last year’s harvest, and the three new planters, I expect to harvest more ginger in the fall than we’re likely to eat in a year.

2. I planted two shallow trays with onion seeds. Generally, I start onions from sets that I plant directly in the garden. This year I found seeds in a department store for onion varieties requiring 170 days to maturity. That’s a crazy amount of garden time for home gardens in central PA; a responsible garden center in Pennsylvania wouldn’t stock seeds that require such a long season… it means planting before last frost in spring and hoping not to get shut down by early frost in autumn. Challenge accepted! My onion sprouts look great and I’d like to get them into the garden soon. They’ll go in my community garden plot, so I have to wait until the county finishes prepping.

Onion seedlings on my ping-pong table

A crazy buyer for a big-box store stocked seeds for onions that mature in 170 days! Those would be perfect for home gardens in Texas, and likely to cause the average Pennsylvania gardener aggravation. Being bull-headed, I decided to give them a shot. These sprouts are more than a month old and could probably handle whatever cold is still to come this spring… but they won’t get outdoors until my community garden plot is open. I’m ready, but I’ve no control over when the county lets me start gardening there.

3. I found a frisky sweet potato in the larder and decided to turn it into a slip nursery. There are more than 12 sprouts growing strong. In a few weeks, I’ll pluck them from the sweet potato and root them in water so they’re ready to plant out in late May or early June.

At the beginning of April, my attention to the ping-pong table intensified. I planted two containers with seeds from last year’s sweet pepper harvest: 25 orange bell pepper seeds in one planter, and 25 sweet Italian pepper seeds in a second planter. No sprouts yet, but they’re likely to pop in the next seven days. By then, I’ll have planted up about 14 varieties of tomato seeds and, perhaps, some lettuce and cucumbers.

But spring is finally feeling spring-like, so within a few days I hope to plant peas and lettuce in the garden. It all feels a bit daunting, but exhilarating at the same time.

Putting the ping-pong table to work in late winter and early spring has become a ritual I anticipate and enjoy. It teases me into the gardening season much as an hors d’oeuvre whets my appetite for a fine meal.

Starting sweet potato slips

Growers or distributors sometimes treat sweet potatoes with chemicals that suppress new growth so you may not be able to start slips from grocery store sweet potatoes. I suspect I bought this sweet potato from a local farmer at the market in December. The sweet potato was anxious to sprout, and it may provide more than a dozen slips for my garden. In a few weeks, I’ll pluck the sprouts from the tuber and set them in very moist soil so they develop roots. In late May I’ll transfer the slips to my garden and hope to harvest before burrowing rodents eat my crop.

Cheap planters for sweet pepper seeds

Two one-gallon milk jugs with the top halves cut off serve as planters for my sweet pepper seeds. I planted 25 seeds in each container. In early June, the roots of the plants should be intertwined throughout the soil. I’ll cut or tear the seedlings away from each other and plant them in the garden. Usually, they recover from “transplant shock” in six to ten days and deliver a decent crop starting in late August.

 
Small Kitchen Garden – Gardening Edibles on my Ping-Pong Table

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Chili Pepper Seedlings Under Lights

First chili pepper sprout of 2015

My first chili pepper sprout of the year is a sweet pepper, but I don’t know what type. Last year I collected orange bell and sweet Italian pepper seeds from my harvest and managed to store them unlabeled. I’ve two distinct packs of seeds, and planted as many from one pack as from the other. Nearly all have sprouted. I’ll find out in August which plants are which.

Just a week ago I reported on the success of my tomato starts (Tomatoes Under Lights). Two days later, my first chili pepper seedling of 2015 emerged.

You might surmise I get a special rush when my seeds start each year. I used to wait until my garden soil warmed and then I’d buy flats of seedlings at local garden stores. Year after year I’d choose from among a very limited variety of plants. Starting my own seeds changed so much.

  • I now select from among hundreds of varieties of tomatoes and peppers rather then from the dozen or so available in local garden centers.
  • I now try varieties of plants that simply aren’t available as seedlings at local stores. For example, I’ve started artichokes and cardoon this year as well as quince trees all from seeds.
  • 100 percent chili pepper germination

    I planted 16 sweet pepper seeds in this container and every one sprouted. That’s a very tolerable percentage!

  • My gardening season becomes “real” some 2 months earlier than it used to. Perusing garden catalogs from January until April used to make up my entire “pre-season.” I still peruse catalogs, but in February and March I mail-order seeds, fill planters with soil, and start plants under lights. My growing season is way longer because I get to tend seedlings
  • for a month or so before I set foot in the garden.
  • I get to enjoy near problem-free gardening leading up to spring planting. Starting seeds indoors under lights controls for nearly every problem I face in my garden: light, water, insects, disease, marauding rodents, birds… I decide how these work on my seed-starting shelf.
  • My sense of accomplishment is way bigger when I start my own seedlings indoors under lights. I marvel that a seed the size of a bread crumb under my care grows to a plant more than 10 feet tall and produces 20 to 100 lbs of food containing seeds that can start it all over again next year—perhaps several thousand times over, depending on the food.

Do you start your own seeds? Perhaps this is your year to try.

 

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Tomatoes Under Lights

First tomato sprout of 2015

It took just over four days for my first tomato seedling of 2015 to emerge.

Saturday and Sunday, March 21st and 22nd, I planted 73 tomato seeds in five planters. The planters are under lights in my office.

The 73 seeds represent 18 varieties of tomatoes – six varieties I brought back from last year’s garden, and 12 I bought from seed companies this spring. The first seedling emerged on March 26, just five (or four) days after planting. I snapped photos but here it is about 36 hours later and I’m just creating a post.

A lot happens in 36 hours! At last count, 67 seeds had sprouted. My planters have gone from bare to heavily-forested in just a day-and-a-half. I’m very excited to set the seedlings into my garden, but that won’t happen until June (unless the weather forecast is excessively rosy in May).

I love starting my garden indoors under lights!

Tomato jungle under lights

In about six days, all but six of the tomato seeds I planted in containers have sprouted. Unfortunately, only one out of four Great White seeds is up, so I may do a second planting of that variety. Those leafy things way in the back on the right are cardoon and artichoke plants. I started artichokes about February 10th, and cardoon about March 5th.

 

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Start Your Own Seedlings

You Can Grow That!

Tomato seedlings under lights

One week old tomato seedlings grow under lights in my office. While I planted 16 seeds per container, some didn’t sprout. There are, perhaps, 70 going strong. To the right are pepper seedlings barely visible under their shop light. That light is so much closer to the plants because I lifted the fixture above the tomatoes to fit the camera under it for the photograph.

Sprouts are up! One hundred and six sprouts grace my seed-starting shelf. Most are tomato plants though about 24 are pepper plants and another 8 are lettuce.

I live in USDA hardiness zone 6b or 7a, depending on how you squint at the most recent map. While it felt more like zone 3 this winter, the temperature might have just brushed minus 5 – the minimum low to qualify as zone 6b. What was unusual is the cold hung on day-after-day; we had a six-week period during which it was a relief if the temperature spiked into the low 20s.

Even as the snow melted, we had cold. There’s a popular rule of thumb in our neighborhood: plant peas on St Patrick’s Day. I doubt many people succeeded. In fact, cold and rain continued until just two days ago, so anyone trying to plant peas would have been working in mud. I don’t expect to put anything in the garden for another three or four days, assuming we don’t see even more rain.

How I Start Seeds

I recently attended my first seed swap where a presenter recommended that home growers buy celled seed-starting trays. I no longer go that route. I’ve used peat pots pressed out in connected cells, I’ve used compressed peat pellets, and I’ve used old plastic drinking cups. I wrote about much of this some years ago in evergreen blog posts.

Inexpensive seed starting light and stand

Here’s a setup I created with my dad last spring. He found a seven foot section of wire shelving. We marked 17 inches in from each end of the shelving, cut the reinforcement wire along the front edge, and bent the two 17-inch ends down to create a stand from which to hang a shop light. My dad has a cabinet in his living room where he sets up trays and pots in which to start tree seeds. With chains to suspend the shop light, it’s easy to adjust the fixture’s height as seedlings grow tall.

These days I cut up gallon plastic milk and orange juice jugs and use the bottoms as seed planters. In a milk jug, I set 16 seeds, and in an orange juice jug, I set 12 seeds. Sure, roots grow together as the seedlings get large, but teasing (gently tearing) them apart doesn’t seem to bother them too much.

When I set seeds, I create a paper tag to identify which varieties of plants are in a particular container (and where the varieties are). These I tape to the side of the container for quick reference. I refer to the tags when I set seedlings in the garden and make a map that shows where I plant each variety.

The easiest thing to overlook when you start seeds indoors is lighting. Don’t assume a south-facing window can provide enough light to produce healthy seedlings. Instead, get a fluorescent fixture with 850K spectrum tubes (see the box titled Don’t Buy Grow Lights). When you first plant seeds, suspend the light about 3 inches over the surface of the soil. As seedlings grow, raise the light to maintain a 3-inch separation from the tops of the plants.

To start tomato and pepper seeds, keep the room temperature above 70 degrees. Ideally, shoot for 80 degrees which, if you don’t want to turn up the heat, you can achieve by putting a heating pad under the seed pots. I’ve found in a 70 degree room, fluorescent lights parked 3 inches above my planters warm the soil adequately.

Starting seeds indoors is only mildly challenging. If you have space to set up a light and some makeshift planters, don’t buy a flat of seedlings that someone else has started. You can grow that!

Making a milk jug seed planter

I start seeds in planters I create by cutting the bottom halves off of gallon plastic milk jugs. I start a cut by pinching the milk jug between the tips of a scissors and squeezing hard. If the carton proves too tough, I can poke a hole through with one scissors tip. Then I cut around the container on a line parallel to the bottom of the jug.

Preparing to start seeds

I buy a bale of potting soil every three or four years from a local garden center. A bale is an enormous amount of soil—compressed to about half its “fluffed” volume. To use it, I wield a butter knife as an ice pick, stabbing one end of the bale repeatedly until a chunk comes loose. I crumble the chunk into a planter and smoosh up smaller lumps between my thumb and fingers.

Note that I don’t put drainage holes in the bottoms of my homemade planters. This forces me to pay extra attention to the moisture of the soil. Before I plant, I add what must be about a third of a gallon of water and leave the planter for 30 minutes or longer so the water soaks in. The soil should be moist on the surface but there shouldn’t be water sloshing around in the container. Note your potting soil might float when you first add water. Worse: some potting soils don’t absorb water without encouragement. If you have such potting soil, stir the water in or it might just pool on top.

Planting seeds in a milk jug starter

I use a chopstick to create 16 indents in the soil of a planter; orange circles in the photo represent the layout. For tomato and pepper seeds, these can be just one-eighth to one-quarter inch deep. I drop a single seed into each indentation and then gently nudge soil over the seeds. With all the seeds covered, I very gently tamp the soil down with the heel of my hand.

Label your seed planters if you plant many varieties

My labels aren’t pretty, but they work. This one reveals I have paste tomato seeds in the left two rows (for a total of 8), 3 Amana Orange tomato seeds at the back of the third row with one Tangerine Beefsteak seed in the front of that row, and a final full row of Tangerine Beefsteak seeds.

I may have to “pot up” the seedlings later which I do by gently tearing each one away from the root ball and then setting 8 into a milk-jug-derived planter. Of course, I create new labels for the new planters, and eventually I use those labels to inform a map I draw so I know where each variety ends up in the garden. I posted a video that shows the potting-up procedure when I made my seed-starting planters slightly differently… but the video is still relevant:

 

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Post Produce, Feb 2012: Anticipation for a Kitchen Gardener

The top shelf of my larder gets crowded with empty canning jars as winter drags on. I’ll be dragging those boxes down when my fresh garden produce is ready for packing.

My Post Produce article this month is a bit different; it’s about transition in Your Small Kitchen Garden blog. Just a few days ago, I sorted through the canned produce in my larder and organized it onto two shelves so one shelf would be clear. Then I hung a daylight spectrum shop light and planted cauliflower and broccoli seeds in a tray that I cut from a gallon milk jug.

Just two days ago, the cauliflower and broccoli seeds sprouted, and today the sprouts hold promise for a future harvest.

Small Kitchen Garden as the Circle of Life

A few years ago, my larder was nothing more than shelves to hold canned goods, canning gear, and other random stuff. Then, when I was contemplating another winter of starting vegetable seeds on my ping pong table, it dawned on me: by late winter, I’ve used up a lot of my canned goods; there would be room on my shelves to start seeds.

Above the soil for only two days, the tiny sprout in this photo could produce enough cauliflower to feed my family for three meals.

I love that the larder doubles for seed-starting. Just like my small kitchen garden, it knows all the seasons: It accumulates empty canning jars year-round, with most rapid growth in the dead of winter. Then, as winter becomes tedious, my larder comes alive when seeds sprout and grow until the garden is ready. With the earliest spring fruits—rhubarb and strawberries—I put up food while we continue to consume produce that won’t be available fresh for months. When all goes right, we use the last jar of tomatoes within days of canning the new season’s early fruits. Later, we use the last jar of sweet corn as the first ears come fresh out of the garden. Transitions within this cycle are so smooth, so seamless, that it almost doesn’t seem to have a beginning.

Celebrate Produce

This is what inspires me to write about kitchen gardening. This is why I encourage others to participate. With February’s post, I’m celebrating the kitchen garden’s circle of life and looking forward to seeing what produce my fellow gardeners are enjoying—or planning to enjoy—in coming months.

My repurposed milk jug planter holds 10 cauliflower seeds and 10 broccoli seeds on a shelf above canned tomato sauce and other goodies. I planted head lettuce seeds yesterday and in the next month I’ll start several hundred seeds including peppers, tomatoes, and squashes.

Post Your Produce!

The 22nd is the day to Post Produce. Join the celebration of homegrown food and share whatever you’re consuming from your garden. Whether it’s still growing, you’re harvesting it for a meal, you’re preserving it, or you’re taking it out of your larder for dinner, share it in a post and then link to it below. For more information, follow this link to the Post Produce page.

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Vegetable Seeds Choose Life in a Small Kitchen Garden

I don’t think this is natural… and it’s even a little creepy. In real life, corn seeds dry out on the cob; get eaten by rodents, birds, and deer; and end up back in (or on) the soil before they sprout. Even if you don’t treat corn right, it wants to grow; it wants to make its own corn seeds.

The whole point of being a mature vegetable is to make more vegetables. Once you’re all grown up, you have only to spread your seeds so they can take root and produce new plants. As a vegetable seed, you do everything you know how to do to succeed; to grow into a mature plant so you can spread seeds.

To illustrate my point, the photo to the right shows an ear of sweet corn which, when I husked it, simply looked too old to cook and serve at a meal. Instead, I set the ear—along with husks from the night’s meal—into a compost bucket and set it on the deck rail. Then I kind of overlooked that compost bucket for a week or two. When I finally got around to dumping it, I found that the corn on the cob was growing.

I had not treated these corn seeds well. I hadn’t dried them. I hadn’t removed them from the cob. I hadn’t stored them in a moisture-free environment. I hadn’t planted them in well-nourished soil. I hadn’t kept them uniformly moist. Still, they did their best in the environment they had available.

I won’t make a habit of sprouting seeds in dishrags for my small kitchen garden. This was a complete fluke and it will never happen again (maybe).

A Tomato Seed Shows Pluck

Poor housekeeping in my kitchen should further make my point: I prepared a tomato salad during the summer, and used a Handi-Wipe towel to clean up the counter. When I finished, I rinsed out the towel and tossed it against the backsplash of the sink.

Apparently, I didn’t use the towel for a few days, but when next I picked it up, I found it had a passenger: a young tomato sprout had emerged from among the towel’s fibers. This was not the tomato seed’s natural environment, but still it managed to set out on its mission to grow up and produce seeds of its own.

Starting Vegetable Plants is Easy

Why am I telling you about my horrible housekeeping? To emphasize just how easy it is to start a garden: when you follow instructions in a “how to plant vegetables” article, you’re pampering seeds with an ideal environment; you’re bound to succeed! So… try it! Even if you mess up in extreme ways, your seeds will try very hard to make you successful.

Do you have examples of seeds sprouting—or vegetable plants succeeding—in unlikely environments? Please share your story in a comment!

 

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