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My Book!

I wrote a book about preserving food. The same step-by-step instruction and full-color photos you find in my blog. Buy it at Yes, You Can 

Links to planters at selected vendors:

Garden-Fountains.com

MasterGardening.com

 

 

Sprouts

Amazon.com is a terrific source for certified organic seeds intended for home sprouting. Dress up salads, stir-fry, sandwiches, spreads, and other dishes with homegrown sprouts of all kinds. Follow this link to order your sampler or to find home sprouting kits.

 

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Posts Tagged ‘seeds’

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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Thanks to Readers of Your Small Kitchen Garden

What may have been the last significant snow of this winter clung to branches, closed schools, and made it hard to believe it’s almost time to start seeds indoors.

Your Small Kitchen Garden’s 2011 seed giveaway is done; it closed on Sunday the 13th. and seeds went in the mail on the 22nd. Why the delay? It had to do with an ear and sinus infection. I’m feeling better, thanks, and finally getting back in stride.

Comments on Your Small Kitchen Garden

One great pleasure of running a giveaway is that it usually results in visitors leaving more than the typical number of comments on my blog. For this year’s giveaway, I included in the instruction …and make me laugh. I’m so pleased to report that some of the participants succeeded!

Had I been healthy, I’d have commented on comments as they came in. To make up for the dereliction, I thought I’d offer responses here:

Leslie (aka feralchick) – I’m sorry the squirrels beat up your garden last year and am pleased to be able to resupply you with seeds this year. Good luck with the squirrel-deterrent system. Are they using lasers in those things yet?

Renee – I loved the woodchuck photos… they made me laugh. I hope I find time this year to post the woodchuck videos I shot two seasons ago. Such persistent critters!

Cindy Scott Day – Good luck with the squash this year. Bugs were amazing last summer, but I’m surprised you didn’t have any luck with the neck pumpkins; they seem as hardy as butternut.

shala_darkstone – I hope you find room for winter squash this season. They tend to take a lot more space than summer squashes, but they’re so much squashier I can’t imagine my small kitchen garden without them.

Diana – Nice to see you back. Sorry, I’ve sent tomato, neck pumpkin, and blue Hubbard squash seeds… just got carried away. If you can’t use them all, I hope you know other local kitchen gardeners who might.

Nell – I hope you have great luck with blue Hubbard; they are truly amazing when they grow up. Blue Hubbard are very susceptible to squash vine borers, so planting late or keeping the plants under row covers may be necessary.

A lone tree stands in a winter-chilled cornfield. It’s nice to package vegetable seeds and muse about spring.

Justine – Sounds as though your first garden was quite ambitious. I’m so glad to hear that you garden to preserve… my book about preserving produce should be in distribution in a matter of days—I put up many gallons of produce every year. Good luck with the tomato seeds; they produce tomatoes ideal for saucing.

Sherry – I’m touched to hear that you have my blog’s feed posted on your blog. I’m sorry I don’t keep it more lively… frequency ought to improve a bit this year as I don’t expect to be writing a book. I never found a “contact us” form with your mailing address in it… I sent a note via email, but I’m mentioning it here in case you missed the email. Please drop me your mailing address so I can send along your seeds!

Salman – I would love to see photos of squash growing in your garden. Alas, I explained in the original post: I won’t ship seeds to other countries (there are usually restrictions on importing agricultural products). I hope you find a local source for winter squash seeds and that you grow a terrific crop.

Jenna Z – If you’ve poked around in my various blogs, you might have discovered my great enthusiasm for squashes. I like ornamental gourds as well, but I can’t admit in a public forum that I actually plant stuff I’m not going to eat. I hope you have good luck with the seeds and I’ll look forward to any reports you might post.

Tom M – I hope that at least the neck pumpkins perform the way you’d like. I’m also frustrated by squash’s susceptibility to disease and insects—especially to insects. Here’s hoping we both have a great winter squash year.

nicky – Hey, you! Grow squash and tomatoes. The only decision will be where to plant them. I hope you’ll share your experiences as the season rolls along. Good luck!

meemsnyc – Romas! Funny they didn’t work out for you. I always thought Romas were a no-brainer of the tomato family. Perhaps these weird paste tomatoes will give you better luck. Please drop by in the fall and let me know how things worked out.

Doe you find time for recreation when your cornfield is under snow? Maybe a little, but farmers use the winter months to repair equipment, do maintenance on their buildings, and plan for the upcoming season.

Bren – I’ll try the spray bottle thing this year. Last year I stopped aphids with a spray bottle of garlic oil, water, and soap; why not Squash Vine Borers? Was your story silly? The question was, and that’ll do just fine

Annie Haven/Authentic Haven Brand – You’re far enough up the list to get a complete set of seeds. I hope you have great luck with them… the tomatoes and neck pumpkins have been cake for me; the blue Hubbard is challenging. Good luck!

TZ – Depending on the weather, it seems squash and pumpkins are eager to die those horrible deaths. Butternut and Neck Pumpkin remain the hardiest, most pest-resistant varieties I’ve seen. I hope yours do well. That’s a nice sequence of photos explaining how you collect tomato seeds over on Flickr.

erynia – How nice to meet another fan of Gardenmom29! One strategy I tried for “expanding” my garden last year was to plant the space hogs near one end. I trained the squash vines over and through the garden fence and onto the compost heap. I may plant squash this year where a vegetable bed abuts one of my wife’s ornamental beds. The squash vines could serve as “mulch” around long-stemmed flowers.

Dakota – Thank you for the fire ants story. I really wanted to laugh, but instead I felt the deep despair of human tragedy. I feel self-conscious at Buster Keaton flicks because while the rest of the audience laughs, I choke up at all the horrible things he endures. Those AFV videos in which someone rides a bike off a cliff or faceplants off a trampoline? I don’t laugh, I cringe. So, I thought somber thoughts about your toosh as I packaged and mailed your seeds. I’m a simple person; I look for humor in corny garden jokes.

robbie – I hope you have great success growing tomatoes from seed. I’ll be starting mine indoors in about 2 weeks.

Jennifer – And you actually got squash off of last year’s Blue Hubbard plants! I’m quite jealous. This year, I will vanquish the Squash Vine Borers and bring Blue Hubbards out of the battle zone: mature and ready for the kitchen!

Mika – I hope you haven’t cried yourself to sleep over vegetable seeds. Thank goodness for the footnote in your comment… I was feeling all teary that my seed giveaway caused you such stress, but the footnote at least gave me hope that you might have been kidding.

Sonya – I laughed, I cried, I relived the terror of Boston in February, 2011. To borrow a line from VA Nuresmy: And, the fishing episode! We missed all but about 14 inches of the snow you folks hoarded. Even so, I’m hankering for some time with the soil. That wilty grayish powdery thing you described sounds like a damp growing season… or so many squash bugs that their activity promoted mold (which might have appeared about the time the leaves crossed over anyway). With a lot of bugs chomping on the leaves, sap can accumulate and provide a great breeding medium for mold. Sorry you had problems last year; I hope things work out better this year.

Jennie – I love your tomato-growing experience! I plant 8-foot stakes, leaving about 7 feet of vertical support. The plants usually grow 3 or 4 feet beyond the supports; they’d easily reach a first floor roof. Visitors from NY watched me setting my 8-foot stakes and were incredulous that I’d need anything so tall. I guess the shorter growing season up there means shorter tomato plants.

circulating – I recommend not growing vegetables out of any wazoo. Of course, they’re your vegetables, and it’s your wazoo, so do what makes you happy. Whatever planter you use, I wish you good luck with the seeds!

Hedgerows often mark propery lines or provide windblocks for farmers’ fields. A pair of hedgerows can conceal a farm road. I’m sure this road will see much more traffic once the snow melts.

Joyce Pinson – I hope you have better luck with the Blue Hubbard than I had last year. They are such awesome vegetables! Thanks for your comment about my book. I learned today that it’s being bound so copies should be in circulation later this week. So cool!

Marsha Hubler – That first year of wrestling with rocky soil would lead me either to experiment extensively with potatoes and tomatoes, or to establish raised beds and make a whole bunch of compost. Even a few 5-gallon planters on a deck or along a walkway could provide a steady supply of fresh veggies. These days, people set up hay or straw bales and plant veggies in them—apparently adequate to raise all kinds of foods to maturity.

Trent – I so hope that when you say “hanging tomato planters” you don’t mean “upside down tomato planters.” OK… we can still be friends, but it saddens me a bit to think the progeny of my tomato plants may grow up hanging from their toes. I hope you have better luck with your torture planters than I had when I grew tomatoes upside down.

lauranot – I’m glad you got in on time for the giveaway. “Sugar Snacker” is an awesome name for a tomato. I decided to stop growing cherry tomatoes after the 8th or 9th generation descended from plants I set some 12 years ago failed to reseed themselves.

Thank you so much for participating in my seed giveaway. I hope all you kitchen gardeners harvest lots of awesome produce this season.

 

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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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Packaging Seeds from my Small Kitchen Garden

I laid out seeds, envelopes, and envelope labels on a table in my billiards room. While I’m giving away Blue Hubbard squash, neck pumpkin, and paste tomato seeds, I also collected seeds from butternut squash, dill weed, and several types of peppers. Most of these will go to The Dinner Garden, a charity that provides seeds to family’s starting gardens in response to economic difficulties.

Two weeks ago, Your Small Kitchen Garden offered up sets of seeds to visitors who asked for them. I’ve been pleased by the response; more than 40 people have left comments requesting seed sets. A complete set includes six seeds of Blue Hubbard squash, six seeds of neck pumpkin, and twenty seeds of chili-pepper-shaped paste tomatoes.

In that post I joked that I’d judge comments on creativity and humor, and I’ve enjoyed the humor in some of the comments. However, the only criteria for receiving seeds are:

  1. Leave a comment explaining which seeds you most want to grow
  2. Complete a “Contact Us” form with your mailing address
  3. Do these things before the seeds run out.

The Small Kitchen Garden Seed Project

I’ve been packaging seeds. To do this, I set up a small table in the corner of my billiards room and laid out all the seeds I saved last season. I designed and printed simple labels and stuck them on coin envelopes. As I started to count out seeds and package them it occurred to me: what if the seeds aren’t viable? I’d feel rotten to learn I’d sent seeds to so many people, and none of those seeds sprouted.

More than a week after planting, one of the three tomato seeds I planted to test viabiity sprouted. By the time I finished this post nearly 2 days later, all three seeds had sprouted. I’m mailing out more than 40 packs of these seeds in the coming week. If you left a comment on my post Free Seeds from Your Small Kitchen Garden, did you also send your mailing address to me via the web site’s Contact Us form? I noticed many visitors overlooked that important step.

So, I test-planted some tomato seeds and waited. Last March, when I started tomato seeds indoors, I had sprouts two days after planting! This January, there were no sprouts for over a week. Finally, on Monday, the first tomato seed sprouted. On Tuesday, two more sprouts appeared. These seeds are viable!

As the cutoff date for my seed giveaway approaches, I’ve packaged up several dozen sets of seeds. I’ve more to package, and I haven’t yet addressed all the envelopes, but I’m confident these seeds will perform when treated properly.

I’m excited to share the seeds; I hope that many of the people who receive them will write once or twice to tell me how their seeds do, and to tell me what they think of the produce they grow.

In the meantime, I’ve already started this year’s small kitchen garden; I’m going to try to keep my tomato seedlings alive indoors until April. I’ll build a tent around them to trap in some moisture and heat, and I’ll flood the tent with light. If things go well, I’ll transplant into larger containers once or twice, so I’ll have very large plants when it’s time to move them outdoors.

By “potting up” the plants this way, I may get a 30-day or better jump on the tomato-growing season. Who knows? Maybe I’ll harvest a few tomatoes in early July this year.

 

 

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Friends for a Kitchen Gardener

italian tomatoes

When I first posted about these unusual tomatoes, I called them “Italian” tomatoes. Since then, other people have suggested they are “Dutch” tomatoes. I had not heard the term “paste tomato” by 2008, but I understand now that the category of paste tomatoes includes those that are mostly meat with relatively little liquid. These are paste tomatoes. What’s more they have a striking resemblance to the Andes tomato I found in an online seed catalog. My neighbor has been growing them for years.

I started writing Your Small Kitchen Garden in August of 2008, and that emboldened me to visit a neighbor whose garden I had eyed from the road for more than a decade. I wrote about that neighbor’s garden in this blog on September 15, 2008 in a post titled A Large Kitchen Garden.

I very much enjoyed meeting these neighbors, and was fascinated with the unusual chili-pepper-shaped tomatoes they were growing. I was moved a bit when they handed me two of the curious tomatoes insisting that I should save the seeds and grow them in my own small kitchen garden in 2009.

Tomato Luck in my Small Kitchen Garden

I needn’t remind anyone what a miserable growing season 2009 presented in the northeastern and the southwestern United States. I got lucky: while late blight destroyed tomato patches all over Pennsylvania, I harvested several bushels of tomatoes before lesions appeared on my plants.

Among the tomatoes I harvested were dozens and dozens of those chili-pepper-shaped treats grown from seeds I saved from my neighbor’s gift. I raved about those tomatoes in my blog. They are awesome-sweet and flavorful, and I served many of them in my favorite tomato salad. As well, I canned gallons of sauce, diced tomatoes, and tomato halves. After all that, I also dried tomatoes using my toaster oven’s dehydrate setting.

I saved seeds. In fact, I collected seeds from, perhaps, a third of the uninfected chili-pepper-shaped tomatoes I harvested in 2009.

Growing Pains for Kitchen Gardeners

By the time blight hit my small kitchen garden, I had seen its effects on many other local gardens. Driving past my neighbor’s yard nearly daily, I watch his garden evolve through tilling and early growth and then go right into death throws. I never saw tomato plants there rise above surrounding vegetation and I wondered: did he lose his entire crop? Worse: did this miserable growing season break his streak of growing those lovely chili-pepper-shaped tomatoes? I wondered whether he had harvested seed… or whether he had seed left over from 2008 that he might try again in 2010.

lima bean

My neighbor grew lima beans two years ago, but told stories of a giant variety of lima beans that they used to grow until the crop failed on year. I’ve seen giant lima bean seeds in catalogs, so I’m going to track some down and do some seed-sharing.

So, while preparing seeds to mail to readers who have participated in my free seeds giveaway, I thought I’d take a packet of seeds to my neighbor. I figured he might be glad to have fresh ones from 2009 so he could grow more of those cool tomatoes.

Gardening Friends

It had been a year and a half, but it took only a moment for my neighbors to remember me. We talked a bit about what a horrible season 2009 had been for kitchen gardeners, and I learned that their garden had suffered a lot from the constant rain. Turns out, being an in-ground bed, their garden doesn’t drain, so it does best during very dry years when everyone else must add water to get decent results.

It wasn’t clear whether my neighbors were seedless, but they seemed genuinely grateful for the seeds, and quite happy to talk about their garden and the coming season. He will be 82 years old next month, and still he’s figuring to manage his large garden bed.

I agreed to track down seeds for super giant lima beans and visit again before it’s too late to plant them. Apparently, my neighbors grew such lima beans years ago but things didn’t work out one season and they’ve lost the strain.

In any case, as I’m sure most gardeners would attest: talk with gardeners about gardening, and you’re making friends. That’s how it felt yesterday, and I’m looking forward to another visit.

 

 

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