A gardening milestone today: the radishes and lettuce seeds in the garden are sprouting!
I drive by two or three gardens on my long drive into work each day. And when I do I always check them out during the season to see what they're doing, since I know the gardens have been there for a while. So when my own experiences don't line up to what I see in other people's gardens I worry. But then I remember that I'm new to this, and these people have established gardens that are going to grow things faster.
At any rate, I'm just happy to see some seeds sprouting. I don't know why I'm paranoid about seeds sprouting -- I sort of assume nothing is ever going to come up. With transplants you can at least see something there. With seeds, I sometimes wonder if the birds got them and I'm staring at an empty patch of dirt.
The rest of my future transplants continue to do well in the greenhouse now that we lowered the light. I was worried about the bell peppers at first; after a day with the light lowered they looked a little piqued, but after some water yesterday I checked on them this morning and they look plump and healthy. The tomatoes look good, too. I was worried that I was going to have to buy some transplants to replace these guys because of my light faux pas, but they seem to be doing okay.
Things I have learned this week:
- Always bottom water. I should have known this but I didn't until this week.
- Keep your grow light about three inches from the plants to keep from getting spindly, leggy plants.
- Start seeds earlier than you did this year. I couldn't do it on time this year because we had to build the greenhouse and that took time, so I think my plants are lagging behind a bit. But not by much, so I think I'll still get some good plants and veggies.
- Be patient when it's called for. When it says to sow seeds outdoors after frost...just do that. Don't be too eager to start the squash, melons, and cukes before you need to.
I'm planning to start my potatoes today as well as my heirloom Grandpa Ott's morning glories. This is exciting for me because it'll be the first plant that I've ever started using seeds I saved myself from last year's plants. The potatoes are going to be fun because I'm growing them in a bucket. I found multiple forum posts and web sites that say you can easily grow them in barrels by just piling more dirt on top of them as they grow. In fact, here are some great links I found this week:
- Growing barrels of potatoes
- Making recycled seed pots from newspaper
- Making self-watering pots from two liter soda bottles
Lots of good information!
So that greenhouse Len built is absolutely perfect. But I mentioned in the last entry that I was getting worried that my seedlings just didn't look right -- some of them (the cucumbers, squash, melons, and the tomatoes a tiny bit) are growing really tall with a couple of leaves at the top. This didn't look right to me.
Fortunately I found the wonderful website You Grow Girl, and their forums are a treasure trove of information. It turns out that my seedlings are growing like this because they're not getting enough light. So my one grow light (that I borrowed from a friend) is too high and also might not be enough light for them.
Whew. That's a fixable problem at least for next year's seedlings, and partially for this year's. Because the cukes, squash, and melons have grown this way, they may be a bit weak and may fail on me in the garden. Either fortunately or unfortunately, I'm technically supposed to start those plants directly in the garden. So if I have to, in a couple of weeks (after our last frost date) I'll just sow more seeds directly in the garden. Perhaps as a result of this mistake of mine, when I tried to harden off the squash plants to put them in this coming weekend, they all fell over. Whether this is from seed rot or because they got too tall and thus too weak to handle being hardened off is unknown.
So, Caryn's first major gardening mistake has been made. But it's only a small bump in the road -- Len and I are going to move the light down tonight so the rest of the seedlings don't grow this way.
The garden has been made! Len took off all of the grass for the 40' x 12' spot and then rototilled it up this past week, which means it was time to plant the cool-weather veggies today. I planted some Burpee's Golden Beet today to try for a spring crop -- the Detroit Dark Reds will wait until the end of the summer when I'll plant them for a fall crop or an early spring crop next year. I planted some fresh lettuce seeds and also transplanted some of the lettuce peat pots. I don't know how well those transplants will do, but I'm not too worried since I should get more lettuce from the seeds. I also planted turnip and spinach, and finally I planted my carrots and radishes. I'm a little worried about the carrots being able to grow -- everyone I know who's ever grown carrots has never had success, and I think it's because they're very picky about their soil. I'm not sure our soil is the right kind for them, but we'll at least try. And hey, this year anything that's reasonably edible will be considered a first success.
I've also started hardening off the winter squash plants. This morning I pulled them out of the greenhouse and saw that the cucumber and melon seedlings are really tall, must like the winter squash plants. I'm actually kind of worried that they're too tall -- the greenhouse may be working so well that I might have started them too early. I'm a little worried that they're vulnerable because they shot up so fast and became all stem. But I'm lucky to have a resource for gardening information -- our office assistant at work, Mary, is a gardener and told me that for the squash plants it meant strong plants. I'm hoping it also means this for the melons and cukes.
Next weekend I'll be transplanting the onions and the squash. And then the garden will actually look like a garden with things growing in it.
My lettuce! It's sprouting
! And everything else I've started is, too.
I've decided to use my blog as a way to keep a gardening journal since this will be my first big garden, and especially since I'm growing all heirlooms. This way I can keep track of what worked well and make notes that might help me out next year. And my first note will be this: next year, start the winter squash in bigger peat pots right away rather than the tiny seed starter pots I use for most other things.
I started all the peppers (two bell pepper varieties and a hot pepper variety called Thai peppers), the tomatoes (three varieties: hillbilly potato leaf, Wisconsin 55, and Beam's yellow pear tomato), the onions (Australian Gold), lettuce (Yugoslavian red butterhead), broccoli, and delicata winter squash. I was worried that they weren't going to sprout because I was faced with a problem in putting all the seedling trays somewhere where (a) it was warm enough and (b) they were safe from the cats. Any place that solved one issue invariably didn't solve the other.
But then Len was there to be My Hero. If you need a solution to some kind of mechanical problem, Len is your man. The ideal place to store all of these, we'd agreed, was the basement, where I had plenty of room. The problem was temperature -- it's a maximum of 65 down there, even in the hottest weather. While this is perfect for the cool-weather vegetables like lettuce, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, and spinach, the rest of the veggies would never sprout in such cool conditions. But how would we make it warm enough down there? We don't have much money so I couldn't afford to go get special heaters for seedlings.
Len had an idea: he put a large sheet of plywood down there on two sawhorses and then drilled a bunch of holes in it. He then attached a plastic skirt around it, then hung the growlight over it and cover the whole thing with plastic. We have a hot air heater that we've had since we lived in Wyoming -- my sister bought it for us to dry our snowy boots and gloves on it. He put it underneath, set the thermostat, and voila -- instant greenhouse. We set the seedlings in (with room to spare for more) and then checked on them the next day. The temperature inside was a humid 80 degrees or so. Perfect! Within just a couple of days sprouts were coming up in the trays.
Everything has sprouted, most noticeably the squash. They grew so big so fast in the greenhouse that today I transplanted them into larger peat pots since it's going to be at least a couple of weeks or more until I can work the ground. I'm taking a bit of a chance transplanting squash since they apparently don't take transplanting well (although last year I transplanted fairly mature plants really well into the garden). I'm hoping they'll survive, and I should get at least enough for the garden considering quite a few seeds sprouted. In fact, if they all stay alive I plan to ask my coworkers if any of them want the left over transplants -- I hate to see good seed go to waste.
The lettuce has also been growing fast, so I decided to transplant that into larger peat pots as well before it goes into the garden. This is the veggie I'm looking forward to trying the most. And I've been doing some reading on growing lettuce in containers -- turns out that it's very good for that, so I plan to grow lettuce in the sun room over the winter, where there are perfect conditions for it. The sunroom stays at a cool 60 degrees or less but gets decent light, and we always keep the door closed in the winter (since it's so cool out there and thus makes the living room more expensive to heat) so the cats won't get to it. If I do the planting right, we can have a constant supply of the stuff all through winter and it'll give me a chance to do some gardening in the cold months.
I'm trying to decide which veggies I want to save seed from. Part of the whole idea of growing heirlooms is to save their seed -- it helps preserve genetic diversity in our food supply, and it keeps some rare vegetables from dying out. I thought the term heirloom was strange until I read that some heirloom vegetables really are handed down in the family. I like this idea, so I plan to save seed. But I probably won't try and save seed from every plant I grow this year -- this is my first year gardening on such a large scale, and I want to concentrate more on getting them to grow well. For some items saving seed will be easy -- pick the best couple of peppers from your crop, cut them up, dry the seeds, then eat the peppers. But some vegetables, like lettuce, broccoli, onions, and many more, require that you sacrifice a few plants in order to save their seed (once you let lettuce bolt -- throw up seed shoots -- it's too bitter to eat). Since I'm growing lots of things in small areas, I don't know that I want to sacrifice some things yet for seed. I'd rather eat them.
Today I started the Brussels sprouts, the cucumbers, the watermelons, and the spinach. We'll see how well they do in the greenhouse this week.