Sunday, January 30, 2011

seed starting 101

While its gray outside and the air is unhealthy (this is a term posted by the air quality folks, not me) it would be easy to get a little down and depressed.  But wait, its late January, which means its time to start sprouting a spring garden from seed.  Here's how I do it.

Start with soil.  I find that a sterile seed starting mix with some compost added at about a 5:1 ratio works well.  Get this just moist enough that a handful barely holds together.

Spread soil evenly into starting trays with a liner below.  I like these called 6-cells.  There are 12 discrete 6-cells in this liner tray for a total of 72 potential sprouts.  I like to tamp down each individual square until just firm.  This helps to give a nice workable unit for transplanting later.

Make a small well in the middle of each square and drop seeds in.  Today I am starting the ones you see above (essentially brasicas and onions)  I like to cover each seed with just a little more soil the gently press so that you know the seed is being touched by soil on all sides.  I like to put at least 2 seeds into each square, playing the odds for best overall germination.  If both sprout, you just pinch one off later.
Once you get all of the seeds tucked in, label your trays and water well.  I like to try and keep my starts moist all the time but not drenched.

Now here is the part that gets tricky.  Some seeds need heat, some need light, some need dark then light, some need cold then warmth (really, just read your seed packets).  So you need to follow those directions to achieve sprouts.  This is a home made light set up in my basement with seed starting heat mats below.  I run this light for about 12 hours per day.  I prefer it for early starts like these because the days are still relatively short.  However...

Once the days get a little longer in the next 3-4 weeks I'll use the south facing window in my kitchen in place of the light for my next set of starts.  There is some controversy about whether this works, but here at 35 degrees latitude once its late February or later we get plenty of light for healthy seedlings without artificial light added.

Now, we wait.  In the meantime, I think I'll cook something.  I suspect that Carson is hoping for baked goods.

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Winter, finally (and seriously)

I planned to start this blog last spring as my garden flew into action, but then got into the actual work of gardening and abandoned the task. However, today its winter, really winter. I'm wearing long underwear and sitting under a blanket and I'm still cold.
Today is the shortest day of the year so from here on in it gets better. I look forward to longer days, that's for sure. But I'll also tuck in and enjoy winter's freeze and snow, it does mean skiing after all. Maybe more importantly is the snow pack - without snow there isn't water for the West.
The end of the year and the solstice are a good time to think back on the last 365. I have no reason to complain and feel really lucky about the last year and really hopeful about the year to come.