Saturday, April 20, 2013

Starting Seeds

This year (2013) was the year I got serious about starting seeds indoors. I found an Excel spreadsheet that calculated start and transplant dates based on the input of a "last frost date." In previous years we had planted whenever we were on the farm, rather than according to a schedule. I also did considerable research on ideal temperatures for starting seeds (80 °F) and for growing seedlings (≈ 70 °F). I bought seed tray heaters, 50 cell peat trays, special seed-starting mix, and built a shelving unit with hanging fluorescent lights on adjustable chains. The entire unit was wrapped in plastic to prevent drafts and maintain temperatures, and I found some 1" thick styrofoam sheets to help with insulation.

As it turned out, the seed tray heater kept the interior of a covered tray at ≥ 80 °F, and that heat from the fluorescent lights would keep an unheated tray at just above 70 °F in a 60 °F basement. My biggest worry at this stage was whether I was going to get a visit from the DEA on suspicion of growing weed.

First to be planted on 2/26 were nine varieties of tomatoes: Big Boy, Garden Peach, Black Krim, Orange Blossom, Roma, Black Cherry, Red Cherry, Yellow Pear, and Sungold. These were up in a few days with heat, and were thinned and fertilized with an NPK 18-18-21 tomato fertilizer. Second to be planted were the cabbages on 3/1: Early Jersey Hybrid, King Slaw, and an heirloom we got at the OEFFA conference called Copenhagen. The peppers were started 3/8: jalapeño, bell, cayenne, Padron, and ancho. Then the beets on 3/13 (Detroit Supreme and Golden, 50 each) and the kales and chard on 3/14 (Black Magic and Dwarf Blue Curled, and Bright Lights, respectively). Also on 3/14, I started basil, nasturtium and parsley, the latter of which should have been started with the tomatoes. Finally, the eggplant (Millionaire), spinach (Salad Fresh) and endive (Green Curled Ruffec) were started on 4/3 and the carrots (Scarlet Nantes heirloom we also obtained at the OEFFA conference) on 4/19. The final starts will be cucumbers on 5/1 (Homemade Pickle, Muncher, and Straight Eight).

The tomatoes were re-potted (50 to 32 plants) on 3/22 into 3.5" peat pots (18 fit in a standard tray), were moved outside under a cloche on 4/3, and were re-potted (32 to 21 plants) to into 2 gal. containers on 4/18. The cabbages were re-potted (50 to 18 plants) on 4/3, as were the majority of the remaining plants that weren't ready to go into the ground.
re-potted tomatoes on 3/27 (4 weeks)

cabbages on 3/27 (3.5 weeks)

Overall, this system of lights, temperature control, scheduling, and re-potting worked exceptionally well. Very few modifications will be made for next year, and so far we've had no knocks on the door by the DEA.

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