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Seed starting

Starting seeds this year was an interesting experience. I started tomatoes, leeks, sweet and hot peppers, butternut squash, watermelons, parsley, eggplants, and a few flowers (lavender, lupine, and yarrow) in early April on top of the fireplace.

Plastic keeps in the moisture

Plastic keeps the environment warm and moist

I saved plastic mushroom containers to use as seed trays. They seemed a good size and depth and it was easy to make drainage holes in the bottom. I also saved a few yogurt containers thinking I could use them for tall plants, like tomatoes, once they got big enough. I used note paper and taped labels to the trays, but they didn’t stay on. And I used leaf mold as my growing medium, which I purchased at Urban Harvest.

Seeds looking for light

Tomato seedling looking for light – mid April

Butternut squash

Butternut squash standing at attention – end of April

Watermelon

Watermelon – end of April. They didn’t survive.

I found the seed starting tips from Fine Gardening the most useful;  Mother Earth News and Rodale’s Organic Life also added some good information. The one thing I don’t think I did was fertilize the seeds, although I did buy vermicompost from Urban Harvest for that purpose. I also though this article on the benefits of cinnamon for preventing diseases in seedlings was really interesting; I want to try it next year.

Once the seedlings started to get bigger, I took them to my dad’s house. I don’t get much light in my apartment and having access to a house with a shady back yard  allowed me to harden them off outside for short periods of time.

Tomato plants by a sunny window at my dad's place

Tomato plants by a sunny window at my dad’s place – excited to see some true leaves! End of April

My dad was not too impressed with my plan to gradually increase their time outside by one hour every day over a week’s time (possibly because I was bugging him to do it), so they stayed out longer than they probably should have in some cases and in conditions that were probably not ideal (cold and rainy!).

Hardening off in the back yard

Hardening off in the back yard – I probably should have thinned these out. Early May.

At the end of May, I was able to hitch a ride with a friend to Hamilton (otherwise I’m not sure how I would have gotten the plants up there). They look much healthier having been in the sun for a while and their stems are nice and thick. I read that gently brushing your fingers across the leaves encourages stem development. Perhaps it simulates the plant blowing in the wind.

Box car Willie tomatoes

Box car Willie or red or yellow pear tomatoes – and a pepper plant in the centre.

Peppers!

L – California sweet and golden peppers; C –  habanero; R – mystery peppers

 

Knowing what I know now, what else would I do differently next year?

  • Use sticks in the soil to label the seedlings. At the time, I couldn’t find the tongue depressors I knew I had and didn’t consider that the paper and tape would fall off when I was moving the trays around
  • Bring the plants to a sunny window much sooner than I did. Maybe some plants would have survived (poor watermelons).
  • Thinned the plants, either by moving some to other containers or killing them off (probably the former. I have a hard time killing off seedlings). It probably would have caused less deformation, particularly in the tomato plants
  • Fertilized the seedlings. This probably would have made them stronger. I was a bit nervous about doing this. All the articles I’d read said to use a ‘weak’ tea, and the dilution instructions for the vermicompost tea bags and the even the kelp meal required steeping them in large quantities of water so I couldn’t do it at the apartment. That was really the only time I was thinking about it.

Starting seeds was totally worth it, as you’ll see in future posts!

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It’s all about the soil

This year I decided I would try starting my own seeds. I spent months humming and hawing over the best type of soil to use. I read Gayla Trail’s posts on seed starting mixes and decided I would take the easy route and buy pre-bagged soil but I couldn’t find the Nature Mix seed starting mix she recommended in response to a post in the comments section. I was looking in March so it may have been too early or perhaps it was no longer available (the post was from 2008). In the end, fate stepped in at Urban Harvest.

I was at their table at Dufferin Grove Market buying seeds at the end of March. Before I left I casually asked the owner, “can you recommend a good seed starting mix?” She thought for a moment and said, “I have just the thing.” Saved! Their store was opening the following week and she had some soil that was appropriate for pots and starting seeds. A week later I headed down with my cart and bought a 20lb bag for $8. It was an experience carting it home on the subway (I walked from the store location at Landsdowne and Bloor to Dufferin to take advantage of the elevator).

20lb bag of soil, along with some kelp meal in the paper bag

20lb bag of soil, along with some kelp meal in the paper bag

The girl at the store told me that the soil was fine for starting seeds now but if I wanted to use it for permanent pots, I would need to add some perlite to loosen it up, otherwise it would be too dense.

More on seed starting later.

I ended up buying another bag for the community garden (yep, I came back after a 2 year hiatus). After hurting my trapezius carrying the cart down the stairs to the subway at Lansdowne, I swallowed my pride and asked my friend with a car to help me get 5 more bags to the garden. He’s an engineer, so as a bonus he used his skill to level the plot for a professional looking finish; much better than it would have looked had I done it myself.

We left his tool bag in the shot for effect

We left his tool bag in the shot for effect

I received several complements on the quality of my soil! My neighbour to the east was in the garden when I brought the first bag. He stuck his hand in, pulled out a handful, sniffed and said, “this is really good soil!” I loved the way it felt when I was using it to start my seeds, but it wasn’t until I poured the first bag into my plot that I noticed how wonderful it smelled! Wow! He suspected that it was worm compost and he was right. Leaf mold to be exact. It was so memorable that when I was putting the garden to bed at the end of the season (with the help of my engineering friend again), another gardener asked what I had used.

I would use the leaf mold for starting seeds again but it was too costly to cover the 32 square feet of my plot. Perhaps if I had more success with this space, I would have thought it was worth it, but that wasn’t the case. We put the plot to bed with manure and straw for the first time this fall so we’ll see how that works.

 

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