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 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.
Tomato seedling looking for light – mid April
Butternut squash standing at attention – end of April
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 – 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 – 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 or red or yellow pear tomatoes – and a pepper plant in the centre.
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!