That wasn’t smart 4.0

Seed starting isn’t the worst thing to do in the winter, but having your May seedlings sprouting in February is definitely not a good idea.  It all started with last year’s massive seed starting failure.  As usual I filled a few dozen pots and set them out in the cold to wait for spring, but the results were far from good, and only a few things sprouted.  I thought it might be the weather, but now I’m leaning more towards a bad batch of soil.  So this year for a bunch of seeds I figured I’d skip the soil and go back to the Deno method (click here to see how that works) of sprouting seeds in plastic bags.  I set up a bunch of seeds which I thought would benefit from a nice bit of cold before sprouting, but also thought it might be a good idea to give them a week or so of warmth first.  You can guess what happened.

deno method seeds sprouting

Just five days later and I have a mess of sprouting seeds to deal with.  After having failed twice already with these Californian thistle seeds it looks like they didn’t need a cold treatment after all!

So now I’m faced with a bunch of seedlings which will somehow have to survive my care under lights for at least 2 more months.  Even with the cool temperatures out in the winter garden slowing down their growth it will still be a long haul. Another not so smart thing was finding a baggie of needle palm seeds which I must have given up on two years ago.  Apparently there was a (now brittle and cracked) outer shell which I didn’t know about and which probably should have been removed prior to sowing.  It will be a true testament to the lives of seeds if these go ahead and sprout now.

needle palm seeds

Seeds of the hardy needle palm. Stored moist for a year, bone dry for another, cracked out of their shells, rubbed along the file and replanted this month. Not likely to lead to success but you never know 🙂

I’m much more optimistic about seeds I received from this year’s HPS seed exchange.  I potted up this happily sprouting red buckeye (aesculus pavia) seed yesterday and will try and find a cool spot for it until things warm up outside.  Also arriving pre-sprouted are two packets filled with Southern Magnolia (m. grandiflora) seeds…. don’t ask about that, I don’t need one borderline hardy southern magnolia let alone two dozen, but I should have plenty of time to think that one over since I’m hoping they’ll be slow growing.

sprouting chestnut seed

Some seed need to be planted immediately, so it helps that the donor of this seed ‘moist packed’ the seeds in damp peat when collected and then sent them in to the exchange. Sure beats receiving a dried out seed that will never sprout (such as my palm seeds became)

The rest of my seed exploits should also be in better shape.  I did go traditional and put out two trays of little pots to suffer through the rest of winter under the deck, and they will hopefully not run into problems this year, but the rest of my perennial seeds went into baggies and are sitting in a box in the fridge.  It all feels pretty promising to me.  Even the ones that had already sprouted in their baggies are coming along nicely after a few days under the growlights.

seedlings under grow lights

Carefully planted into soil the little seedlings greened up and sprouted normally. I’m pretty sure I’m the only person in my end of Pennsylvania who has half-hardy Californian cobweb thistles (cirsium occidentale) growing along indoors under lights. That must mean something, I’m not sure what.

My little primrose continues to make me happy, and I’m sure you’ll also welcome seeing yet another picture! 😉

yellow primula polyanthus under lights

The first yellow primula polyanthus in full bloom. A little sparse, but still perfect….. and the cyclamen aren’t too shabby either!

Never fear, I also have a few onions sprouting so not everything is odd and nearly useless flowers…. but I also have to warn you there are two more primrose divisions on the cool windowsill which are only now starting to put up buds.  If the weather keeps going as cold as it is you might be stuck looking at them all through March!

Just another day at the salt mines

I can sorta relate to the people looking for low maintenance plants and landscaping.  I for one love being outside, watching things grow, tending plants, dividing, staking, deadheading…. even weeding.  About the only thing I really don’t care for is watering, so when it’s spring and I have a list of projects to work on and halfway through start to think it’s more trouble than it’s worth….. well it might be time to hit the lawnchair with a drink.  In a sick way I sometimes look around at my fellow suburbanites and think their yards look just as good as mine, but then I remember it’s unlikely they have a couple dozen different iris coming along into bloom, and they probably don’t even have any more than one or two snowdrops.  That helps my mood and I go through and finish the day with a smug grin, quite pleased with myself all over again.

The late tulips are still holding out, these (probably “Dordogne”) mixed in with all the others keep the patch colorful even after the rest are over.  Unless Sunday’s high winds beat them silly, they should last another week.tulip dordogne

I think what beats me down is the lawn maintenance.  If you want to talk high maintenance a lawn is right there on top.  Part of that is my fault, I’m stubborn and insist on using a corded electric mower instead of something bigger, stronger, and faster.  It’s not the most manly mower, but from someone who’s always wandering the yard looking at his flowers….. well, the mower doesn’t help.

fothergillaSomething that’s mostly no-maintenance is fothergilla.  It doesn’t need pruning, blooms with these nice white bottlebrush flowers, is presentable all summer, and come fall puts on a nice show of glowing reds, yellows and oranges.  The blooms don’t last long for me, somewhere around two weeks, but that’s plenty.  You miss it when it’s gone, which in my opinion is better than a plant that wears out its welcome.

Round around July the lawn starts wearing out its welcome.  Mowing in the heat stinks and I look forward to the summer sun and drought sucking the green out of its blades.  As long as I mow on the long side it just goes dormant, and the summer vacation from mowing is much welcomed, since mowing clearly cuts into pool time.  But right now I need the flush of green clippings since they’re my number one mulch for the vegetable garden.   I use them and some leftover chopped maple leaves to smother the grass and weeds that are buried in this new bed.lasagna bedMost of the weeds and grass will die, and hopefully by the time tomato planting weather rolls around (2 more weeks?) I can carefully dig down to soil level, plant the seedlings, top the bed with new clippings, and admire my avoidance of actually digging up this patch of hardpacked gravely “soil”.

Since I don’t have enough better things to do I actually transplanted some of the grass from the new bed into the former bed-turned-new-pathway (lower right of the picture).  I’m a big sod mover.  I hate waiting for grass seed to sprout.  People will disagree, but I like grass paths through the garden.  If you noticed, mine are edged with fancy pink marble sections.  Some people have compared the look to “deep south cemetery”, but it’s the best use I could think of for the stone we pulled off the house front.  Maybe it’s the second best…. we also have a pink marble compost bin.

apple blossom In the orchard our new “Freedom” apple has even put out a few blossom clusters.  I should of course nip them off so the tree has more energy to establish, but I don’t care.  For all I know the tree could die tomorrow, so I’ll enjoy the blooms today.

vegetable transplantsSpeaking of dying tomorrow, we have a frost predicted for tonight.  I brought in a few succulents and four or five early summer plant purchases.  The rest of the stuff is on its own.  Planning for low maintenance gardening means not sweating the small stuff like late frosts.  The cold weather veggie seedlings will tough it out (strong sun would damage them more than cool weather).

So we will see where the weather takes us.  I figure if the tulips and iris don’t mind this afternoon’s snow, they shouldn’t mind a slight frost.tulips in snow



Seedling Update

I’m not as far behind as I thought I was.  Even though not a single garden center would ever worry about me as competition, there are a few things looking like they might be ready to go in the ground.  Two weeks earlier and a week or two in the cold frame (which doesn’t exist) would have been perfect… but this is where I’m at… and chances are next year this is also where I’ll be at.  I’m a slow learner.

indoor seedlings

This was supposed to be the warm season light, with tomatoes and peppers and such, but I think it’s still not warm enough.  The empty pots are things that just didn’t want to germinate, and the ones that did did it ever so sloooooowly.   I think I need a heat mat to speed them up, it sounds like a good idea but I’ve never committed to getting one.  Anyone have good luck with them?

The tomatoes and peppers look fine, but the coleus cuttings seem to do much better on the windowsill.  Coleus are the one plant that appears to find something lacking in the flourescent lights.  They always seem to have a “funny” look to them until they go outside and I wonder what it is.

The cool weather plants under the lights in the back of the garage look a little more impressive.

indoor seedlings

I think once this stuff hits the great outdoors it will take off…. assuming the bunnies stay away.  I’m trying out “bright lights” swiss chard and already like the multicolored stems.

indoor seedlings

So we’ll see where this goes.  Right now the vegetable garden is full of spring bulbs.  It seemed like a good idea in October, now I don’t know.  But at least it looks nice.

daffodil beds

Feelin’ Rich

I’ve been on a buying spree lately.  After months of doubtful back and forth it looks like my job will be around for another year, so I’ve finally cracked open the wallet to treat myself to a few extras on my wish list.  The first was last weeks’ $100 trip to Lowes.  A new 4 light T8 shop light with timer, light bulbs, and a bag of potting soil all got a spot in the cart.  I eyed the seed potatoes for a while (they had a nice selection, reasonably priced) but didn’t bite.  After years of sitting on my wallet it’s hard to go all out.

I’ve got the lights set up in a corner of the basement close to the furnace, so I’m hoping this will be a good spot for the warm growers like tomatoes and peppers.  Of course space under the new the light is already filled up with nonsense like coleus cuttings and geraniums, but I did fit a bunch of new seedling pots in.  Hopefully by the time I need more space a few of the cool weather things can already go outside. seedlings under lights

It’s a crappy picture but it shows about all you want to see of the spindly coleus cuttings that have spent all winter on the windowsill.   I should have potted them up earlier but….. you know…. hopefully they will grow fast enough to give me a few additional cuttings as I pinch them back.

Nothing fancy about the light set up.  It’s a basic T8 shop light with generic 5000K “sunlight” light bulbs rated for laundry rooms and closets.  I may be feeling rich but I’m not going crazy with special (aka expensive) growlights, and based on the success of the first light setup this one should be fine.

My credit card got a little more excersise over the next couple days.  Not much, but I’ll wait a few days before fessing up to my other purchases.

Seeds and seedlings

Our usual last frost is somewhere in the area of May 15th but I’ve never seen it happen that late. Usually the first week of May has been ok. Still I go off the 15th anyway and as a result I always feel behind. I did start the onions and leeks about two weeks ago (I think that’s about nine weeks early?) and the little sprouts have been coming up on the fringes of the shop light, but as they start grow it’s time for the change-over.

seedlings growlights

The cyclamen and snowdrops are kicked out from under the light, and the new seedlings take over.  They’ll be fine on the cold windowsills now that its warmed up a bit and the onions and leeks should be happy with the prime lighting locations.  You’re looking at lancelot leek and copra, red wings, and ailsa craig onions.

seedlings growlights

In another two or so weeks I’ll start the main crops of warm weather transplants such as tomatoes, eggplants and peppers.  Also I’ll get some lettuce and cabbage started for early transplanting.  A cold frame would really come in handy about now but I never did more than just collect the windows.

I did start some other stuff (hardy perennials and bulb seeds) when I started the onions, these are all chilling outside.  The finer stuff sits under a plastic tote, the larger seeds get topped off with chicken grit for protection and sit out in the open.  When things warm up outside to their liking hopefully I’ll get some sprouts.

winter sowing

They should have been planted about a month earlier to get a real taste of winter, but I didn’t get the seeds until the end of February, so they get what the get.

I also tried something new this year.  For seeds that need a cold spell, I tried the Deno method.  It’s named after Dr Norman Deno and is a method he used to test germination on thousands of seed types.   Basically you take moist paper towels, spread the seeds out on them and then fold them up.  This goes in a baggie with info on the outside and either gets room temperature treatment (warm) or refrigerator treatment (cold).

winter sowing

They need a little more attention (you need to check on them periodically for germination), and they need immediate planting in soil when they do show signs of sprouting, but they take up so much less room!  The other big plus is you know where your seeds are and you can easily see if they’re dead and rotted.  No more staring at an empty pot waiting.

Here I have a dozen or so started seeds sitting in the fridge, nice and neat and out of the way, and so much more acceptable than pots full of dirt next to the yogurt.

winter sowing

If you’re into seed starting, check out “the science of seed germination” at Hayefield blog.  It’s a great intro to the science behind seeds and it offers a couple great links, I’d try and put the link right here for you but haven’t mastered that bit yet 😉

Good luck on your seeds!