Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Gardening Floyd: Plant a Seed

It's February first and nearly time to start seeds for crops that have a long growing season, need warmer temps for germination, or are just plain difficult to direct seed or get past the flea beetles.  Last year we started Violetta artichokes in January.  They require a very long growing season.  Hopefully they'll winter over and we can pick artichokes this year!  We amused the neighbors because they thought we had planted a row of bull thistles in our front yard.  Artichokes are members of the thistle family.

After having little luck starting healthy stocky transplants indoors we were about to give up.  We lusted after one of these but at $370 that so wasn't going to happen.
So Michael started researching and looking around and came up with this:

All the ingredients in this recipe for this deluxe 4 shelf seed starting unit can be found at your local big box hardware store for a grand total of $130.  And it can be done cheaper.  We splurged on the nice chromed industrial shelf.  That was $100.

In addition to the shelf we hung 6 fluorescent shop lights, 2 per shelf, with the chains and hooks that came with them.  The fixtures themselves are fitted with one high spectrum and one low spectrum fluorescent tube each, providing the same spectrum mix as costlier grow-light tubes.  The cords feed down to a multi-outlet surge protector that controls power to all the lights with one on/off switch.  We can turn off individual lights for shelves not in use by pulling the chains on the fixtures.  The height of the lights from the plants is adjustable by moving the hooks up and down the chains as needed.  We can position the lights nearly on top of the tubs  when the seedlings first emerge and move them up as the plants grow taller.  If you were inclined you could add a timer to control the lights.  We just turn them on when we get up (pre-crack of dawn) and off when we go to bed.  We are able to grow hundreds of nice stocky transplants on this unit which takes up very little space.

Don't think that this seed shelf's useful life comes to an end once the transplants are in the garden.  It's next use is starting seeds that wouldn't do well in summer's heat for transplant to the late summer/fall/winter garden.  Even then it's work isn't done.  In late fall potted herbs come inside to provide fresh pickings through the winter. In early winter we plant tubs with lettuce mix, spinach, and basil for fresh greens when the greens in the winter garden give out.  If we've done it right, by the time the seedling population kicks the salad tubs off the shelves, garden lettuce isn't too far away.

We start our seeds in storage tubs from the dollar store that Michael has drilled for drainage.  These have the advantage of being lightweight, discourage drying out, come with a lid that helps keep the soil moist while waiting for the seeds to sprout and then becomes the saucer to catch drips when watering.  They are deep enough to grow the transplants' root systems to a goodly size before they need to be moved to larger individual containers (we use plastic half gallon milk jugs for transplants).
The sides of the tubs are lined inside with aluminum foil to help reflect the light around and through the seedlings and filled with a good quality potting soil for planting.  Pictured above is a tub of leaf lettuce mix we're currently eating.

Here's another shot of it ready for cutting

Michael has been busy with his spreadsheets plotting out the garden and its rotations for the coming year.  We've inventoried our seeds and had a great time last Saturday at the seed swap sponsored by Miracle Farm at the Country Store.  We've made lists of new varieties we want to try and where we want to buy them.  I'm already making seasonal lists of old standbys and new recipes for preserving.  In the next few days and weeks we'll be planting seeds and impatiently waiting for the soil to be workable enough to direct seed early spring crops.

Mmmmm... fresh new peas!

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