We have had a pretty odd winter here in Utah. I know it's only my second one, so I don't have much basis for that statement, but it has basically been a crazy beautiful spring since early January. That being said, it did get bitter cold for about a week over Christmas and I am happy to report that our little covered wagon out back provided enough protection for the plants to survive!
If you have read posts from last spring, you know my first foray into seed starting yielded mixed results. I'm trying a different setup this go around and making a few changes:
Moving the operation out of the basement: both times I started seeds last spring, they started out okay, but ended up growing fungus or becoming 'leggy', and just didn't do that well. I think there were a few issues with the basement - I didn't have a warming mat and I think it might have been too cool down there for the seedlings, especially the warm-weather plants. I expected the shop light to give off more heat, but apparently safety standards have improved since I last touched a shop light. I don't know if the fungus had something to do with the basement, it's an old house and an unfinished basement without a lot of air circulation. So, I decided to try a new environment and set up a space in our pantry which is upstairs and next to the laundry area. Our landlord requires a space heater in the pantry because the room is an addition to the back of the house and he worries about pipes freezing. So as long as we have to have that on, I figured we could get double duty out of the heat and put the seedlings above it to keep them warm. I am also hoping having them upstairs will help with the fungus issue (and inconsistent watering issue as seeing them every time I go into the pantry helps me remember to keep them watered :)
Warning: super nerdy garden post ahead.
I attended a workshop put on by the local ag extension office at the end of April. The topic: Tomato Grafting. I had a vague idea of what plant grafting involved, my knowledge limited to: 'I think it's when you splice together two different fruit trees...?' Turns out you can do this with tomatoes too! and lots of other types of plants. I learned that, here in Utah, heirloom tomatoes can be difficult to grow as there are a lot of diseases present that try to make their lives difficult, especially verticillium wilt. It is, in summary, a fungus that lives in the soil and there is not much you can do about it. Enter: tomato grafting. The idea behind tomato grafting is putting the heirloom tomato plant on a disease resistant "root stock" so the plant will have a fighting chance against diseases such as verticillium wilt. There are varieties of tomatoes that have been bred to be resistant to certain diseases and you can usually find this information on the seed packet. So, to give a very abbreviated overview, you start tomato seeds for the disease resistant tomato plant that you want to serve as your "root stock"; simultaneously, you start tomato seeds for the tomatoes that you actually want to grow and eat, i.e. an heirloom brandywine variety in this case. You let them grow for 3 to 4 weeks. And then, grab a razor blade and...
I will be honest, a couple of weeks ago I was pretty discouraged. Back in early March, when trees were still without leaves, the backyard was getting practically full-sun for most of the day. The owner warned me before I put in the raised bed that the backyard doesn't get a ton of sun in the summer. While I believed him, and noted the large trees in our neighboring yards, I thought surely it must get 'enough' to grow at least greens or some other less sun-needy vegetables. Plus, for me, it was worth a shot at trying the full spectrum of plants and, if it didn't go well, I could stick to more shade-friendly vegetables next summer.
We are about 3 weeks post putting the tomato, pepper, and eggplant starts in the ground.
I call this the 'wait' component of the 'hurry up and wait' process after the more intensive part of getting summer transplants ready and in the ground after the 'threat of frost' has passed.
Here is a peak at the 'mini-beds' as I may refer to them going forward.
As mentioned in my previous post, I attempted starting tomato, pepper, eggplant, and basil plants from seed. Also, as predicted, I ended up going to a plant sale to buy tomato, pepper, eggplant, and basil plants...
This is my first season experimenting with seed starting. I had a bunch of seed trays and containers leftover from previous plant purchases (hoarding for the win!) that I cleaned and disinfected by spraying with hydrogen peroxide. I purchased a seed starting mix at a nearby nursery as well as a shop light and light timer from Home Depot. I had PVC pipe from a previous project on hand that I used to create a stand to hang the shop light. I tried to use what I had on hand as much as possible, so as you can see below it's a bit of a bootleg setup, but it worked for the most part.
I started back in February with lettuce, kale, swiss chard, spinach, and leek seeds. I'm not calling it a total fail, but definitely not a total success. All of the seeds germinated except for the spinach and leek seeds. A few lessons learned: I think I overwatered a bit. The seedlings got a little "leggy"...I don't know if that makes sense, but the stems were really long and "stringy". I thought I took a picture, but I guess I was too ashamed... I watered from the bottom by putting about a half inch of water in the tray holding the containers. That is the part I wouldn't change, but next time I will only water when the soil is dry on the top, which lately is less than once a week. Also, I should have been better about thinning the lettuce early on, I put several seeds in each compartment, but didn't stay on top of thinning and they got tangled. I think they would have done better with more "room to breathe" so to speak.