Seed Starting

It’s that time of year again! Since we moved here, seed starting has been one of the things I look forward to most. Maybe it’s the long months of winter or the itchiness for spring, but there’s just something magical about getting to play in the dirt for the first time of the year.

This is our third year here and every year, we’ve done things a little bit differently.

In 2015, I started all kinds of plants – peas, herbs, flowers, tomatoes and peppers. I learned  so many things that year.

  1. Peas grow very quickly! I started 10 of each variety that year and decided that direct seeding them was the way to go.
  2. Two lights per shelf creates leggy plants. Elevating the trays so they were closer to the light helped a little bit, but I was grateful when they were large enough to pot up and I could bury half the stem of the peppers and tomatoes. That helped them fill out.
  3. Starting marigolds is a waste of seed tray space. I started about 25 marigolds which wasn’t nearly enough for the garden and so I direct seeded the rest. Within a few weeks, I couldn’t tell which ones I had started vs. direct seeded. Save the tray space for the plants that need a longer growing season.
  4. Herbs take a little longer to germinate and I’m still undecided whether it’s worth it to start them or seed them directly.

I started the seeds on April 5th, which meant that when I planted my peppers and tomatoes out in the garden on June 7th, they were 8 weeks big. Actually, they were small, but they grew and produced a whole lot of tomatoes! I don’t wanna talk about my peppers…

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Two lights per shelf and placed in front of a south facing window.

A few days after we seeded, the sprouts started shooting through. I was simply amazed!

So cute.

Taking what we had learned our first year here, we proceeded into 2016. We had converted the lean-to on our shop into a one-layer-of-plastic greenhouse (a post to come on that transformation/learning experience)  and thought we’d try to start the seeds in there. Once again, we learned many things.

  1. Starting seeds in an unheated greenhouse means you get a late start. We planted the seeds on April 13th.
  2. An unheated greenhouse, even when it reaches temps into the 90s during the day, is not warm enough, consistently, to germinate peppers and tomatoes.
  3. Two days after seeding, the greenhouse hit 108 degrees. I wasn’t home that day to open the door and cool it off. I planted more seeds because I was sure I had killed everything.
  4. Ten days in, we still had 0% germination.
  5. Instead of giving up, I gave in and brought the trays inside, where the tomatoes proceeded to germinate THE VERY NEXT DAY. Again, I don’t wanna talk about my peppers.

Last spring, we only started peppers and tomatoes. I’m sure that the rough start in the greenhouse contributed to my poor germination of peppers, but the tomatoes took off and as soon as they had their true leaves, I moved them back out to the greenhouse where they grew like crazy before I planted them out June 4th when they were only 7 1/2 weeks big. I ended up planting only 5 or 6 of our own peppers and had to buy some pepper plants from a gardening centre. It was a super hot summer though and the plants produced more peppers than we could eat. Our tomatoes were hit by some overspray from our farmer neighbour and the plants were weakened. I saw my first tomato hornworm (YUCK).  We still had a decent harvest though.

Even with a nice view, they didn’t germinate.

We didn’t even bring in the shelf with the lights last year. I was so convinced that I had killed everything.

Nature is resilient. That lesson is slowing sinking in to my thick skull.
Still tiny, but ready to to brave the elements in the greenhouse.

Fast forward to August:

I know you wanted to see it too.

It’s 2017 now. We’ve  Chad revamped the lighting (a post to come about those changes) and we’ll see what happens this year. So far, it’s a little early to note what I’ve learned, but here’s a list of things we’ve planted:

  1. Perennial herbs and flowers like perennial flowers like Echinacea, Edelweiss, Bee Balm, Lavender, Sage, Thyme and Chamomile.
  2. Greens like Kale, Lettuce, Swiss Chard and Mustard Greens.
  3. Peppers – 8 varieties this year including Cayenne, Jalapeno, Mini Bells and Sweet Orange.
  4. Tomatoes – I lost count of how many varieties (or I’m embarrassed to tell you), but I ran out of trays, so the rest will be planted as soon as my trays arrive in the mail. We’ll be growing varieties such as Roma, Black Cherry, Green Zebra, Orange Stripe, Andrina, Yellow Pear, Beaute Blanche and King Umberto.
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Soil warming up overnight.

I had an eager helper this year. No bribing necessary.

I swear those hands belong to an 8 year old.

I’ve overtaken the living room once again. Good thing I feed them all pretty well or they might not be so accommodating.

Our futuristic grow zone.

I am now waiting impatiently for things to sprout.

24 hours and: nothing!!

I’ve stopped pacing just long enough to write this so I should go back and check to see if any Kale has sprouted. I’ve got my bets placed on the greens to pop up first.

I’ll be back with updates.


2 thoughts on “Seed Starting

  1. You will be much happier (and so will your plants) with two light fixtures per shelf rather than just one. I have 2 per shelf on mine. Obviously, you are much more patient than I. I start marigolds inside so I have instant color and gratification when I plant them. Your next step might be a heated propagating mat. It will make a HUGE difference in pepper germination. And, after they germinate, if I have nothing else that needs the mat, I put them pack on it (set at a lower 68 degrees) in their individual pots. They love that extra heat and grow big root systems. If I take them off for a few days to germinate a flat of tomato seeds, etc. they don’t mind, but are happy when they can go back on. Lucky you to have that 8 yr. old to help!


    1. Thanks for the comment! You reminded me that I actually have a heat mat kicking around here just collecting dust. Not anymore! I only have one mat and two trays of peppers, so they’ll have to share, but it’s better than nothing!


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