How to Start Greens/lettuce seeds inside

seed germination tray

Here’s what  last year’s lettuce looked like when germinated and ready to be transplanted into bigger pots

Greens/lettuce seeds started inside February 8

Yesterday I planted some lettuce and greens seeds. Here’s how I do it:

seed germination tray

I cut this tray into thirds

I bought these flats above for starting seeds indoors and under lights. I cut them into thirds as I like I them a little smaller as they are easier to handle and not so flimsy.

I like shallow containers to start SMALL seeds as it is easier to get the correct soil temperature needed for germination and I can plant a lot of seeds in a small space. Bigger pots for small seeds are harder to get the soil temperature correct. Optimal seed germination temperature for greens and lettuces it is 65-70 °F and it should take between 7-10 days to germinate.

seed starting tray_dots

I mark each row every inch and plant a seed there

Before I put in the seeds, I marked each row with a dot (I used a silver sharpie) one inch apart so I could evenly space the seeds and that way I can also see if a seed germinated by that dot. I use Metro Mix 360 soil for starting seeds. I pre-moisten the soil.

seed starting tray_seeds

Put kiddie (play) sand on top after putting seeds in rows.

I used a pencil to make a small hole in the Metro Mix and put a seed in it. Afterwards I put ‘kiddie’ play sand over each row to cover the seeds and pat it down. Small seeds can easily break through the sand when germinating. I would use bigger pots for larger seeds. You must keep the soil moist at all times till they germinate. Because the trays are so shallow, I only have to mist the pre-moisten soil with a sprayer, sometimes several times a day. You could put a clear top on it till germination happens. I never put the trays under a faucet to water as that could move the seeds around.

thermostat probeseed starting tray with thermostat

Here I have them sitting on a heat mat but I don’t turn the mat ‘on’.  For greens/lettuces I put the probe in the soil to see what temperature it is at with the thermostat. I find for greens/lettuces the lights above the seed trays provide all the heat needed to stay in that temperature range.  Here the thermostat reads 66°F. I’ll turn seedling heat mats on later for warm season crops like tomatoes which like the soil temperature much warmer for germination. The thermostat is great for controlling the temperature.

seed starting tray with journal entry.jpg

Write down what variety each row is in a notebook

I identify each row with a number and then keep a record of what each number represents instead of trying to write down what it is on that little piece of tape. There are 12 dots so that means since there are 6 rows in each ‘mini-flat’ that there are 72 seeds in this tiny space! After they germinate and their first two true (cotyledon) leaves appear, I will transplant them each plant into a 4 pack and from there directly into a cold frame, low tunnel or greenhouse. Still too early to  throw them outside without protection.

Here is what I planted:
1-Yugoslavian Red lettuce-butterhead type
2-Santoro lettuce-butterhead type
3-Slow-Bolt Cilantro
4-Carmel Spinach
5-Baby Pak Choi
6-Forellenschuss (trout) lettuce-romaine

Check your bees lately?

bee art

I love this image I found. So true-the life of a bee (and a gardener). I always thought of them as pollinators. I never thought of them as gardeners, but they are—they pollinate so many of our food crops. Without them, we would not have 90% of our veggies and fruits.

I have seen our bees flying around on some of the warmer days and was wondering how their honey supply is holding up. I start to get nervous around Feb and definitely in March regarding the bees. Most bees die in the early spring when they run out of their own honey before there are any blossoms to visit. So this past week I took a peek at our bees on a warm 50 degree day to make sure they still have enough honey. I haven’t looked at them since I put them to bed in October and was waiting for a warm, non-windy day to check on them.

I didn’t go through the whole hive as I didn’t want to be in there that long. I  just looked at a few bars to see if they still had enough honey. I was glad to see they still have plenty of honey, but to be sure, I put a jar of creamed honey (so it doesn’t flow out everywhere) for them at the very end of the bars. Late January-early February is a little early to check them but what’s the harm in making sure they have enough honey as long as you only check on a warm day. Now I feel comfortable with this next winter storm coming in tomorrow that I can wait till late February before I check again. Glad the girls are fine!

Older Seeds-how to test for viability

seeds

If you have gone through your seeds and find packets that are over 3 years old, you may want to test them for viability. Are they still good enough to plant again? Many seeds are good for 2-3 years and some much longer if they didn’t get wet or damaged. I grew the state record for giant green squash (345 lbs) from a seed that was 8 years old. I was amazed. Read about the giant green squashes here; http://giantveggiegardener.com/2011/10/04/greenies-battle-it-out-for-who-will-go-to-the-weigh-off. So sometimes older seeds are fine too. Here are some things you can do with older seeds.

  1. First,  if they are over 3 years old I may toss them in the ground later in spring (especially flower seeds) to see if they germinate or
  2. I may test the seed packet (look at the date on the package) to see if they are still viable. Three years or older? Test them. To test them, take 10 seeds and soak them in water for a few hours to overnight and then put them in a damp paper towel and put them in a Ziploc bag and on a shady, warm windowsill or on top of your refrigerator (not a sunny place, you don’t wanna fry the seeds). Then in a few days check them to see how many have germinated.
  3. I use this chart  “Germination tables from Heirloom Seeds – Know when to plant all your vegetables.” to see how long it should take to germinate a particular seed under ideal conditions.  If none have germinated, keep checking them. After a few days, you’ll see some of them have germinated. So if 8 out of the 10 germinated, you have a 80% germination rate. If 5 out of the 1o seeds germinated, then you have a 50% germination rate, if only 2 have germinated than you have a 20% germination rate and so on.  I would probably toss those. This chart is also great to have when we are actually ready to start seeds inside under lights or directly outside (later) to see what is the optimum soil temperature is for each seed and how long it will take to germinate. I will post later on that when starting seeds inside or outside. This is just to test for seed viability right now.

Time to get seeds!

275px-Painted_Pony_Bean

It’s time to start getting my seeds for this coming growing season. I have most of my seed catalogs that I want and have looked at them. This is an exciting time for growers! So many things I want to grow and many new varieties too!  Here are some things I do when starting this process:

  1. The first thing I do is go through my seed storage boxes where I threw the packets in last year after planting. I have to organize them first to see what I still have.
  2. After reorganizing my seed boxes, I decide what I want to grow this year. Now the fun begins! Scouring over all the catalogs, I start to make a list and I need to decide where they will go in the garden because every year I over buy and run out of room in my garden. Many of the catalogs are so beautiful that I want to buy everything! I call it garden porn!  I too run out of beds to grow everything I want! Imagine that! Some of you have seen my gardens last year-I have 4000 sq feet of gardening space and still run out of room.
  3. I have a few rules I try to follow when purchasing seeds. Rule number one for me-I only grow things I love to eat so celery will never be on my list and if my partner didn’t love radishes so much, I wouldn’t grow them either (they taste like dirt to me). Why grow vegetables you don’t really like? Rule number two-I grow some vegetables that are more expensive than others. For example, I grow shallots instead of onions. Shallots are expensive, onions are cheap. Rule number three-I grow vegetables that I can’t find as starts in the nurseries. I’ve gotten some great vegetables that just aren’t available unless you grow them. You can either start them inside or direct seed some of them outside when the time is right. Also:

Home Grown New Mexico is having its 2015 Seed Swap on
Wednesday, March 15th at Frenchy’s Barn  on Agua Fria from 3 pm to 6 pm.
It’s free and you’ll get great seeds!

Other groups who will be at the Seed Swap:

The Santa Fe Master Gardeners will have several info tables there where you can get how-to info on composting, growing native seeds and more.

In addition the Seedbroadcast truck people will be there getting people’s seed stories and putting them online. Do you have a great seed story? Tell them!

The Tomato Lady (that’s me) will be there at the Home Grown New Mexico table inside the barn. I will have some of my tomato seeds and giant vegetable varieties available as well if any of you want to try growing a giant this year!

This is great resource for gardeners and a fabulous way to start off the growing season. Vegetable, flower and herb seeds will be available.

If you have any seeds you can bring to swap that would be great, but if you don’t you can still come and get some fabulous seeds for this year!

Quiet time

Koko Snow Dec_BLOG

Next time the snow is falling softly, go outside and listen. I love to go outside when the snow is falling-it is so quiet. It muffle all noises. I listen as I walk down to the barn each morning to take care of my barn friends. What do I hear? Nothing. Sometimes with all the sensory stimuli we are bombarded with each day, I like the sound of nothing. I call it quiet time.

Right now the garden is quiet, the trees are quiet, the earth is quiet, all sleeping soundly, waiting for spring to arrive. The sun wakes up late and goes to bed early every day. It is a quiet time for me too when I am home. I love cooking up hearty meals. I don’t do this in summer, I don’t have time- I’m too busy in the garden. But now I do have time for this luxury. I love having fires in the fireplace. I love the smell of piñon burning and the crackle of cedar wood. I love catching up on my reading.

BLUE SNOW

I miss the green of the summer gardens but love the blue snow of the winter gardens, the stark shapes and silhouette of the trees and perennial plants. Suddenly I see their bone structure without all the greenery. They are beautiful, draped in the snow.

I collected all the gardening catalogs that came in the mail in December, but I do not look at them-not just yet. There is plenty of time for that in a few weeks. That’s why the universe made winter-to give us time to reflect and rejuvenate and be quiet. Be still thy busy mind…

Winter Solstice/ El Nino here

GARDEN_PANORAMA

Winter Solstice has come and gone but it doesn’t feel or look like it yet. Yes, daylight hours are starting to get a little longer again but who can tell with all these winter storms hitting us here in the southwest? So far my projection of good precipitation this winter is coming true but that was based on a big, no make that a huge El Nino coming in. How big is this El Nino? They say it might be as big as the 1997-98 El Nino and may become the biggest ever! El Ninos affect all parts of the earth differently-some places droughts, some places more typhoons but here in the southwest US they notoriously bring more moisture when they hit us. So while it is in the 70’s on the east coast, it is cold and wet with snow here in Santa Fe this winter.  The trees are thirsty, the plants are thirsty and the ground is thirsty no more. Which is a good thing as we are now out of a long, long, drought that has been going on for years. As a gardener, this is great as mother earth is doing all my watering this winter so far.

Transplanting winter lettuce and chard

 

chard crowded

I went down to Agua Fria Nursery and got some lettuce and chard starts back in mid-November intending to plant them right away. I waited too long to transplant them and they got stunted and crowded in each cell as shown above.

chard just transplanted

Chard transplanted on Dec 1

When I did transplant them I teased them apart and planted them in small pots. Here they are right after I transplanted them on December 1. ‘BT’, the man of the house, inspects them.

chard_2 weeks old

Chard transplants on Dec 14

Here are the Chard transplants on Dec 14-only 14 days later! Look at the difference between the two pictures. I’ve grown all the lettuce and chard transplants under my lights in the house as it is too frigid to put them in the greenhouse now. I figured I could wait till after the Persephone period was over and by then they would be just big enough to transplant in the GH. The Persephone period will be over on January 15th here in Santa Fe when the daylight hours get longer again. The plants will be ready to transplant way before that time period. The chards are coming along nicely. I’m growing ‘Argentata’ chard and ‘Ruby Red’ chard.

BATCH 64_MOONSHINE

I planted them in a new potting soil called Batch 64-‘Moonshine’ which is available at Agua Fria Nursery in town. It’s fantastic with everything growing very fast. When I went back to Agua Fria Nursery and talked to Bob, he said he had the same experience last year, especially with the tomatoes.

Here are the ingredients in it: coconut coir, perlite, pumice, rice hulls, expanded shale, humus, worm castings, biochar, feather meal, fishbone meal, blood meal, alfalfa meal, oyster shell, metamorphosed evaporite, flaxseed meal, cotton seed meal, dried molasses, kelp meal, azomite, potassium sulfate, limestone, yucca extract, and mycorrhizae. Phew-quite a list!

The lettuces planted on Dec 1 are ready to transplant now! They have absolutely gone crazy growing super fast in this potting soil. The varieties I’m growing are North Pole, Winter Wunder and Marshall Red Romaine.