The tomato seeds are starting to germinate in their trays. It has taken only 5 days! Still more to germinate but many are already up. A few haven’t germinated so I will replant if they don’t come up in a few days. They are under fluorescent ‘daylight’ T-8 lamps that are in a standard 48″ fluorescent light fixture that I got from Home Depot. They are also on heat mats and I have a heat mat thermostat set to 80 degrees. The heat mats and thermostat I got at Amazon. I never use to use a thermostat but one year without it, the temperature went to 100 degrees and the seeds fried. With a thermostat, it controls the temperature perfectly to whatever is the optimum temperature for each crop. In this case, the optimum range for tomato seeds for germination is between 70-85 degrees.
Every year it seems, I adjust my tomato seed planting schedule. This year is the latest I’ve ever started my tomato seeds-April 5th. Still trying to tweak it out about when the best time is to start them. If I plant seeds too early, the plants will get too tall before I transplant them outside in wall of waters. Last year I started seeds March 29th. So we will see how they do.
A couple of things have allowed me be able to start them later and get them in the garden earlier.
First, since I changed to Batch 64-Moonshine soil mix (from Agua Fria Nursery), the plants take off growing like a rocket as soon as they germinate. The list of ingredients in it is unbelievable. Once the seeds germinate, there is enough nutrients in this soil mix to basically fertilize your seedling for 6 weeks without adding anything else (except maybe liquid seaweed and Vitamin B at transplanting time to reduce transplant shock). Now I can plant them outside in 5 weeks instead of the 7-8 weeks in years past.
Secondly, I now start my seeds in these germination trays (see pic) where the cells are close together. The trays being shallower, seem to speed the germination process too—less soil to heat. These are a 20 row seedling flat.
Thirdly, it seems to be getting warmer sooner in the spring here in Santa Fe or at least that is my experience. Using wall of waters to protect the young tomato plants from cold nights, I was able to transplant my tomato plants outside on May 3rd, shaving 13 days off the ‘frost free’ date of May 15 that we have here in Zone 6b. They did just fine in their wall of waters. But last year we were in a warm drought and this year may be different with all the precipitation we got this winter. We’ll see.
And lastly, maybe, just maybe, I’ve become a better gardener through the years…
Every year I get lots of questions on how to start seeds and transplant seedlings. To see how I start the seeds go here, but here’s how I transplant my baby seedlings up into larger pots.
Here are the seedlings today from when I planted on February 8. Notice the first true leaves are showing. They are now ready to transplant. Can’t let them get too big in these shallow seedling trays. With my marks, I can see what didn’t germinate.
Here’s the line up of what each number represents again if you want to see how each seed variety grew.
I use 4 and 6 pack pots for transplanting up. I disinfect them in a kitchen sink full of water with about 2 tablespoons of bleach. Just dunk the pots and any trays you may use and then rinse them off and they are ready to plant. You don’t have to scrub them, just dip them in quickly, like they use to do with the glasses in those old college bars (oops, giving away my past!) If they are brand new, never been used before, then skip the bleaching.
I’m using ‘Moonshine’ planting soil. I talked about it here. Great stuff.
Be sure to pre-moisten the planting soil. Here I’m using a shallow ‘Tub Trug’. I love those tubs—so handy-from this to harvesting crops later and they come in fun colors.
Make some holes with your finger big enough to accommodate the root ball. You’ll be surprised how big the little rootballs are.
I take a small knife (this one plastic) and gently pry up the seedling out of the tray and carefully put it into a hole I made in the soil.
Pick up seedlings by the leaves NOT the stem. The stems can get easily damaged so always handle them from the leaves. Notice the roots! I usually like to put the stems a little deeper in the hole so they stand upright.
Gently pack the soil around them so they are sitting up nicely and not leaning.
Water them with a diluted solution of seaweed fertilizer and Superthrive to help with any transplant shock. Do NOT give them any fish fertilizer as that may give them too much nitrogen when first transplanting and send them into shock. Wait a couple of weeks before giving them any fertilizer with nitrogen. The seaweed and thrive help reduce any transplant shock.
Here is one of the first flats transplanted. Ain’t they pretty?! Now they are ready to take off and really grow! The next replanting will be into the greenhouse raised beds when they are bigger!
I planted some lettuce and greens seeds on Feb 8 and by Feb 11 some are already germinating! That’s only 3 days. Wow. Unbelievable! Here’s the lineup again and how they’re doing so far:
#1 Yugoslavia Red lettuce just peaking up
#2 Santoro barely peaking up
#3 Slow-Bolt Cilantro not up
#4 Carmel spinach just starting to come up
#5 Baby Pak Choi way up
#6 Forellenschuss lettuce way up
Not surprising, the two larger seeds #3, the Slow-Bolt Cilantro and the #4 Carmel Spinach are slower to germinate. I imagine the bigger the seed, the longer it takes to germinate. But to my surprise, the spinach is starting to come up already and the little seeds like lettuce just exploded through the soil. Amazing. I’m totally surprised how fast some of them have germinated.
Now I just got to make sure to mist them heavily 2x-3x a day to keep the soil moist while they all germinate. I will spray diluted Chamomile tea on the baby seedlings tomorrow to keep Damping Off disease from coming. It works great.
Greens/lettuce seeds started inside February 8
Yesterday I planted some lettuce and greens seeds. Here’s how I do it:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
5-Baby Pak Choi
6-Forellenschuss (trout) lettuce-romaine
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; https://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.
- 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
- 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.
- 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.
Some of you may still have the last of your tomatoes inside your house ripening. If you would like to save the seeds or if you don’t have any seeds but would like to learn how to save them for next year then read on. It’s a simple procedure where we must remove the gel from around the seeds before drying them.
But before that, the first thing to consider is if the tomato is a hybrid or an open pollinated (OP) or an heirloom tomato. Don’t save hybrid tomato seeds as they won’t grow out true meaning they will not grow out to be the same tomato. They revert to one parent or the other and are unstable so you won’t know what you’ll get. If you have open pollinated (OP) or heirloom tomatoes you can save the seeds as both will grow out into the same tomato. An exception to this might be if you plant cherry tomatoes close to the tomatoes whose seed you want to save. Cherry tomatoes could cross-pollinate with other tomatoes but most heirloom tomatoes do not cross with each other. Just grow your cherry tomatoes away from your other ones.
First you want to save a tomato that is really ripe and soft. To save the seeds from tomatoes we must remove the gel from around the seeds. Cut the tomatoes open and squeeze the tomato with the gel and seeds into a jar and add about 2-3 inches of water. Cover the jar.
In a few days you will notice that there is a white mold growing on top of the water and most of the seeds will have sunk to the bottom of the jar. Don’t freak out, this white stuff is fermentation working on your seeds.
After about 4 days, strain the tomato seeds in a fine sieve or strainer and wash the yuck and tomato stuff off of the seeds. If you wait too long the seeds will start to germinate which will ruin them.
The seeds can now be put on wax paper to dry. If you use paper towels, the seeds may stick to the paper causing trouble removing them. Be sure to label them so you remember which variety they are. After they are thoroughly dry, store them in a plastic bag or jar for next year. It’s fun to save seeds and see what happens next year.
Santa Fe Seed Exchange-TODAY!
Tuesday, March 10, 2015
If you are looking for seeds and ideas for your vegetable garden, come to the Santa Fe Seed Exchange on Tuesday, March 10, 2015 from 4 pm-7 pm in Frenchy’s Barn on Agua Fria and Osage Ave. The City Parks Division and Home Grown New Mexico are hosting this event for all community gardens, school gardens and home gardeners. Agua Fria Nursery donated over $750 of seeds so there are plenty of seeds available. Come even if you do not have any to share. Bring flower, herb, vegetable and other seeds if you do.
The Santa Fe Master Gardeners will be at the event with an “Ask a Master Gardener” table for gardening questions and will have seed starting handouts to give away.
The SeedBroadcast organization will have their seedbroadcasting station to answer questions about saving seeds and seed story recording equipment. Tell your story about the seed, where you got it, how you planted it and more. See their website for stories across America.
Poki from Gaia Gardens and The Tomato Lady will be there with seeds also.
If you have questions, please contact: firstname.lastname@example.org or leave a message at 505-983-9706 and we will return your call.
The Seed Starting For Early Spring Crops class that I taught today was sponsored by one of the organizations I’m a member of called Home Grown New Mexico. Home Grown New Mexico puts on many classes about growing, raising, making and preserving your food throughout the year. They are about sustainability, urban farming and growing organically which is right up my alley and the classes are open to the public. If you’d like to see what other classes/workshop Home Grown New Mexico is putting on, check out their website homegrownnewmexico.org.
Now, here are the handouts if you weren’t able to make the class or if you didn’t get them as we ran out of them during the class today-it was definitely a full house with about 35 people attending. It was a good mix of Master Gardeners, Interns and the public that attended. I really like to teach when you all show up! Hope you learned something and enjoyed it!
Saturday, March 15
Seed Starting For Early Spring Crops presented by Home Grown New Mexico
How to start seeds early for cool season crops
Time: 12:30 pm-2:30 pm
Instructor: Jannine Cabossel
Location: 3229 Rodeo Road (Rodeo Grounds/Large Annex building classroom)
Jannine Cabossel, a Master Gardener and ‘The Tomato Lady’ at the Santa Fe Farmers Market will teach a class on the basics of seed starting in spring for early crops: indoor seed starting for your spring garden, outdoor requirements for successful seed germination and basic indoor/outdoor seedling care. By starting seeds indoors in early spring you not only get a head-start on your year’s food production by protecting your crops from Santa Fe’s finicky spring climate, but you also get more time with your hands in the dirt. Many new tips this year plus learn varieties that do well in our cold climate.
Jannine has extensive experience in growing vegetables on her 3000 square foot garden using all organic methods. Follow her blog at giantveggiegardener.com. This class free! Become a 2014 Member for $35—includes all classes, potlucks and tour.
I’m always interested in what unusual seeds people are trying (or have had success with). So I’m sharing what seeds I will try, where I got them and I hope some of you will do the same. For a complete list of all my crops for 2014 go here.
2014 unusual seeds that I will try:
African Bushel gourd-big round gourds the size of a bushel basket! Suppose to be good to use as containers after they dry out. You know me and giant things!
White Egg gourds-from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange-small egg gourd-looks like white chicken eggs-sounds like fun! Now I can pretend my old girls are still laying!
Tarbais beans-from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds-a pole bean that you dry out and cook for bean stews, soups and cassoulets. More delicate flavor than navy beans. These use to be hard to find in the states but thankfully Baker Heiloom Seeds has carried them for 2 years now.
Eyesines de Galeux-from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds-a salmon warty winter squash that tastes divine. The more ‘worts’ the sweeter it tastes. More worts=more sugar in it.
Sweet Meat-Another great winter squash-so sweet you don’t have to add anything to it to sweeten it. Also a great keeper-I just finished eating our last one in February.
Peredovik sunflower seed– from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange-this is the black oil sunflower seed that your birds eat in bird seed food.
Jimmy Nardello pepper-a red ‘chili’ looking pepper but sweet-from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange-a sweet long red pepper delicious when sautéed.
Bullshorn (Corno Di Toro) pepper-a red ‘chili’ looking pepper but sweet-from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange-another sweet long red pepper delicious when roasted or sautéed.
‘Canoncito’ landrace red hot chili pepper-This one I got from the Santa Fe Farmer’s Market and is a local seed from north of Espanola.
Charentais melon-from Baker Heirloom Seeds-one of the most flavorful melons from France or so they say.
Purple Bumblebee tomatoes-from Baker Heirloom-small purple and green striped larger cherry tomato. Part of the new Artisan tomatoes out this year.
Round Black Spanish radish-from Baker Heirloom Seeds-I got one from our local organic market and it was delicious so I’m gonna try them this year.
Craupadine beets-from Baker Heirloom Seeds-one of the ugliest but sweetest tasting beets ever-from France.
Today I taught a Seed Starting Class at the Rail Yard classroom here in Santa Fe. We ran out of the handouts because so many people showed up. It was a great class with lots of ideas shared by both me and the participants. I promised to put the all the handouts on my blog for those of you who didn’t get them.
HERE ARE THE HANDOUTS FROM CLASS:
ALSO! Here are some of my posts that might be helpful on things we talked about today:
BUILDING A LIGHT BOX – https://giantveggiegardener.com/category/gardening-tips/building-a-light-box-gardening-tips/
SEED STARTING TIPS – https://giantveggiegardener.com/category/gardening-tips/starting-seeds-tips/
GOPHERS PROBLEMS/TRAPS – https://giantveggiegardener.com/2011/01/20/gopher-problems/
DETERRING SQUIRRELS – https://giantveggiegardener.com/2011/08/16/deterring-squirrels-from-eating-your-garden/
TOMATO SEEDS PLANTING INSIDE – https://giantveggiegardener.com/2011/03/22/tomato-seeds-planted-inside-march-21/
Finally, there is a ton of information on this site. All you have to do is look at the right hand column and go down to ‘Garden Topics’ and go to the subject that interests you. That way you will only get my posts on that subject and you don’t have to scroll through 4 years of posts.
Below is a seed starting date calculator from Johnny’s Seeds. I downloaded it from the interactive tools section on their home page. I put the date of our spring frost-free date (May 15 in the Santa Fe area) and it automatically put in all the dates from when to start seeds inside to when we can safely put the plants out in our gardens. I just copied the vegetable section here for you to see but it also has many flower planting dates as well-it was just too big to capture it all. If you live in another area or want to capture the flower information as well, then be sure to go to the interactive tool section at Johnny’s to get your own. But here it is for those of you who live in Santa Fe, NM for all the vegetables they list. If you click on the image it will show up clearer and you can print it.
The Plant Hardiness Zone is a standard set by the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) and is calculated by accumulating many years of data. Zones are used by gardeners to help determine which plants will most likely thrive in their area. “The maps are based on the average annual minimum winter temperature, divided into 10 degree-F Zones”. There are 13 Zones, the coldest being Zone 1 and the warmest is Zone 13.
In Santa Fe, we used to be in USDA Plant Hardiness Zone 5 but now Santa Fe is in Zone 6b (-5 to 0°F). The reason our Zone has been changed according to the USDA is because it has better models to follow with more information gathered throughout the years- not necessarily because it’s getting warmer (although I do believe that too). Some areas in our county could be Zone 6a (-10 to -5°F) if they are closer to the mountainous areas. If you are not sure what zone you live in (where ever you live) go to the USDA plant hardiness site and type in your zip code and it will tell you what zone you are in-it’s as simple as that. So when you go to a nursery and the plant tag says zone 7-forget about it—it won’t survive our winters but any tag with Zone 6 or lower number should survive.
The average first frost free date is the date that we can safely put plants outside in our gardens. Notice I said average because some years we are colder and some years warmer. You’ll just have to watch the weather closely in spring for deciding if you want to try to sneak them out earlier in your area if spring appears to be a warm one. In Santa Fe our first average frost free date is May 15. So plant away outside after May 15, unless you hear we are getting a hard freeze! Of course if you are starting them in a hoophouse or greenhouse, you can start seedlings much earlier.
Now, once you know your planting zone and first frost free date, you can use the many tools available on the web for calculating all kinds of things from seed starting to succession planting to harvest times. Many seed companies have web tools to help you calculate the dates. In my next post I will show one such tool I use.
This year I have been struggling with my seed starting this year. Many seeds have not germinated. The seed germination mats seemed way too hot. I’ve never had this problem before (usually it is too cold) but when I did some research, I found out the mats are suppose to be 20 °F over the ambient temperature. This spring so far has been very warm (especially inside the house even without the heat on) and when I took the temperature of the soil in the little pots it was between 95 and 1oo°F! Way too hot for germination. No wonder very little was coming up—I’ve been frying the seeds!
So I got a soil germination thermostat that will control the temperature which I keep at 80°F and within 3 days I had 11 tomatoes come up. Wow what a difference. I will have to replant some tomatoes seeds but hopefully I will be fine. Guess I won’t have to worry about the plants growing too big this year before I transplant them in the garden.