Problem solving lighting for indoor seedlings
All of my greenhouse shelves are already being used for garage and shed storage. Thus, I do not have grow lights this year. They are not very hard to set up, but in our small temporary house, there is no easy place to put them. I did consider moving the ironing board from the nominal entryway and putting the grow light stands there…
We are supposed to be in the middle of building our new house, so I was not going to get too involved in gardening this year. Enter apocalypse.
My plan is to sprout the seeds under my usual clear trash bag “greenhouse” dome, one per tray. Two of these fit in the kitchen window and one other fits with my other plants by the dining table. All are south facing.
I know from experience that even that is probably not enough for sturdy growth. If the seedlings have to stretch toward the windows, the stems will get too long. Those weak stems would likely break under the weight of their own leaves and/or break once they are exposed to the breeze.
So. I am going to really work on getting the seedlings out during the warmest part of every day after they are sprouted. That may be difficult or impossible in a hard rain or if it stays too cold, but from my experience hardening seedlings off, I know that it doesn’t have to be done every day, but just the majority of days.
Why am I planting any seeds indoors?
A lot of seeds do well or better when direct seeded outside. As long they are cold hardy or you wait until the weather is consistently warm enough. However, in the comparatively shorter warm growing season of southwest Idaho, some plants don’t reliably have time to mature and produce unless they are grown ahead of time as seedlings.
It can depend on the variety within a given type of plant, too. I have had tomatoes sprout in the first waves of summer heat and do well compared to seedlings that were grown ahead in the greenhouse (or purchased) and transplanted out.
That can vary from year to year, too, because we don’t always have warm enough trends in the spring for this. The point is, if you don’t know your local climate’s tendencies and variables, it might help to talk to someone who is experienced with gardening there.
Here is a simple guide for figuring out which seeds to consider starting indoors.
How many seeds should I put in each pot?
If you are new to starting seeds, check out the link below. It’s not difficult, but thinking about a few things ahead of time will get you off to a good start.
basics of seed starting indoors
There are no hard and fast rules for how many seeds to put in each pot, but here are some things to think about:
- how expensive are the seeds
- what is the germination rate
- how large will the seedling be
- is it more important to have a sprout in each pot or to not have to thin later
- how big is the pot compared to the seedling
- how hard is it to plant the seeds individually
What I planted in pots today
Germination time and growth rate vary among plants. For instance, while my tomatoes generally sprout within a week, it takes peppers longer. Some plants get large so quickly that you want to avoid planting them in pots too soon, or else their growth will be hindered in a pot.
Still, what I plant in pots varies from year to year depending on how I feel about things. Sometimes I just need to see things growing. Sometimes I feel the need to keep closer track of the seed.
Keeping track of the seed had a lot to do with what I planted in pots this year. Even though I will have a very small garden, I was concerned about my limited supply of seeds. The fact that it took me a few days to find them (you know how things are when you move), probably made them more dear to me.
Yesterday, I gave in and did order a number of open pollinated seeds from Territorial Seed Company, just in case, but they didn’t have everything I wanted. Today I finally found my seeds, which were camouflaged in a different container, instead of the basket I had kept them in for years at the other house.
So I was very pleased to go through my older seeds and find a couple of favorite things that I had not been able to order. Some of the packets only had a few seeds so I felt more in control planting them in pots where I can keep track of them.
There is some concern in the back of my mind that my garden area might not be completely chicken proof yet. I want to give it a few more days and see if they find ways in. But also, with the small area, I want to plant in a very orderly way and I think having more seedlings ready for transplant will help with that.
I didn’t plant all of any seed in pots, though. I left a few in each seed packet so I will have the option of direct planting if the need arises.
I planted very few of each thing, compared to what I usually do, but here is the list:
- plum tomato
- cherry tomato
- slicing tomato
- jalepeno pepper
- habanero pepper
- bush zucchini
A word about what type of pots to use
I have invested in some reusable pots for seed starting. They have lasted me many years. I also save a lot of the various pots and 4-pack containers when I do buy plants.
One of the most important things those pots have in common is drainage. Yes, seedlings need to be kept relatively moist, but rotting seeds or roots will be a real problem if the water doesn’t have some place to travel. Otherwise, it will collect in the bottom of the pot, even while the soil on the top feels dry.
So, you can make your own containers out of just about anything, but they have to be able to
- hold enough soil to give the roots room to grow
- have adequate holes in them for drainage
Let me add that if you try planting in biodegradable pots, such as recycled paper or egg cartons, you run the risk of the pot no decomposing fast enough to let the roots get to the soil. Also, the top edge of the pot needs to be below soil level or else it will limit the plants ability to take advantage of the outdoor environment.
Don’t forget the flowers!
Honestly, I don’t know where I am going to plant everything yet, but I have to try to brighten this place up. I started seeds for these flowers.
- heavenly blue morning glory
- cape daisy
My friend reminded me that I probably have volunteers of some of my favorites, like hollyhocks, at the house we are trying to sell. I will probably go “weed” a few of those this next week.
Seed sorting with a plan
My older garden seed is now sorted into these categories:
- seed that was planted in pots
- seed that I will plant outside soon
- seed that needs to wait for warmer weather
- empty packets of favorites I still want to order
My new seed should arrive in about a week, though they said they have been slammed with orders due to the economic and quarantine concerns, so it is taking a little longer than usual.
I have not even checked local stores, partly because I don’t find those packets to be as clearly labeled as to whether or not the seed is open pollinated.
Exciting news about my over-wintered habanero plant
In spite of a fair amount of neglect and stress from our move, my habanero plant is both growing new leaves and flowering! Today I carefully pruned some of the dead steams off. Then I let it harden off on the south porch for about an hour. It was a perfectly mild, cloudy day for it. I will probably be transplanting it to a larger pot once I think it is robust enough again.
You may have noticed that I also planted habanero seed. This is because I expect the plants in the open soil to get much larger and produce many more habaneros. Over-wintering this plant is still in the experimental stages, too, and I wanted back up.
I made a mess of the kitchen
I had to do all of my seed planting in the kitchen. I do miss my greenhouse! I ended up with dirty water running down the side of the island counter, but only a few dribbles made it into the poorly aligned drawers. Damp potting soil was inevitably sprinkled over the floor I had just swept yesterday.
But it was all worth it. And I didn’t get any dirt in the sourdough starter, which was refreshed for the second time and safely over on anther counter.
Tomorrow I will plant some early cold tolerant crops outside, as well as prepare more garden areas. I’ll tell you what I plant, plus write about the most common plant-killing mistakes people make when trying to grow a garden.