5 Steps to Healthy Seed Starting

I’ll be honest, I started this post in February.  My excitement was high and seeds were calling my name as they waited for those vital components to grow: warmth, moisture & air.  I got everything kicked off, photos taken and when my post disappeared before my eyes in a flash of technical mayhem and lack of content saving I chose to forego the redo for a bit and invest my time in more seed starting.  The moral of the story here: “Jesus saves, so should you!”  For my friends in the north, you’re still in great shape; for my neighbors down south, it’s time to get a move on people! 

Before we begin there are a few items you will want to gather or purchase to kick off this project:

Seed trays – the ones I’ve used here were purchased at Lowe’s for $5 a piece. There are 72 cells in each and I’ll only get a couple of uses out of them but for the price – not bad. You don’t have to buy anything special though. I have used plastic berry containers with great success. You simply want to make sure there are holes for drainage in the bottom of your container.

Seed starting mix – I look for an organic, sterilized mix like Burpee Organic Premium Potting Mix

Large bowl & spoon

Water (preferably filtered or boiled and cooled before use). I fill my tea kettle with water and boil it and then let it cool to room temperature several hours before I work with seeds. This purifies the water of chlorine that can inhibit or stunt seed and plant growth.

Seeds – Oh the choices! My priorities are organic & non-GMO. After that I pick what my family will eat and flowers we’d like to pick. I ALWAYS try at least one new variety each year. It keeps it fun. This year we’re trying several new flowers for the cutting garden as well as San Marzano tomatoes, green round zucchini and Rainbow Fiesta okra. I can’t wait!

Plastic wrap IF you are using a container that does not have a plastic lid.

Label Maker or Masking tape & Sharpie

Let’s go!

  1. Fill your trays: Pour several cups of seed starting mix into the large bowl and add enough water to moisten the starter throughout. Make sure you mix thoroughly so the starter mix is evenly moist. It should stick together when squeezed but fall apart easily. I take loose handful of the mix and place them on the trays and draw the mix across to fill the cells to the top. Don’t press the mix into the trays as you want to keep air pockets throughout.

2. Plant your seeds: Plan seed placement as if all of your seeds are going to germinate. I like to do two seeds per cell. If they both germinate they will do fine until it’s time to transplant or bump them up to a larger container. If only one germinates you have plenty of space for root growth. More than that tends to get crowded unless you’re going to prick out multi-seeds but we’ll save that for another lesson.

Now, tuck your seeds into the soil. You’re going to want to plant them about a seed depth into the soil. Watermelon or pea seeds will be planted quite deep compared to tomato or lettuce seed. These tiny seeds will only get nestled just under the surface of the soil. The little blue dauber I used in the photo below was great but I’ve been known to grab a sharpened pencil to accomplish this task.

3. Label your seeds: I mean it. LABEL THEM! Use a popsicle stick, label maker or masking tape with a Sharpie but somehow, some way label your seeds unless you want to discover mid-June that the 5 thriving tomato plants you gave pride of place in your limited garden space are NOT the amazing Roma variety you thought you were planting for the quarts of sauce in your dreams but rather the tiny cherry tomatoes that you ended up giving away by the bucketful because there is only so much you can do with kajillions of cherry tomatoes. Nuf said.

Label People!

4. Cover and warm: Cover your seeds with the clear plastic top that came with your starter or a simple piece of plastic wrap if you’re using a different container. You’ve already provided the moisture your seeds need in the seedling mix so simply cover and place in a warm spot. One of my favorites is the top of the refrigerator but I invested in a couple of warming pads this year for the shelves in the garage that keep the trays at a perfect 76 degrees.

5. Watch & wait: Check on your seeds every day after 2-3 days. Once your seeds have sprouted THEN they need sunlight. Remove the plastic and continue to keep your seedlings moist until it’s time to move out to your garden or container. Southern exposure is the best and I’m fortunate my garage has south facing windows. I always thought this was an old wives’ tale but my tiny garage windows that face South do better than my picture windows that face East and West.

A final note: Your seedlings may get leggy as they reach for the sun. When you transplant these into larger containers or into your garden don’t be afraid to plant the whole leggy part into the soil. This portion will produce roots quite quickly and simply make your plant stronger.

Next up: “Bumping Up” your seedlings into larger containers

Getting Dirty

Its time to face facts.  Gardening and landscaping in my new yard is not going well.  My plants are lackluster (unless it’s a violet), puny (unless it’s a violet), and unimpressive (unless it’s a violet).  I am discouraged but not beaten and I think it’s time to stop adding, amending and irrigating and start getting some answers.  I am turning to the wise minds of the UT Extension Institute of Agriculture for help and answers.  It’s time to test some soil.

dirt

For $15 UT Ag Center will complete a Basic Test that covers Water pH, Buffer Value, M1P (Phosphorus), M1K (Potassium) ,M1Ca (Calcium),Analysis M1Mg (Magnesium), M1Zn (Zinc), M1Mn (Manganese), M1Fe (Iron), M1Cu (Copper), M1Na (Sodium), and M1B (Boron).  Additional testing available as well but for this first run I’m going to stay basic and see if I can get some answers – maybe even an understanding of why violets love my yard so much!

As per the instructions, I’m headed out to do a zig-zag collection of soil from my yard and beds.  I will be collecting about a cup of soil from approximately 6″ deep. I could pop on over to the Ag Center’s office but for my convenience, I’ll probably just mail this in.  If you do this make sure to follow the directions: “Do not place your check in the soil sample box.”  I’m sure that bank loved that!

Are you wondering how your are can produce better results?  Want to join me?  If you’re in Tennessee there are handy instructions, costs, and directions for collecting your soil at https://extension.tennessee.edu/Hamilton/Documents/Agriculture/Soil%20Testing/Soil%20Testing%20Packet.pdf if you are out of state, contact your local Agriculture Extension Office.

To be continued…

4 Steps to Test Your Old Seeds

January leaves me with time on my hands.  I was starting to crave a gardening project and ran across the idea of testing your old seeds to see if they are worth planting.  The fact is, I have a bag of seeds that I haven’t wanted to throw away because I remember the good stuff we grew. Some of these are looking mighty questionable though. I’m sure there are better ways to store seeds but I do well to stash them in the garden cupboard.

It’s a simple matter that only took 5 minutes to put together and a couple of days of patience – kinda like popping seeds in the soil in spring.  Only this yielded quicker results… to my decluttering efforts.

  1. Choose several of each variety of seed you want to test and arrange them on a damp paper towel.
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  2. Roll them gently to keep your seeds in individual rows and keep the moisture in,
  3. Put your roll of damp seeds in a Plastic bag to retain moisture. fullsizeoutput_131c
  4. Keep your seeds in a warm spot for a few days but keep in mind; seeds need moisture and warmth to germinate but not light – a closed cupboard is just fine.  Check them after 2-3 days for progress.  Mine took 5 days to show progress but it was in the single digits outside when I did this.

My results are below with the results in red to the right.  Way to go Asparagus pole beans!!!! Broccoli and  tomatoes brought up the rear but I’m not wasting precious garden square footage with a 50% chance of success.  Looks like it’s time to get out the seed catalog!  And I get to throw the rest away.  Ahhh! The satisfaction of decluttering.  Now, on to bleach those nasty tile counters! fullsizeoutput_132b

So much time…

2018 Calender…and so little to do in the garden.  I actually attempted to rid one of my future flower beds of weeds but realized the rediculosity of my endeavor when the plants just broke off in my hands.  Did I mention it was 22 degrees?  There is such a things as futility.

A friend of mine is plunging into the Master Gardeners course at our local extension and I crave the possibility of doing this someday but now is not the time.  Between homeschooling, work, home renovation, restarting my own gardens and a household to manage, this goal has to wait.  I am so looking forward to diving into my new dirt this year though!  The UT extension website has an incredible resource, free for the copying.  Check out your free 2018 gardening calendar here: https://extension.tennessee.edu/publications/Documents/W436.pdf

Not a Tennessee gardener?  Check out your local Agricultural Extension for fantastic resources.  I’m getting ready to use my local office to have my soil tested.  There’s no use fertilizing dirt that doesn’t need it or using the wrong materials.

Baby Gold Peaches

 A new discovery! We get our best fruit from Bulk Natural Foods, a co-op of organic and naturally grown produce.  if you’re in middle Tennessee check out bulknaturalfoods.com This month they had the first of the fall fruits available.  Beautiful Gala apples and Baby Gold Peaches.  These peaches are pretty different. You don’t want to eat these fresh but rather mid-winter after being jarred for a bit. Their firm flesh is perfect after being stored in a simple syrup.

I’m experimenting a bit. While eating a THM diet, sugar is off the table for me. Frankly, I’d like to get sugar out of my house completely but the rest of my family is a little slower on the bandwagon. I’m making a few jars of peaches with sugar syrup, a few with a blend of sugar and erythritol, and some with a syrup of stevia, erythritol and xylitol.

We’ll have to wait til Christmas to find out but these beauties look so pretty I have great expectations!

Update: Success!! These babies are worth the effort! Deemed “really yummy” by my youngest and ready to eat right away! 

 

What to do, what to do?

It’s heading into late summer and I’m debating wether to plant one more crop or not. We’ve had beautiful tomatoes, an abundance of peppers, onions with real flavor, and herbs galore.  The “volunteer state” has given us an extra season of tomatoes and cantelope that are taking over. Who needs a patio anyway? A late season, perfect tomato is worth losing some real estate for a couple months.

With the nights getting cooler and days not quite so blistering, I’m left wondering what more I can get from my little plots before I put them to bed for the winter.

Veggiegaeden.com offers a simple chart of ideas to get a bit more from your kitchen garden. I’m opting for beets, carrots, spinach and peas. It’s time to get planting!

  

Andrew Mellen is My Hero

unstuff_cover_smIt’s been some time since my head was clear enough to think about blogging again. I was about to drop the project permanently but one space has been cleared…. literally.

My sweet husband got me the audio book of Andrew Mellen’s “Unstuff Your Life” a few weeks ago and slowly, yet surely, I am moving through the progress of decluttering and reorganizing our home.

It started with my purse and keys and the mantra…. “A home for everything and like with like.” I know – it’s not rocket science, but it works. I then moved to chapter two and the kitchen. In five hours on a Wednesday afternoon I completely emptied my kitchen cupboards and drawers onto any available surface. I cleaned, sorted and reorganized with purpose and clarity. I prayed it would be worth it!! I fell into bed that night exhausted but hopeful. Maybe this would help my home and mind be a bit clearer of clutter.

Unfortunately, I still have to clean my counters and floors but the amazing thing is that it’s so much easier! Five days later and I’m not shuffling items to get to the counters to clean. My floors are free of things that don’t belong there and my family is helping to keep it that way.

I might have said some unkind things about Mr. Mellen along the way – and ripped off a snarky email in the hight of my disarray – but in the end, I am so thankful. I will complete my last item (the junk drawer) in that room and move on to the office under his wise judgement. Thank you Mr. Mellen!

It’s Coming…

As promised by the weatherman, it’s warm enough to do some yard work and I found some goodies.

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Peonies…

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Flox…

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Crocus!
This is the one time of year I will gladly brag a little to my northern family.  They can remind me of this when it’s 110 degrees in August and I’m watering twice a day.

Winter Harvest

DSCN4169What a discovery!!!  The kiddos and their buddies offered to dig up one of my beds so I could be ready to plant.  They discovered our potato plants were NOT a failure!!!  24 good ones and a few rotten for the compost bin!  If you’ve never had fresh potatoes you need to try them; it’s enlightening.

In case you need an idea how to cook them, let me share our favorite scalloped potato recipe.  It’s tried and true and absolutely scrumptious.

Simple Scalloped Potatoes