Wednesday, March 18, 2009

In the dirt

Seeds have been planted! it was a busy week with my parents and grandparents visiting, and laundry room renovations in full swing, but I finally finished building my greenhouse and seeds have been put in dirt!
My greenhouse is essentially a plywood cabinet with doors. It is painted inside- to help keep extra moisture out of the wood- with a fluorescent fixture hanging on adjustable chains. I only have one of the lights in now, eventually I will add a light below the shelf so I can put plants on both levels. I have crowded 3 starting flats plus several take out food container trays filled with starter mix and seeds onto the one shelf until I get around to wiring up the other fixture, or I run out of space for all the baby plants.
Garden soil is less than ideal for seeds to sprout in. The weight of it often stunts the growth of strong root systems, therefore, a lightweight starter mix is generally employed. My starter mix is a combination of Coir and vermiculite. Coir- made from coconut husks and used to fluff the dirt and make it better able to hold moisture- is starting to replace peat moss as a soil additive due to its rapid renewability. It comes in compressed bricks that expand and loosen considerably when soaked in water overnight. Vermiculite is a mineral that kind of looks like coarse sand. It also makes the soil looser and helps it to retain moisture. I also added some slow release, baby plant food. I mixed that all up in a bucket with a little water.
Once all the necessities were quelled, my mom and I spread out on what was left of the kitchen floor (remember those laundry room renovations? it meant that the washer and dryer were displaced to the closest available floor space to the laundry room- the kitchen). We sorted out the seed packets and grouped things that like similar growing conditions and figured out how many types of plants could go in each flat. Each starting flat has 3 components, the cell tray has 72 cells about 1.5" x 1.5", the cell tray sits in a bigger tray that keeps a water reserve available for the soil and the top is a clear plastic dome that lets light in and keeps moisture from escaping. It was decided that the tomatoes and peppers could share a flat, and also the heat mat. In the tray next to the heat mat are rosemary, basil and lavender, all things that don't like to be hot, but want it to at least be warm. At the opposite end are the greens and lettuces, parsley, nasturtiums, verbenas and bok choy. These are all cool season plants that I could probably plant directly outside now or very soon. They tend to have a better survival rate though if they get a head start inside. I was being conservative about how many seeds I put in the dirt. My mom said, "oh just put them in" it is better to have to put a few in the compost bin than to end up with too few plants. I put in even more than I thought I should because since my parents will be able to make it back for a visit in June, I will be able to have my roof deck this summer! I have already asked my father in law who is a manager at a supermarket to start collecting 5-gallon buckets for me so I don't have to buy pots. My dad and I were discussing the means of access and construction of the deck, and my mom and I were discussing how to get water etc. up to the plants. This ought to be fun! Despite all my newly acquired garden space, I still doubt that I will need 36 tomato plants and 18 peppers. I will pass the spares out to friends for their gardens or patios.
After dirt was put in all the little cells, we watered it. Next went in the seed, then dirt to cover to the depth prescribed on the packet, anywhere from a dusting to 1/2". On went the lids and they were slid into the greenhouse. We set a timer so the plants get about 11 hours of 'sun' a day. The heat mat under the tomatoes and peppers will stay on all the time. So now the waiting begins. The shortest amount of time that any seeds should take to sprout is 5 days. I planted on Sunday night, so by Friday night I may see some little plants poking through! I should also get outside this weekend and put in some peas. They like to get a head start outside when it is still too chilly for most other plants. Around St. Paddy's day is good for our part of the country. I also have the cold frame warming the dirt so I can put the lettuce starts in. I have to double check when the carrots and radishes go in, but I think it is soon.
I got a gardener's catalogue in the mail today, all the fun toys! The big thing lately seems to be 'self-watering' pots. Most of them essentially have a disc that covers a reservoir in the base of the pot with some kind of wick that allows water to slowly soak up into the dirt at the roots of the plant. They seem like a good idea, but they can be pricey. Since I am going to be gardening in the harsh conditions of the roof, I think I will study the various watering methods carefully and see if I can invent my own version of a few of them. These tools I will use to try different methods of assuring that my plants have the proper amount of water at all times. I feel like I am at my high school science fair, testing out different products and methods and trying to determine which works the best and why. All part of the experimentation that comes with being a gardener!

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