Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Seed Starting Experiment

I decided to try and get an early start on some cool weather crops this season. I put the plastic over one of the beds a couple weeks in advance to warm the soil a bit more and watch the temperatures before starting some seeds. There were some wild temperature swings in there, down in the 20's at night but about 115 degrees in the late morning (until I opened it). We added a row of milk jugs filled with dark colored water to each side of the bed in hopes that they will help regulate the temps a little better. I have noticed it does stay a few degrees warmer at night. I can't tell as well with the daytime temps because my husband had an idea for making the plastic easier to open and close. When he was finished, there was a bit more of a gap around the edges than he had intended. Shortly thereafter, the wind ripped off one of the hooks it was secured with. Let's just say my garden is better ventilated now than it was before...

I had read about making homemade seed tapes and about pre-germinating seeds and I decided to try a little of both. First I tried making a paste with a mix of flour & water. What I ended up with was a sticky gooey mess.

It didn't squeeze out of the bag very well at all. The cat liked it though...

Time to try something else...

This one seemed simple, pre-sprouting sugar snap peas (collected from last season's plants). Last spring, I soaked the seeds overnight before planting and they came up quickly. When I attempted a fall crop, I didn't soak the seeds and they took a lot longer to sprout. Since I'm really starting this pretty early, I figured pre-sprouting may be a good idea. This is just peas on a napkin in a bit of water.

I also read about using a cornstarch & water gel to start seeds. This was much better than the flour & water. I used about 1 TBSP cornstarch mixed with a cup of water and boiled it for a minute. I may have brought it to a boil too quickly resulting in a few lumps which I'll try to avoid next time. I put a spot of gel on a bit of paper towel using a baggie like a pastry bag and placed the seed in the gel. This was really pretty easy using a toothpick. Once I touched the end of a toothpick into the gel, it picked up seeds quite nicely.

Then I put the paper towel into these new style egg cartons. If you haven't seen them, they are a 3 piece unit. One cup under the egg, one cup over the egg and a flat lid over the top. I cut off one section of the cups (leaving a regular egg carton) then took that section, stabbed a hole in the bottom of each cup with an exacto knife and placed the seed in it. That piece sits in the upside down egg carton lid with the other cup as the new top.

I tried red onion, walla-walla onion, spinach, broccoli, lettuce & mesclun in the egg cartons. I also tried some seed strips of carrots, scallions & radishes in a storage box.

After a thorough spritzing with the water bottle, I put the storage box on the back of my television (which is on WAY too much) and the egg cartons on a rack over the cable converter box which seems to be warm all the time. I used the rack so I wouldn't burn up the box by covering it's ventilation.

Then I learned a few things.

1. Peas don't smell good when you get them wet and leave them in a warm little box.

2. Onions don't either.

3. Radishes can sprout in 24 hours!!

The peas took 3 days. I thought they would be easier to plant using the paper towels, so I used some of the gel (I had put it in the refrigerator) and carefully placed the sprouted seeds in the gel. I used a pair of hemostats to place the seeds.
I also used them to place the seeds & paper towels in the garden.
I pulled back the mulch where the seeds were to go and put the strips in and loosely covered them with an inch or so of the mulch (leaves and pine needles added in the fall).
The seeds have been outside since Feb. 18, almost 2 weeks now. When I checked earlier today I have some peas that are up through the mulch. I can see signs of life in the radishes and scallions. I'm still not seeing anything from the lettuce, mesclun or broccoli. Next time I will put the seeds in soil (or soil-like compost) rather than plunking them in the mulch. I suspect they may have come up better that way.
The red and walla-walla onions, carrots and spinach did not sprout. They might have, but after 2 weeks, I wasn't as regular with the spray bottle and they dried out. I like the egg cartons better than the storage box because they have more air circulation but planting the strips was really easy.
The verdict? Not sure. For some seeds, this didn't work well at all. I really won't know for sure until I see the results in the garden and what the survival rate is for the seeds. I'm going to find another method to start the onions & spinach.


Annie's Granny said...

I found Elmer's Glue to be the easiest to work with for home made seed tapes.

A hint on carrots...they dry out quickly, so sow the seeds onto damp ground and barely sift a bit of soil over them, mist them, then cover them with a board. Check under the board every few days, and remove it as soon as you see the carrots germinating. I've never had a failure planting them this way.


Amy said...

Thanks Granny. I've been thinking about trying the board trick for the carrots. We've had such nice weather the past few days I'm thinking of trying seeds outside. Of course, I'm not sure how long this will last... guess I need to check the weather forecast.

That's a very handy water pick you have (I meant to reply before). I got the holes done and the lilacs are moved, but I need to remember that. It looks like it wouldn't be hard to build.

Just Jenn said...

I'll be keeping a very interested eye on your further seed tape experiments! Hope you find a good solution for onions and spinach.