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More Seed Starting Tips

Gail Cook has been a Master Gardener since 2003. She has worked at The Raincatcher’s Garden for many years and now has a new job with us. She is planting herb, flower and vegetable seeds. It’s a perfect job for her; she a nurturer. 

Gail, I heard you are doing a wonderful job with seed starting for the edible landscape. In December, I had the privilege of hearing from Jim about his seed starting methods.
I was wondering what equipment you use. Seed starting mats? Grow lights?Any tips you want to give our blog readers about seed starting. Do you mind letting me know of the potting mix you use? Do you purchase or make your own?

Hi Ann, How nice to hear from you!

Honestly, I’m in one of my happy places starting seeds and, with everyone’s help, we’re doing well with the seedlings. I don’t even have a back yard these days, just a long narrow brick patio with a bit of sun and a small utility deck with a 4-shelf zip-up greenhouse.

I have one warming mat and it does speed things up. To save time ( I can plant 72 seeds in minutes this way)and space, I’ve been starting most seeds in 72-count plug trays from amazon in clearance and seed starting mix from Walmart. There are 300 plugs germinating on my upstairs bathroom counter now. Then I pot them up in 4” pots right after germination.

I’m still working on mixing potting soil with perlite and/or vermiculite to get a lightweight soil because I haven’t found a brand I love yet. Northaven Gardens has a recommendation in a recent email that I plan to try when I can look it up. Some seeds go straight to the greenhouse once planted, depending on weather. It can be tricky to keep the soil at the just right level of moisture but we haven’t had a problem with damping off, even though they stay fairly wet with almost daily misting.

I’m also experimenting with diluted organic liquid  fertilizer after the 2nd set of leaves appear to get them to transplant size as quickly as possible. This requires patience. 

 The Raincatcher’s greenhouse is a huge help during colder weather, as are the other edible garden volunteers who check on the seedlings. I’ll come back to you on soil mixes. Don’t hesitate to remind me. Busy time at work just kicked in, another reason I enjoy the seeds.

Best, Gail

Gail Cook bringing borage seedlings to the Raincatcher’s greenhouse.

Gail writes again:

A couple more tips: Peat moss can be difficult to moisten so add water to the seed starting mix before filling pots. A bucket and your trowel are useful for mixing. 

When using a heat mat indoors or a greenhouse on warm days, monitor closely, preferably twice a day. The soil dries out very quickly and seedlings will fail to germinate or grow. Seedlings should be removed immediately from the heat map as they germinate, as they no longer need the warmer temperatures.

Gail’s Greenhouse

 

This little greenhouse is from Tuesday Morning  and is on it’s 4th winter. It is in a protected area and doesn’t get much direct sun. There are a few patches over tiny holes but it still works. I’ll probably buy another next year.

 My husband has started referring to the seedlings as our children because they are taking up so much of my time.                                                        

 

 

 

 

If you are feeling overwhelmed with all the information and purchase recommendations, Gail suggests starting with easy lettuce and greens for the first season. Simple can be better for beginners. Have fun!

Thank you, Gail.

Ann Lamb

 

Seed Starting Indoors

Jim Dempsey has been starting seeds indoors at Jim and Martha’s house for about 25 years.  Martha indulgently clears space, putting away her craft tables, so Jim can have room for this project every year. He grows tomatoes and peppers and several varieties of flowers from seed to get ahead of Mother Nature and have sturdy seedlings ready to transplant into the spring garden before it gets too hot.

And there’s also the issue of variety. Jim says you’ve never seen so many choices. He likes to order tomato seeds from Tomato Growers and flower seeds from Park Seed and Burpee. Along with Celebrity tomatoes, he selects a few heirloom tomatoes, cherry tomatoes and seeds of early varieties( those that mature within 52 days). Last year one of his successful selections, a yellow pear tomato, was so productive; he just got tired of picking them.

Jim with knitting needle for planting seeds, and journal and plant containers

Materials Needed:

Journal: Jim suggests keeping a journal so you have some idea of what works.  For instance, He realized he was starting seed too early and has now set his start date as February 1st for seeds for the spring garden.

Containers and seed tray

Seed Starting Mix: Jim uses Miracle-Gro potting soil which contains fertilizer. You can mix your own potting soil with a 50-50 combination of fine sphagnum peat moss and vermiculite and fertilize with  fertilizer diluted to 1/2 strength.

Seeds

Plastic wrap or plastic cover

Plant Labels-Always label your pots as you plant the seeds

Grow Light

Heated Seed Mat-Jim did not use a seed mat until 4 years ago when Dorothy, another Master Gardener, gave hers to him. He says it helps his tomato and pepper seeds germinate.

Getting Started:

Fill the cells or pots with moist germinating mix to about an inch below the top.  The soil mix should be moist not soggy.

Jim uses one of Martha’s knitting needles to make the holes for the seeds. Follow seed package directions for planting depth. He uses the blunt end of the knitting needle to tamp the seed down. Seed to soil contact is important.

He suggests one seed per cell when using fresh seeds. 3 seeds per cell for older seeds.

Cover the seed tray or flat with saran wrap or a plastic cover. This keeps the soil mix from drying out. Check it every day and add water to the plant tray from the bottom if the soil begins to change color which means it needs water.

Place the seed tray near a bright, sunny window and/or use a grow light.

The grow light should be placed close to the top of the cover or plastic wrap.

Jim’s seed flats with grow lights

It usually takes 7-10 days for the seeds to germinate. Take the plastic wrap off when the seedlings emerge.

Seeds germinate at varying temperatures.  Plan to use a seedling heat mat if needed.

Seedling Heat Mat

Transplant seedlings into 4 inch pots when you have your first two sets of true leaves.

Before placing your new seedlings in the garden they must be hardened off. Start by putting the new plants outside for a few hours in the shade. Then let them stay outside overnight and then for a few nights. The night temperature should be in the 50° range.


Thank you, Jim, for giving us your time tested instructions and personal tips for starting seeds indoors. You have inspired me to start tomatoes on my window sill!

In the next few days, Gail Cook who is starting seeds for the edible landscape will share with us.

Ann Lamb

Seed Starting Indoors

Garden Betty’s blog has been an inspiration to me. The name Betty resonates deeply because of my Mom, Betty Haughton, who was a Master Gardener, class of 2008 and then there’s the fantastic organic practical horticultural information you will want to absorb.

Click here for The No Brainer Guide To Starting Seeds Indoors by Garden Betty and then listen up to what Jim Dempsey, our seed starter says:

 

Last year’s zinnias and peppers started indoors and then moved to the greenhouse.

 “I use a grow light because I have no sunny location in the house. Our pepper seedlings (slow to come up and slow to grow) are just now coming up. I plan on planting the tomatoes mid- February (in the past I have started too soon)  and our flower seeds shortly after that. Weather permitting, we would like to plant the seedlings (4″ pots) by first part of April.”

 

 

 

 

 

Ann Lamb

 

 

 

Poppies

The poppies have been beautiful this year at The Raincatcher’s Garden.  Each plant has a story. The plant starts life as a seed, which germinates and grows into a plant. The mature plant produces flowers, which are fertilised and produce seeds in a fruit or seedpod. When it dies, seeds are left behind which germinate to produce new plants.

We thought you might want to see a few poppy pictures, as a part of their story.

Poppy Bud Ready to Open

 

Poppy close up 2016 008

Pink Peony Poppy

When the petals fall away, it’s time to collect the seeds.  The foliage turns grey and the seed pod becomes brownish. Wait for the seed pod to become ripe. The top of the pod opens and the seeds readily fall-1,00’s of them. The life cycle of the poppy begins again.

Ann

Pictures by Starla and Ann

Poppy Culture: Next October be sure to plant  poppy seeds in a sunny, well drained spot. Water them to keep the seed bed slightly moist if the weather is dry. You will be rewarded for many years to come with poppies in your garden.

We are collecting seeds to share from our pink peony poppies. We hope you will visit our garden.

 

 

National Seed Swap Day, Saturday, January 30, 2016

seed collage with edgeWe have had a tradition of saving seeds at our garden. We carefully collect seeds, bag them, and give them to garden visitors. When Whole Foods Grocery at Preston Forest called and offered to let us participate in Seed Swap Day, we thought this would be a win-win situation!

 Volunteers from The Raincatcher’s Garden of Midway Hills will exchange seeds as part of the National Seed Swap Day from noon to 4 p.m. on Saturday, January 30. Whole Foods Market at Preston-Forest will host the fun event filled with garden ideas and live music. Volunteers will offer flower seeds and donated gardening books, promote RGMH, and help children make seed mats with zinnia and cosmos seeds.

Ann

Pictures by Starla

Click for Sage Seed Advice

 

 

 

Starting Seeds Indoors-A Contest!

Mnemonics and memory prompters are a good way for gardeners to remember important facts and dates. 

Around Valentine’s Day, February 14?  Time to prune your roses.

Do you have a better way of saying, other than “Treat Seeds With Loving Hands,” the five critical elements for growing successful transplants discussed in yesterday’s post?  If so, please let us know.

Above:Hyacinth Bean Vine Seedling Ready to be Transplanted

Above:Hyacinth Bean Vine Seedling Ready to be Transplanted

As Ann , the Demonstration Garden’s coordinator, said “There is a lot of interest in gardening but so little real depth of knowledge.  I think of some of the things I hear at the garden centers when I am shopping and feel so bad that plants and seeds are going home with very little chance of survival.  Young gardeners are so handy on the computer but not always in the dirt.  Maybe we can help with that.”

So, put on your creative gardening hat and let us know your suggestion for a way to easily remember the five  elements for successfully starting transplants from seed. The best suggestion, as judged by several of the Joe Field  gardeners, will receive  5  packets of seeds collected from our Demonstration Garden.

Help us teach the general public how to easily remember how to germinate seeds.

Carolyn

Picture by Starla

Seed Starting Indoors

Treat Seeds With Loving Hands

     It’s that time again when a gardener’s mailbox is filled with tempting seed catalogues; and the dreary winter days of January and February give rise to dreams of spring’s colorful flowers and bountiful vegetable gardens.  For those gardeners who want to save money, or may be interested in trying a new variety of plant not found in local nurseries, or who enjoy the educational challenge of growing plants from seed, January and February are the times to start sowing your seeds indoors.

So what are some critical pointers to follow when starting plants from seeds?  Perhaps a mnemonic phrase will help.  As any botany student recalls, two ways to remember the classification of plants from Kingdom to Species are:  “King Phillip Came Over For Good Spaghetti” or “King Phillip Came Over From Gloria Spain.”

To remember the important considerations when germinating seeds, perhaps the mnemonic, Treat Seeds With Loving Hands will help.

Treat Seeds With Loving Hands

Treat Seeds With Loving Hands

     T  =  Timing :  The back of all seed packets contains a lot of information about the plant:  how deep to plant it, days to harvest, etc.  It also usually gives a general recommendation on when it is safe to plant the seeds outside (after the last frost, for example).  Therefore, if you desire to get a head start on growing plants from seeds, most flower and vegetable plants require about four to eight weeks of growing time before transplanting successfully into the garden.  Counting back from when the seeds are recommended to be planted outside will give one the approximate time to start seedlings indoors.

S  =  Soil  :   A soilless medium in which to start seeds is a must.  Garden centers sell seed starting mixtures that are sterile, light, and drain well.  You can also find recipes on the internet to make your own mixture.  However, the important thing to remember is to not use ordinary garden soil to start your seedlings.  Not only does it often not drain well, but it harbors pathogens that can infect the seedlings.  “Damping Off,” a common fungal disease, is bane of any gardener germinating seedlings indoors.  The use of a soilless, sterile growing medium may help prevent this.

Above: Michele using soil mix for seed starting

Above: Michele using soil mix for seed starting

W  =  Water  :  Just a realtors talk about the importance of “location, location, location,” “drainage, drainage, drainage” should be the motto of gardeners.  Seeds may be started in any type of containers, from commercially available seed starting kits to recycled plastic containers.  Just remember, if you are recycling old pots or plastic containers, that they must have adequate drainage holes and they should be sterilized in a dilute mixture of water and bleach.  After the seeds are planting to the correct depth in the soilless medium, very gently water them to thoroughly wet the soil (a spray bottle works well for this), cover with plastic, then place the containers in a warm place (some people put them on top of the refrigerator).  As soon as the seeds germinate, remove the plastic cover and move to a light source.  Keep the soil damp, but do not over water as this may encourage diseases.

L  =  Light  :  Along with drainage, light is the most critical part of growing successful, bushy transplants.  Growing plants on a window sill that gets only a few hours of direct sunlight will often result in failure or, at best, spindly plants.  In general, seedlings need 16-18 hours of light a day to grow into lush, healthy transplants.  Greenhouses with supplemental lighting and heat can be used, or you can purchase commercially made light stands.  There are also many instructions on the internet and magazines on how to make do-it-yourself light stands.

H  =  Hardening Off  :  As the little seedlings outgrow their pots, keep moving them into gradually larger pots using potting soil as the mixture.  If the potting soil does not contain fertilizer, a little slow release fertilizer, either synthetic or organic, can be added to the soil.  Since the plants have been “babied” indoors, gradually start introducing them to the outside temperatures and conditions about one to two weeks before transplanting them to the garden.  Start hardening them off in a protected, shaded area and gradually leave them outside for longer times.   Depending on the weather, they may need to be moved in and out of the house until the correct time to plant them in the garden.   If you remember to Treat Seeds With Loving Hands, your transplants should be off to a successful start.  Happy Seeding !!

Carolyn

Pictures by Starla

More Seed Saving Information Here:

Separating the Seeds From the Chaff

Seed Saving: It’s a Good Thing

Separating the Seeds from the Chaff

It is a common mistake made by those gardeners who wish to save their own seeds.  Just what part of a seed pod is actually the seed and what is the chaff, that part of a seed head that can be separated and thrown away.  Sounds easy to tell?  It is, if you are saving squash, tomato, sunflower and other easily distinguishable seeds.  However, if you have ever gone to a seed exchange, perhaps you have excitedly brought home a small zip lock bag full of handpicked, thin, sharp, dark brown “seeds” from the Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea).  After carefully planting and watering these “seeds” in your garden, you find that not even one grows.   Unfortunately at this point you have now joined the ranks of many gardeners in confusing the seeds from the chaff.

Coneflower, a native perennial, is one of the prettiest and easiest plants to grow in both full sun and even partial shade.  Though they prefer good, fertile soil, being a native plant, they will adapt to less hospitable areas and are hardy in USDA Zones 3-9.  Long-lived and drought tolerant once established, they are impervious to most insects and diseases.  A butterfly nectar plant, their seed filled cones are a favorite of song birds such as Goldfinches.

Purple Coneflower in Bloom

Hybrid Coneflowers now come in a wide variety of colors including pink, white, yellow, and orange.  Unfortunately for the seed saver, these hybrid varieties may not always reproduce true to their parent plant.  However the native Purple Coneflower is an easy plant from which to save seed, once you know the secret of distinguishing the seed from the chaff.

image

To save the seed, wait until late summer or fall when the coneflowers begin to fade and the seed heads develop.  At this point, begin to keep an eye on the plant, so the seeds can be harvested at the right time: after the seeds have matured, but before they drop off or the birds eat them.

imageUsually the seed pod will turn from dark brown to black and the stem will begin to wilt.  At this point, if you inspect the seed pod, you can easily see small, light brown, bullet shaped seeds nestled in the spiky, woody seed pod.

To save the seed, one of the easiest methods is to cut the seed pod off, leaving a little stem, tie a paper bag around the stems and dry upside down, letting the seeds fall off themselves.  Another method is to manually separate the seeds from the spiky pod by crushing the pod.  Be sure and wear gloves when doing this as the needle-sharp dried spikes can be painful.  After the pod has been crushed, it is easy to pick out the plump, hard seeds.  They can be stored in a cool, dry place in a paper envelope or in an airtight container in the refrigerator.  The addition of a silica gel pack, found at craft stores, to the container will help keep the seeds dry.

So next time you are at a seed exchange and see a packet of sharp, brown, skinny spikes labeled Purple Coneflower seeds, remember that, just as in life, it is necessary to distinguish “the wheat from the chaff,”  Do not take that which is unnecessary but look instead for those light brown, plump seeds.  They are the ones to save.

Carolyn

Pictures by Ann

More about seed saving?  Click here.

Seed Saving: It’s A Good Thing

Though it is not quite time yet for “autumn leaves to drift by my window,” it is getting to be time for gardeners to start thinking about saving seeds from their favorite plants and flowers.  Dr. Tom Wilten, when he taught the Dallas County Master Gardener class on propagation, developed a list of ten reasons why someone might want to propagate plants from seeds and cuttings.   Some of these reasons included to save money, produce a genetically identical plant from cuttings, etc.  However, for some gardeners, it just seems inherently “right” to connect with the entire life cycle of a plant.

Seed Saving, Dallas Garden Buzz

Here we are connecting with the entire life cycle of the plant, in our kitchen, saving seeds.

When thinking about saving seeds, there are several factors that one should consider.  It is important to remember that not all seeds can be legally, or should be, saved.  According to Willaim Woys Weaver, author of Heirloom Vegetable Gardening,  there are basically three different kinds of seeds.  Only one of these three kinds of seeds can, or should, be saved:

1) Genetically modified seeds (GM seeds):  These are seeds that have been artificially changed to make them resistant to pathogens and/or herbicides.  No matter what you may philosophically or medically think about the use and consumption of plants grown from GM seeds, it is against the law to save GM seeds since they are patented.  One cannot legally save seeds from or reproduce a GM patented plant unless you pay the maker a royalty.  In general, the average homeowner does not have to worry about this as currently GM seeds are used by huge commercial growers who grow monocultures, such as corn, soybeans, etc.  However, if growing a patented plant, just be aware of this.

2)  F1 Hybrid seeds:  This is another type of patented seed that is a cross between different plant species.  F1 refers to Filial 1:  the first filial generation of seeds/plants resulting from a cross mating of distinctly different parental types. These are commonly found in seed catalogues and purchased by homeowners.  One should not however save seeds from F1 hybrid plants because they will not grow true to type, plus after a few generations F1 hybrid plants will eventually lose the traits for which they were bred.  Most plants and seed packets are prominently labeled if they are F! Hybrid seeds or plants.

3)  Open-pollinated seed:  Open-pollinated plants are those plants that are pollinated by nature which may be bees, wind, birds, etc.  Seeds from these open-pollinated plants have often been passed down from generation to generation (heirloom seeds) though they may be more recently developed.

To save seed from open-pollinated plants there are several things to consider.  First, the seed must be fully ripe/developed.  This may seem obvious, but for some plants such as cucumbers, it means that the fruit must be left on the vine until it turns yellow, and gourds, beans and peas must be left on the vine until the seeds rattle in their hardened shells.

The second thing to remember is that because open-pollinated seeds are pollinated by nature, it is very easy to get cross pollination since bees fly from flower to flower and the wind may carry pollen across a yard or field.  Basil and mint are notorious for being “promiscuous” with different varieties easily cross pollinating.  Therefore, if you are saving basil seed you should not save seed from, for example, a lime basil planted too close to a sweet basil.  Seed from this cross may, or most likely may not, be good tasting.

Finally, when storing seeds it is important to let them dry thoroughly, and then store them in a cool, dry place.  If kept properly, most seeds will be viable for several years.

Do you have a favorite plant from which you save seeds?  Let us know, and tell us your technique for saving them.  Not just pass-a-long plants but pass-a-long knowledge is, as Martha Stewart would say, “a good thing.”

Carolyn

Picture by Starla

Love In The Mist, Nigella damascena

Love In The Mist At The Demonstration Garden on Joe Field RoadSome cottage garden favorites just do not work for us. Towering foxgloves just rarely tower, but Love in the Mist that’s a happier story.

Love In The Mist Blooming In April In Dallas

It’s true it doesn’t care for heat but still it loves spring here and adds a pretty airy charm to the early garden.  Its easy care as long as you remember Love in the Mist doesn’t like heat.  So the seeds are best planted in fall or early winter;  the plants establish themselves over the dreary months and then grow amazingly fast and start to bloom when warm days arrive.  The flowers are in shades of blue as well as pink and white  with fine foliage that is a treat in itself. When flowering is done, the seed pods form. 

Seed Pod Of Love In The Mist

Remember,self seeding annual, means you have to allow the seed pods to become mature but in this case it’s really an added bonus as the pods are intricate stripped balloons that add interest to the flower bed and can be saved for arrangements as well. Just be sure that some seeds fall to the ground. It’s the circle of life right there in your garden; the seeds will find their way and when winter comes they start to grow  and soon…

Susan

Pictures by Starla and Ann

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