Thursday, May 6, 2010

Good things growing under lights

While last year was a total bust as far as seeds go (only my zukes, cukes and nasturtiums grew to transplant size), this year is looking pretty good. Lucas built me this simple plant stand using scrap wood and my dad gave me some fluorescent grow lights that he'd picked up cheap at a police auction. Hey, if they work for the professional growers, they've got a place in my garden plan.

The stand is located against a south facing window in my home office. Having them close by means I'm much more attentive when it comes to watering and general maintenance/one-on-one pampering (unfortunately, I'm one of those 'out of sight, out of mind' kind of people).

I've been feeding these little beauties with a weak solution of liquid fish fertilizer with seaweed extract. I'm using the organic version so it's a bit smelly but it seems to be working wonders already.

The downside is my seedlings aren't the only living beings that like it.

Last year, I grow two dozen different varieties of heirloom tomatoes which was amazing and fun (and I'll get around to writing about it someday) but it was challenging because 1.) I had way too many fresh eating tomatoes and not enough for preserving and 2.) the summer was too mild and the plants went in too late so many of them didn't ripen on the vine before the first frost. We did harvest a whole bunch of them that we ripened in cardboard boxes between newsprint, but it became a logistical nightmare with all the different sizes and maturation rates.

This year I decided to grown only five different varieties from seed but have more plants (40 plus at last count, though I may only plant half that in the garden): Moneymaker, Miel du Mexique (an old French heirloom cherry), Yellow Pear, Amish Paste and Martino's Roma (a paste tomato). I may pick up a few fun transplants at the farmers' market, like Snow White (Ella's pick) or Black Krim (Jack's request), if I've got any leftover space. Of course, I can always pop some into pots near the house. And this is how I ended up with 25 different varieties last year.

I love red peppers but it can be tough growing them in a 5a garden, especially if we get a cool summer like last year. Still, I thought I'd try Jimmy Nardello's Sweet Italian Frying pepper, which matures in 80 to 90 days and is great for frying, drying, freezing, relishes and salads. I've got about nine or 10 plants to go out in the garden and the plan is to construct a mini hoophouse over them.

Ella helped me seed the zukes, cukes and melons.

Of course, seeding is hard work and it's best to take several breaks. Hopscotch anyone?

We're growing Mideast Prolific cucumbers (a highly productive and early variety producing 6" to 8" fruits good for eating and pickling), Ronde de Nice summer squash (an unusual French heirloom green zucchini that's completely round like a ball), Charantais melons (another French heirloom, this one that's reputedly one of the best-flavoured cantaloupes in the world) and Small Shining Light watermelon (an old Russian variety that's perfectly suited for northern summers, with 10" to 12" fruits that mature in 80 to 90 days).

I also decided to throw in a few yellow zucchini from last year's seed bank. This one is Golden Dawn III -- the only hybrid I'm growing.

Here's my first batch of Italian Large Leaf basil and I'll be putting more seeds in this weekend. I've also got oregano and thyme under the lights (oops, no photo) and I'll be direct seeding some dill and some medicinal herbs. I'll probably pick up a few transplants as well.

And here's some French Brocade marigolds that I'll use as an insect-deterring companion, along with nasturtiums, which I'll probably direct seed if I don't get some started this weekend.

And while I'll be direct seeding my beans in a few weeks, when I transplant all these seedlings into the garden, the kids wanted to plant a few now.

Because every garden needs a bit of magic in it.

P.S. Sorry for the crap seedling photos. I much prefer taking photos outside in the natural light, but it was raining -- finally! -- so I had to snap indoors.


Erin said...

Fantastic light and shelf setup! Hey, if the potheads used them previously, they must be good lights, hahaha! I love seeing all the different varieties you grow in your zone, everything looks great!

Mama Pea said...

So interesting (and fun) to see what everyone else starts indoors for the garden. Looks to me like your garden is going to be HUGE this year. I think that's a natural "disadvantage" of being a happy gardener . . . there's so much we gotta try!

MaineCelt said...

Oh, your seedlings look beautiful! My own confidence at seedling-growing has plummeted over the last couple years-- funny, but before I began to think carefully about seedlings, back when I just plunked them in good dirt and stood back, they used to do pretty well. Now that I'm trying to help things along with heat mats and fish/kelp emulsion and mycorhyzal (sp?) boosters, I get spindly tragic little sprouts that wizen, dwindle and damp off dreadfully. If it weren't for the happy brassicas and chard out in my hoop house, I'd be reduced to palpitations and constant weeping.

Guess I need some of those police-auction lights! Like you said, if they work for the professional growers... ;-)

inadvertent farmer said...

what a lovely bunch of babies! You are going to have a spectacular garden.

Your seed growing set up is great! Kim

Fiona said...

Erin -- that was my dad's thinking!

Mama Pea -- happy gardeners unite :) I just keep trying to grow more stuff and my garden map is getting fuller and fuller! The garden might be huge, if I can keep ahead of all this &*(^ing sod!

MaineCelt -- thank you! I was really nervous about seed starting this year because it went so BADLY last year! I had the same experience as you -- before I started growing things seriously, my seedlings did great! Yay for happy brassicas and chard.. and for hoophouses (that's on my wish list!)

Kim -- thank you!!! I'm kinda winging it but there is method to the madness :)

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