Monday, September 24, 2012

MAKING BABIES (no-not like that!)

So sorry to have been away this last week - I was chronologically challenged.  There is so much to talk about!  Fall is here and there is fall gardening, putting up summer tomatoes, making stevia drops, planning for spring - I keep telling you 'there is so much more'!  But today, we should talk about making transplants.  Here in the South, so many gardeners only purchase transplants to garden.  It's not a bad idea, either.  Spring temperatures beckon you to the outdoors and beautiful little baby squash plants beg to go home with you.  But let's take it to the next level and look at the benefits of 'making your own babies'.

Why aren't we seeing transplants at the home and garden store right now if it is the right time to plant?  Two reasons:  most fall plants (see here for a list) can be planted directly by seed, and the ones that need to be grown first as transplants (broccoli, cauliflower, brussel sprouts, cabbage) are all very picky and would never make it through the rigors of neglect that is found at the typical garden center.

But not for you - you will take excellent care of your babies (bad analogy - you only take good care of these babies until you eat them!).  Not only that - you are going to do this with very low investment!  Things you will need:

  1. A place to put a shelf - preferably with a waterproof floor below (basements are great)
  2. A shelf and a shop light fixture (I use 'daylight' fluorescent bulbs)
  3. A timer to turn off the light (they need about 6 hours of darkness at night)
  4. Transplant trays (choose from pots or trays)
  5. Seed starting mix
That's it!  There are expensive, fancy systems - but you will get started for much less!  Here's my setup:

I had to turn the light off on the upper level because there was too much glare for the photo, but you can see the plants are reaching up to the light.  The shelves are just leftovers we had and the shop lights (I prefer the upper one with no guard) are hung from little chains.  That makes them adjustable - they almost touch the brand new plants and then can be raised once the babies are bigger.  These babies are now ready to sit outside during the day to become acclimated to the weather.  I will be planting them in the prepared fall beds this week.

So - if this is so easy - why isn't everyone doing it?  Hmmm, good it that we are an instant society and want instant gratification? Do the evil store owners know they can make a bigger profit from transplants as opposed to seed? Well, I have a hard time laying blame on anyone - especially since I have purchased transplants every year I have gardened - but I think mostly we are not familiar with the process and therefore shy away from it.

Here's where The Maven's past failures are going to give you confidence to move forward.  As you go to the gardening center, you will probably see systems with 'peat pellets'.  Avoid these.  I have only succeeded in making spindly, sickly babies when I use peat pellets.  We like chunky monkeys.  My favorite seed starting mix to date is 1/3 peat moss, 1/3 vermiculite and 1/3 mushroom compost.  Vermiculite is a rock compound that has been heated to expand and hold water.  It's the white stuff you see in a potted plant.  Mix these together and moisten them. I store a stash of this in a Rubbermaid box so it is ready any time.

Here's the drill:

  1. Fill your pots or trays with the moist seed mix
  2. Use a pencil or leftover chop stick to put a 1/2 inch dent in the middle of the cell
  3. Drop in 2 seeds
  4. Water from bottom for trays, water gently from the top for pots.  Water with a liquid fertilizer every other time (I use kelp in order to stay organic, but any emulsion will work)
  5. Trim off the weaker of the 2 seedlings after 2 weeks
  6. If you have a protected area outside, move your trays out during the day for a week before you transplant into the garden 
That's it!  I will show some follow up pictures as the season goes on.  Come back to see the progression.  Pretty soon at your house you'll be saying, "There's a whole lot more!"

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