Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Starting Your Seeds

The "pretty" version of my garden.  Nothing like real life...
We are using tomato plants to start
 Soooo, it is that time of year again, spring, where everything in Wisconsin is waiting for the snow to melt the ground to warm so that we can get out into the dirt.  Don't get me wrong, we love it here, but the growing season is so short it makes the gardening season somewhat of a race.  Because we get the itch in January  like everyone else, but can not do anything outside until Memorial weekend, we start on paper.  This year we are trying something new.  Rather than attempting to manage 5000 square feet of weeds, we are going to use the Square Foot method by gardener Mel Bartholomew in a few sections and see how it works for a garden the size of ours.  This reduces our space to a more "manageable" 2500 feet.  More to come on that as the year goes on.

So what does a person in Wisconsin do eight weeks before you can get into the actual garden?  We pretend we have little gardens in the house.   The initial challenge is deciding what you would like to plant, and how many.   For this post, I am doing paste tomatoes.  In the lower right quadrant of my plan, you can see some sideways words "Heinz" along with dots.  I plan to grow 20 in my patch, and one of the three gals who garden with me is also growing a block of 10.  My seed tray has 36 spots, my seed pack 70+ seeds.  This way I start both of our tomatoes, allowing for a few that may not germinate, and have enough left in the pack for next year.  The stick helps me push the seeds into place, and the grow sheet or dome help hold in moisture and warmth which tomatoes love.
In goes the dirt
 First we start by filling the cells with a seed starter mix.  I know, it is not organic, but around here, you take what you can get at this time of year.  The tomatoes will need to be potted on at a later date, and at that time I will switch to a local compost that one of the ginseng farms sell.  Fill the cells to the top, smoothing out the dirt, but don't really worry about squishing it in there.  You just want to be sure they are all filled to the top. Messy job so you can put newspaper down on your counter for clean up.  I prefer the mess, helps perpetuate the illusion that I am really outside working ;-)

Pressing it down using another set of cells
Now we take another set of cells and squarsh down the mixture in our tiny pots.  Too much air is not good for germination and growth.  When you compact the seeding mixture, you are creating a nice snug bed for your seeds.  Seeds require good soil contact.
There is a method of starting seeds that involve something called soil blocking.  It eliminates the need for plastic or peat pots and uses a mixture of peat, lime, sand, soil and compost that are formed into, well, soil blocks... The blocks stand on their own in a tray until they are placed in your garden.  The mixture helps them hold their shape on the tray and the roots actually help strengthen the whole structure.  When a plants roots encounter air, they stop growing that direction, so there is not worries about plants attaching to each other.  Pretty cool, huh?
 I pour out my entire packet of seeds into a little cup at this point.  I do this so that I am sure to have enough to plant the whole tray at one time, and count what I have left in the pack for bookkeeping purposes.  As I said, this pack has over 70 seeds, so I write on the envelope approximately what is left so that I do not reorder these next year.  This packet of seeds are the Heinz variety from Territorial Seed company out of Cottage Grove OR.  Their catalogs are some of my favorite winter reading.  These beauties will be diced, sauced, salsa-ed, juiced and catsuped next fall as each plant has a ton!
One little tomato to be...
 Here is one seed in a cell.  Sooooo happy in his little dirt bed!  I use the stick (wooden kabob type) to help me push the seeds where I need them.  It is my favorite planting tool at this stage of the game as it is much smaller than my finger, can be used to make holes if I need to, and if I drop an extra one in a cell, I lick the flat end and touch the extra seed.  It attaches to the end of the stick and I can easily move it to another spot.  When all the spots are filled, I sprinkle dirt over the whole tray to the top and repeat the squarshing, ensuring everything is touching.  I have also filled the tray underneath with water to wet the dirt from the bottom up.
Now, we wait, don't mind the blinding snow in the background
 In this photo, you can see I have placed the clear dome over the whole works. I opted to not use the germination sheet, as we are leaving town on Friday, and I want to have a stable environment set up by then to hold over the weekend of being alone.  This tray is now placed on top of a heat mat, on a shelf in my indoor greenhouse.  I found the greenhouse on clearance at Menard's for $18 during the winter.  The trays,of which you can pick up replacements for $0.99, heat mats and my other two greenhouses were purchased during previous gardening years, and I reuse them from year to year.
This brings me to one of my favorite topics on gardening.  The cost.  That package of seeds was $3.55, the dirt, of which I used a fourth of the bag, was $3.44.  I am splitting the seed cost with another girl and based on the size of our gardens, she pays 1/3 of the cost.  Keep in mind also, that we are only using 1/2 of that pack this year.  So for those of you who are keeping track..
                                                                My seeds  $1.17
                                                                         Dirt  $0.86
                                      Total for tomatoes this year  $2.03
That is for 20 organic paste tomato plants.  This means my cost per plant this year is $0.10.  I can't even tell you what each jar of diced, sauced, salsa-ed, juiced and catsuped tomato product will cost, because my brain can't do that type of tiny math.  Kinda makes you want to get in the dirt, huh?