April 26, 2009

Seedling Experiment - Week 1

So far it's not an abject failure, but I feel sure that my end could be right around the corner.

The marigolds sprouted first and looked to be doing pretty well. Then came the arugula and the basil. All looked ok UNTIL after a few days all the seedlings seemed quite tall. This is (from what I hear and read) a sign that the seedlings aren't getting enough light.

I had the light SUPER close and was leaving it on all day. In fact, I was worried that it might actually be sizzling the soil and seeds. It felt quite warm to the touch. That's probably not good right?

Anyway, yesterday was 80 degrees and sunny here so I took a gamble and put all the seedlings out onto my porch to get some sun. I kept the covers closed though, so they didn't also have to brave any wind and so they might stay warm if the temperature dropped. Nothing seems to have died, so that's good.

I brought all the seedlings back in last night to "sleep" and then refilled the water trays, thinned a few so only one little sprout is in each egg cup and brought them all back out this morning. 2 little shallot sprouts showed up, but the parsley is still dormant.

Meanwhile the soda bottle green house, that was always on the porch, has two teeny tiny basil sprouts that showed up this morning. I think this could be more promising.

So while I'm struggling mightily (mostly in my own mind I realize) with the "indoor" seedlings, all the arugula and lettuce I planted behind the trellis has sprouted! No sign of cilantro yet, but I'm optimistic.

I leave for a week in Oregon tomorrow though so I'm not sure if I should leave the seedlings on the porch (and maybe ask my roommate to check on them) or inside. The temps should be warm enough for them to stay outside and I think they may appreciate the light, but I just don't know how fast they'll dry out and if I really want to saddle my roommate with the chore of checking on them in addition to taking care of my insane, geriatric cats.

April 20, 2009

Are you Jealous of this Trellis?

Growing vertically and mastering the use of space in a small urban plot, seem to me to be a sign of someone who knows what they're doing in a community garden.

I have long viewed myself as more of a newbie, lacking the skills and expertise to try anything as ambitious as a trellis, let alone planting things near each other in a way that one plant can help the other.

I guess that's not entirely true. I've planted basil and marigold with tomatoes and those are supposed to help each other, and my arugula always seems to attract flea beetles which I think helps keep them away from my eggplant, but this plan, is far more ambitious.

Let me start at the beginning:

Last year I grew cucumbers and I really liked it. They attracted a lot of cucumber beetles though and took up a lot of space. The cucumbers also tended to hide underneath the leaves such that I could miss a cuke one day and show up a day later to find a baseball-bat-sized cucumber the next. I had heard, and seen others growing them UP and wanted to try it. In my internet searching I came across this cool design for a cucumber trellis that basically allows the cucumber vines to climb upward, but also leaves some room behind for lettuce which likes cooler temperatures.

I didn't really think I could build something like this myself. I'm easily intimidated by things like this. Luckily, I am fortunate enough have an in with Captain Awesome. He is pretty handy and agreed to build me a trellis.

So this Saturday ( a few hours after the seedling adventure) we headed out to Home Depot to get the supplies and make my garden dream a reality. We had a general sense of the items we needed and after I woke up from my "overwhelmed-by-the-choices-trance" in the nail aisle, we got it together enough to get our stuff and leave.

We bought 3 2x4s, some long nails, vinyl coated chicken wire, and a bag of plastic zip ties. Captain Awesome already had all the tools so we didn't need to get any of those. He built the whole thing right in the bed of his truck, with no power, or anything.

So now the trellis is all set up in all it's glory in my garden plot. I went ahead and used this opportunity to begin to figure out the layout for the garden this year. I dug up the black-eyed susan and moved it closer to the other perennials (and gave 75% of it to another gardener for her yard ) and moved the bee balm closer too. Now I've got only one area, by the sink, for flowers. I think this will work better and give me more room for veggies in the rest of the plot.

I've asked a few other gardeners if they think the stuff I plan to grow behind the trellis will work or get too shaded. Honestly, I'm too excited about this idea to even hear it when a few of them have said "maybe" or "I dunno." In this spirit, I went ahead and planted some lettuce, arugula and cilantro seeds behind the trellis. Sure, it might be too early, but I'm feeling bold and experimental at the moment.

I know that I can be very insecure about my gardening abilities, but at the core, I'm an optimist and a believer in my own ability to make things happen. Also, I do know SOME things. I haven't planted the cucumbers yet and I know I won't do that for at least another month.

I know I'm dealing with the natural world here and wanting something to work may not make it happen, but for now, I'll keep hope alive!

So it begins...

Early Saturday morning, I got up and planted my seedlings.

As you may recall, I've been talking about doing this for a while, but it took longer than I expected to pull together all the necessary materials and then find the time to do it. Here's the play by play of the plan.

Step 1 - Potting Medium
First I had to take the coir and add 1 and 1/4 gallons of water to it to turn it from a rock hard brick to something resembling a potting medium. I had purchased 2 bricks because I didn't know how much it would turn into once I added water and the bricks looked pretty small. I definitely only needed one, I now have a plastic grocery bag full of the stuff sitting on my porch, plus the unopened brick that I didn't even use. Anyone in the Boston area need this?

Step 2 - Something to plant in
Next, I prepared the plastic egg cartons. I'd been holding onto plastic soda bottles and plastic egg containers for a while, with the intention of making some seedling trays and mini-greenhouses so I had a ton on hand. The ones I have include a ton of excess packaging: bottom egg cups, top egg cups and top flat lid, all made of clear plastic. I used some scissors to cut off the top egg cup part and used those for a water tray at the bottom. I used a steak knife to puncture the bottom egg cups so that water from the bottom tray could get to the potting soil to keep the seedlings and soil moist.
Step 3 - Assembly
I pressed the coir (which was thoroughly water soaked at this point) into the egg cups and then used a pencil to create a small indentation in each "cup." I decided to devote each tray to a different type of seed: shallot, marigold, arugula, parsley and basil. This is not the most ambitious assortment of seeds, but given the fact that I have yet to do this successfully I wanted to start small.
I tried to drop 3 seeds into each indentation (though I am sure I ended up with 4 or 5 in a few.) I marked each tray with some coffee stirrers and then filled the bottom (formerly top) egg cups 1/2 way with water and placed the covered coir-filled cups on top.

Step 4 - Location and lighting
I borrowed a small table and set it up with 2 grow lights by the window. The grow lights are REALLY close to the seedlings which I think is how you're supposed to do it. For now, they're mostly keeping the soil a bit warm, but soon they'll provide the light the seedlings need to grow. The grow lights don't cover every single seedling in light evenly, but I'm hoping it'll work out. If anyone out there with more experience than me looking at these photos sees a problem with how I'm doing this PLEASE let me know. I really really really want this to work!

Step 5 - Care and Maintenance
My plan is to turn the lights on when I leave in the morning and off when I get home from work each day. I'm sure I'll need to thin the seedlings eventually and maybe turn the trays around if it seems like the light is hitting some more than others. I'm also planning to check the water in the bottom tray every day and just refill those when they seem lower. I think this should be the right amount of water, but who knows?

List of Worries:

1) Is the light enough, too much, too close, too uneven?
2) Is turning the lights on and off bad in terms of the temperature during germination?
3) Is it too much water? They're basically sitting in water all the time right now.
4) Everything is covered up greenhouse style right now. I assume that at some point I'll want to uncover them. When should I do this and how do I keep my cats from eating them?
5) If this works, how do I harden them off and get them ready for the garden? Do I need to transplant to something larger first? I've kept a bunch of soda bottles with the idea that I might transplant some of the seedlings to these at some point.

Extra Credit

As suggested, I did create one larger soda bottle greenhouse with basil seeds and stuck it on my porch. It seems way too cold outside for this to work, but I'm hopeful.

Believe it or not, this was only the FIRST major garden related project of the day. More to come shortly.....