Thursday, April 4, 2013

Sow Easy I'm Suspicious: The Seedling Update

A while back I published a post called Sow Easy I'm Suspicious and Other Seedy Tales about starting seeds in my wacky counter top greenhouse and my foray into winter sowing. I started different seeds than I did last year and have learned a few things along the way. Here's the scoop:

Tomatoes and Peppers

In February I started 20 coir pellet pots each of  Yellow Brandywine and Sweet Chocolate peppers. I hadn't planned on growing tomatoes at all, but after receiving the tomato seeds in a seed swap I decided to give them a try. Both seeds germinated quickly and are doing well, especially the tomatoes. However, there have been a few bumps along the way.

Tomatoes


This is what the tomatoes look like today. They're not growing on the window sill. This was just a good spot to take a photo.


The seed trays were way too far from the lights, resulting in leggy seedlings, so I raised them closer to the grow bulbs.


However, I raised them too close which turned the foliage yellow. After doing some research, I discovered the yellow foliage was also caused by water logged roots and a lack of nutrients. They had developed incredibly long root systems that were tangled in the capillary mat. I trimmed off the bottom 8-10 inches of stringy root.


The roots had grown through the little coir pots and into the water          reservoir below the capillary mat. It was time to move them to a larger pot.


Instead of using nursery pots, I used cheap plastic cups and poked holes in the bottom with a hot screw driver tip. I love how shocked they look. This gives the seedlings the depth they need while also being narrow enough to fit onto the tray in my 'greenhouse'.





The cups also allow me to watch the root development and monitor how moist the soil is. When it's time to transplant them to larger pots, I'll just cut away the cups and recycle them. I planted the tomatoes as deep as possible to help them form stronger root systems and watered them with water enriched with liquid kelp.

Peppers

Growing the peppers has been a bit trickier but only because I've never grown peppers indoors before.


They germinated quickly but the more they grew, the yellower they became. Some also developed weird purple spots on their leaves.


Worried my peppers had somehow contracted some kind of bizarre Purple Pepper disease, I tossed the seedlings with the most purple spots. A few seedlings didn't have any spots at all, which should have been my first clue. The peppers closest to the light turned purple from being overexposed to the grow bulb and had developed a phosphorus deficiency, which is indicated by purple blotches.


I repotted them into plastic cups and moved them a little bit farther away from the grow light. They are slowly turning greener.

Winter sowing

With the exception of a few ambitious plants, the winter sowing is coming along slowly. However, I'm not dissuaded at all. This March was the coldest March in thirteen years, which has put all growth in the garden several weeks behind normal, whatever normal is any more. Quite a few of the containers have grown moss next to the seedlings.

What I Sowed

Malva 'Zebrina'    SPROUTED
Heliopsis (seed collected from my garden)    SPROUTED
Dalea (Purple Prairie Clover)
Lavender augustifolia     SPROUTED
Sweet peas 'Painted Ladies and Old Spice'    SPROUTED
Ammi 'Green Mist'     SPROUTED
Orlaya 'White Lace'    SPROUTED
Scarlet flax    SPROUTED
Sweet scabiosus    SPROUTED
Garlic chives    SPROUTED
Tomatoes 'Principe Borghese'
Talinum (Pearls of Opar)

The dalea seeds were free but I'm not surprised they didn't sprout since they've never reseeded in my garden. Plus, I think it's too cold for the talinum and tomatoes. I haven't given up on them yet.


Heliopsis


Malva 'Zebrina'


Sweet peas

 We finally have some warm weather forecast for next week so I'm hoping to take my seedlings outside and see more growth in the winter sowing containers. 

64 comments:

  1. Thanks for the update as I really learned a lot. I also face similar problems, but never could figure out why they were happening. Now I know.

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    1. The book 'What's Wrong With My Plant and How Do I Fix It?' was pretty helpful as was another blog I went to. :o) Live and learn!

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  2. Some things really doing great for you. Hope they do fantastic in your gardens this year for you.
    Cher Sunray Gardens

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    1. Thanks! I'm looking forward to eating veggies I grew from seed. :o)

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  3. Using the plastic cups is a great idea! SO true about being able to monitor the root systems of the plant. You are doing great! My winter sowing is well...not coming along much...I have to open my bottles up tomorrow to try to give them some fresh air because we are supposed to have warmer temps. My annuals under my light are doing well and I have a couple of perennials that are growing well too! Thanks for the great tips...can't wait to see how it all unfolds for you!

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    1. When I put out my winter sowing, I didn't know if anything would sprout. Half the reason I added the heliopsis is because it grows so easily. I wanted to be able to grow something! It's been crazy cold here, too so I'm hoping that with warmer temps I'll have more seed action in all those containers. :o)

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  4. Thanks for sharing your experience. I am trying to grow milkweed from seed and I haven't had any luck with the common milkweed but the butterfly weed has been a success.

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    1. I wonder if the common milkweed needs to go through a freeze/thaw process to help break open the seed coating. They might be good candidates for winter sowing or just reseeding. Orange milkweed is easy to grow, which is part of the reason I love it so much. :o)

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  5. DH put his vegetable garden seedlings outside last weekend -- all day, in the full sun -- and now they look like Mr. Bill. I should have warned him not to leave them out all day but I was doing other things. Normally they live in near the window upstairs and they are recuperating up there now.

    Using the clear plastic cups is a great idea.

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    1. I know I shouldn't be laughing at this, but it's kind of funny. They probably thought they'd been dumped in the middle of the Sahara. Those little plastic cups are total winners. I love it when cheap=fabulous. :o)

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  6. Using the grow lights is way trickier than I thought ... too close and there are nutrition problems, too far away and growth gets leggy. And watering them needs fine calibration. My light stand is in the basement this year, so I am getting my exercise going up and down stairs to check water, lights, etc. I have some annual flowers going, no food crops. Last frost date is still a month away, so I have much tending and repotting and monitoring yet to do.

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    1. The grow lights definitely have a learning curve. I've found I have to be a lot more attentive to the tomatoes and peppers than to the zinnias I grew last year. But part of that is because I started these so early. I use a little watering can to make sure I don't drown them when I water and I check on them all the time. I feel like I'm running a botanical daycare on my kitchen counter. :o)

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  7. I love your idea with the clear plastic cups. I have some left from a part we had (two years ago). I now finally have a use for them. I start all my vegetable seedlings in autumn and grow them through winter, so am just starting to plant some seed now.

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    1. The idea for the cups popped up when I was looking for a tall, deep, slightly narrow container that was cheaper than plastic nursery pots. It's working so well I"m going to use it again next year. :o)

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  8. Not sow easy after all, I guess. I meant to plant seeds indoors this year but didn't. Might be a good thing, I'm away from home a lot and wouldn't have been able to give them the attention they seem to need.

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    1. It's easy in the sense that it's not physically or mentally challenging, but it does require attentiveness and commitment. Like all gardening, it's a great exercise in observation. :o) If I traveled, I wouldn't be able to grow seeds, either. My daughter called them 'my other children'.

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  9. Great idea to use the plastic cups! Now your Tomato and Pepper plants look very healthy and should be ready to plant in the soil when it's safe for you. So fun to follow your updates!

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  10. I'm impressed! The only seeds I grow are ones I can stick in the ground outside and leave to their own devices - and I've only been minimally successful with those. It looks as though this year has been a great learning experience for you with respect to starting seeds indoor. Next year, I'm sure you'll have healthy seedlings galore!

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    1. Thanks! The first real garden I ever had was a veggie/flower garden grown from seed, except for the tomato plant. It was all beginners luck. Start with something easy like zinnias, basil, parsley, or sunflowers to build your confidence. :o)

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  11. I like the idea of using plastic cups so you can see the roots growing! I need to sow seeds this weekend.

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    1. Watching the roots develop is really cool. It's like having a window into the soil. :o)

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  12. Tammy, I see you've sown in the coir pellets. Do you like them? I didn't like because of they dry very soon. Your tomatoes are healthy and the winter sown seed are enough well - mostly sprouted! Mine are not till now --the very thick snow is lying over my seeds.
    Have a nice weekend!

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    1. I used coir pellets last year, too, and I love them! The seedlings don't die from damping off like they do with peat pellets. Plus, peat isn't renewable. They do dry out faster but I don't mind watering them. Being a bit dry is healthier than being too moist.

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  13. Interesting how being too close to lights has strange effects.

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    1. That was a new one to me. I thought being close to the lights was just what they needed. I guess you can have too much of a good thing. :o)

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  14. I'm impressed that you got pepper to sprout, period - I've flunked every time I've tried them from seed. My theory is that grow lights are more complicated than winter sowing, since you have more control and therefore can make more mistakes. Winter sowing is great because everything takes care of itself. If it sprouts, it spouts. If not, c'est la vie.

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    1. Peppers like warmth, light, and humidity. My 'greenhouse' is in a warm corner of the kitchen and the foil covering it keeps it even warmer. I'd try again. The grow lights definitely take some tweaking.

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  15. Tammy,

    Just a warning - I've been trying to get rid of garlic chive seedlings and clumps in my garden for 5 years and they are still coming up! Don't EVER let them go to seed or you'll never get rid of them. In NoVA they tend to go to seed in late August/early September too, when you are likely to be very busy, and those suckers have a germination rate of close to 100%. They will come up everywhere - in your lawn, between cracks in pavers, even in the dense center of the rootball of your perennials (those are the worst! very hard to remove w/o cutting up the plant). I have reason to believe they can grow back from even a fraction of a root left in the ground, too. If you must have them, I recommend putting them in a pot away from your garden beds, and cut off the flowers right after they fade. Don't repeat my mistake!

    Wendy

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    1. OMG! That is such good advice! I've had to pry nasty weeds out of the middle of my plants before and have nearly killed the plant in the process. I will be sure to deadhead them. Pink sundrops will grow from just a tiny root fragment, too. Such pains in the butt!

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  16. Time, talent and patience are working for you. With such success, tell me, what will you do with the excess from your bountiful crops? Or is there such a thing as excess?

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    1. Thanks! I think giving them time to just do their thing is a big part of growing seeds. The extra seedlings are going to friends and the Dirtworks plant swap. I've found that people are more likely to try gardening if you stick a familiar plant in their hand and tell them they can grow it in a pot. :o)

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  17. I'm so impressed! I usually just direct sow, but next year I think I'm going to try to sow some indoors. Thanks for all the tips. I'm so impressed with the roots and size of that tomato plant!

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  18. Wow...things are looking really good!! Great idea on the see through cups for the tomatoes. The poor purple peppers (try saying that 5 times fast)!! I can't wait until you can plant everything in your garden...it's such a treat to watch them progress!

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    1. Our weather has been so weird I think they'll probably be spending the night inside for a few more weeks. April can be unpredictable. I'm direct sowing carrots into a big pot this week. Finally!

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  19. Everything looks good from way over here. I like the idea of using the plastic cups for sowing seeds so as to be able to view their growth, and check their moisture content.
    Gosh when I read the stresses you are going through just to get seeds started during the cold wintry season, I feel almost guilty with my sunshine over here.

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    1. It's true that growing seeds can be trickier but we also don't have to worry about plants becoming invasive as much as you do. Cypress vine is well behaved here, while it's a beast in warmer climates.

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  20. I suppose this isn't the best forum to admit that I've never grown anything from seed. Does it count if I've had things reseed? Patience is a virtue that I do not posess.

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    1. Reseeding counts! I can be very patient until suddenly, I'm not. There is a firecracker at the end of my very long fuse. But the sparks are over quickly. I avoided seeds for a long time because I just didn't have the time to deal with them.

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  21. Your plants look great!! That tomato is quite impressive, very sturdy and healthy looking. Obviously you're doing a great job by the look of all those big roots. I've had various issues with funny coloured leaves from time to time and usually a repot, as you've done, in better soil does the trick.

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    1. I'm a bit amazed at the tomatoes every time I see them. Those are some super seeds! Repotting them and giving them some kelp was definitely a big help. :o)

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  22. Good lessons learned. Despite your bumps your tomato and pepper plants look good. You're going to have nice produce this summer!

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    1. As much as I love my flower garden, it's thrilling to eat food you've grown yourself. :o)

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  23. Hi Tammy, with the drinks cup pots and hot skewer - great minds think alike! I have a load of these that have foxglove seedlings in. We've also been given a chilli growing kit that contains five types of chilli peppers we we've recently started those off indoors. They came with the coir pots and freeze-dried/shrunk compost that expands when watered. We'll have to see how they do. Thanks for the tips on the purple spots/phosphorous deficiency and leggy seedlings, I'll look out for this in our chilli seedling if/when they germinate.

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    1. I grew chili peppers one year just to see if they'd grow. I ended up with a bush or red hot peppers that a friend turned into salsa. :o) Good luck! A warming pad is great for heating up the soil a bit to encourage them to germinate. Gotta love those clear plastic cups!

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  24. I have found my seedlings are pretty resilient and if they aren't I have more seeds...warmer weather forecast here too but we shall see. Good to see those seedlings taking off.

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    1. Everything about seeds amazes me. I feel like I have a farm on my kitchen counter. :o)

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  25. I bought seeds yesterday and am about to start some of my own experiments so I am glad to have read this. I have not room indoors (our kitchen counter being extremely small) so I am going to use my cold frame. I have tomatoes to start as well as flower seeds. I like the idea of the clear drinking glasses. Quite ingenious and lets you track the root development. I think I may use this myself. We will see how it goes....

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    1. I think a cold frame is a cross between an indoor greenhouse and my winter sowing. You'll probably end up with a lot of seedlings. I love how cheap those little plastic cups are. :o)

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  26. I had problems with the first lot of tomatoes I sowed as well so I have re-sown. Had the same problems with peppers too.I think I just started them too early this year considering how cold it has been. Hope it's not going to be a difficult gardening season.

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    1. We had a very cold march and I was worried I had started them so soon that they would outgrow the small counter space I had for them. Fortunately, we've had some warmer temps and I've been sticking them outside. I think your weather will perk up, too. :o)

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  27. Seeds are so difficult! Jeannine

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  28. I am so impressed with the list of plants you have grown from seed! I really haven't got neither the space nor the light for seedlings indoors, at the moment I am trying to keep 20 plug plants alive until it is warm enough for them to go outside - they arrived 4 weeks earlier than thg nursery said they would and we still have frost during night. Yikes!

    I do have some seeds to sow though, when we finally get some warmer weather, I have bought some white and purple sunflowers, never grown that before, and some poppies, just waiting for spring!

    Good luck with all your seedlings, I have grown peppers in the past, many years ago, but I grew them indoors, in front of a big picture window. That's how you have to do it in Norway :-)

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    1. You should give winter sowing a try. It's the easiest thing ever. All you need is a plastic container, soil, seeds, and a lid. Stick it outside and let nature do the work. Your sunflowers sound beautiful! :o)

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    2. Oh, well, that I have done :-) That's how I grow my lilies and Dregea sinensis, and now also hellebores, but I guess it won't work with things like vegetables, they probably need more warmth?

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  29. Well done, Tammy! Great seedlings and a lot of them. Thank you for this informative post. I think you'll have a lot of joy of your seedlings later this summer..

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  30. What a huge list of plants you've sowed! Great that you worked out what was going wrong with some of your seedlings and have managed to rescue them. I hope all the others do well for you :-)

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  31. Your post brought back memories of the years I grew plants in pot under a grow light in my basement. Haven't done that in a while. Maybe next year as I am still unpacking here. Can you believe the weather we are having? In two days almost every spring plantin the yard has bloomed.

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  32. I love the idea of the clear cups. My orchid is grown in a similar pot and it is very helpful.

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  33. Great to read about your experiences, and that is a magnificent looking tomato plant that you finished up with. I ran in to similar problems with coir pellets and capillary mating, I love the pellets but I have found that I need to pot them on faster than I had thought I would to prevent the roots doing that. I think some of my seedlings must be over watered too, so thank you for that, I must remember that just because the top of the compost looks dry it doesn't mean the whole pot is dry!!

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  34. There is so much to learn. It makes me look at my little packets of seeds & bulbs and go ... ah, maybe I'll wait ?!! How many years have you ventured into seed propagation, CM?

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  35. I missed out on the winter sowing, so I broadcast some seeds today.....will they sprout? Who knows...any sprout is a victory.

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