Thursday, April 10, 2014

Big Cups of Happy: A Seedling Success Story

Sometimes things just work out. When I discovered last summer that nursery plants were packed with pesticides, I decided to grow all my own annuals and only plant perennials in the fall after the systemic pesticides they'd been given the previous spring were no longer active.

But as confident as I am in my gardening abilities, I was frustrated and slightly worried I wouldn't be able to grow the plants I really wanted. Some of my favorites, such as trailing lantana and 'Blue Daze' evoluvus are only grown from cuttings and seed isn't available. So to resolve this I did what I always do: I created a plan, convinced myself it would work, and jumped right in. My reward is plastic cups plump with seedlings to help fill my garden.


Plants Under Grow Lights:


I've already transplanted my ammi majus 'White Lace' and 'Graceland' to extra large 32 oz cups to give the tap roots plenty of room. These have huge root systems! The other plants are jealous. I just consider it botanical motivation.


The leaves of ammi majus remind me of Golden Alexanders' (zizia aptera) while ammi visnaga foliage looks like fennel. Both support beneficial insects and have beautiful white flowers. 


 All my plants are still under grow lights but on warm days I take them outside to help harden them off. Some of my plants have already been transferred to larger pots from their original 16 oz plastic cups.


Annual Scarlet Flax is so easy to grow. It's even sending out new growth at the base. However, I found its letter to management requesting  warmer weather and a different paper umbrella in its drinks a bit snarky.


Gomphrena is one of my favorite summer annuals. I had a self-sown seedling surprise me one year so I gave germinating it a try. This is 'Mixed Colors' which grows to about 2 ft tall and has purple, pink, white, and orange ball shaped flowers.  Sweet basil seeds from High Mowing Seeds picked up at a Dave Matthews Band concert last summer are growing in one of the pots as is a single phacelia sprout.


 Gomphrena, also known as globe amaranth, needs darkness to germinate so I covered the cups with newspaper until sprouts appeared.


The cerinthe 'Pride of Gibraltar' plants are huge! I bought the seeds on impulse and had no idea what to expect. They've been very easy to grow.


Pictured from top left are 'Mixed Colors' gomphrena, 'Pride of Gibralter' cerinthe, ammi (the flowers on both a.majus and a.visnaga look the same), and annual scarlet flax.


Smokey bronze fennel and 'Mortgage Lifter' tomatoes will keep me as well as the pollinators well fed.

So whatever happened to all the plants I wintersowed?

They grew, too!!


Instead of wintersowing in small containers or milk jugs, I used empty containers and tented them with thin plastic propped up by bamboo stakes and held tight with bungee cords. After a wind storm caused the stakes to pierce the plastic, I topped them with ping pong balls. It was highly effective and allowed me the amazing opportunity to buy 144 ping pong balls for $9. I have now a gross of balls, a statement that makes my husband nervous.


Black Eyed Susans, Malva 'Zebrina' (French hollyhocks), linaria 'Fairy Boquet'

NEWS FLASH: Two local nurseries, Merrifield's Garden Center and The Farm at Broad Run are now selling annuals, herbs, and vegetables that have been grown without any pesticides! Hooray!



74 comments:

  1. I hope the weather warms up for you soon. What an amazing start to your summer garden. Now to find a use for the leftover ping pong balls.

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    1. I like the absurdity of owning too many ping pong balls. I'm starting more annuals in a few weeks. I'll be growing nine different types of zinnias. Those need a lot of heat so I wait until mid-April. But I'm looking forward to sowing more seeds. :o)

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  2. You've had success indoors and out! I'd like to try winter sowing in pots--you've convinced me to try it next year. I guess I'll have to invest in some of those balls, myself. ;-)

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    1. Definitely give wintersowing a try! It's so easy. My buying options were 6 balls for $5 or 144 for $9. I just couldn't resist the jumbo package. :o)

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  3. All look great! The flowers so colorful and beautiful. Your seedling make me so jealous... Really stunning!

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    1. Because our winters are cold, I start them indoors under grow lights in light weight seed starting soil. I think that makes a big difference. I take them outside whenever I can for real sunshine to strengthen them. Keep growing with seeds and you'll learn as you go. :o)

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  4. Goodness - you have been busy and (sow) successful too. I have sown Ammi this year but it is very slow to germinate - your seedlings are way ahead of mine.

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    1. I started mine in very lightweight seed starting soil under grow lights and they germinated in a week. Ammi majus 'White Lace' are especially vigorous. I also winter sowed some, too. The picture taken through the hole in the plastic sheeting is also a. majus. I was so determined to figure out how to grow it, that I sowed some indoors as a back up. Maybe yours just need more time.

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  5. You have spent your winter very wisely and productively. And I love the ping-pong balls.

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    1. Thanks! But next week when I post about my lavender disaster, you may change your mind! I get cranky and restless in the winter if I don't have a project besides work to focus on. This was a big help.

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  6. Wow! I'm impressed! Every year I have just a little more success at starting seeds indoors but it is still a struggle. I love that you are growing all your own annuals! I'll have to try that too...it is so hard to find pesticide free annuals!

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    1. The funky foil wrapped 'greenhouses' are hugely successful. They'll never win any points for aesthetics but they're incredibly effective and I can adjust the lights/foil as needed. I was worried about growing my annuals, but it's been easier than I thought it would be.

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  7. WOW!! All your seeds have done extremely well.....I'm excited for you.
    I'm sure you'll come up with another idea to put the 144 balls to good use.

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    1. Maybe I'll paint eyes on them and hide them in the garden to scare people. ;o)

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  8. I am incredibly impressed!! The ping pong ball stake toppers are pure genius -- only a science teacher would problem-solve like that. The 32 oz drink cups in tupperware tubs is another solution that just seems so obvious, but I never would have come up with it.

    Ammi majus and gomphrena are definitely on my list to grow and now you have convinced me to start them from seed next year. Gonna do it! (Love getting inspiration from your blog, both plant ideas and inventive ways to do things!)

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    1. Thanks so much and it's awesome to see you in the blogosphere! I can't believe how easy these plants have been to grow! My funky greenhouses have worked wonders. Ammi likes a big drink every other day so the little plastic tubs help minimize my watering schedule. I ordered the giant plastic cups from a restaurant supply co.

      As for the ping pong balls, I just needed something round to prevent the stakes from poking through and they seemed like a logical choice. I had a few handy, so I gave them a try, and it worked. Yay! :o)

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  9. Your plants look so healthy. We have ours growing in the living room with both a grow light and natural sunlight. They are weak and leggy. Can you tell me why?

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    1. Tomatoes need lots of light and warmth. If they're leggy, move them right under the light and bring the light down much closer. They're weak because they're putting out extra growth to reach for the light. Carefully transplant them into a deeper pot/cup with fertilizer enhanced potting soil burying part of the stem as you go and give them more light/warmth. They should perk up.

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  10. Amazing! Glad it seems to be all working out for you. When did you start your tomatoes? They look ready to plop in the ground. Mine are still tiny spindly things and it's making me nervous.

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    1. I started mine the third week of Feb under grow lights. They're much bigger than they appear in these photos. I've already transplanted them once from a cup of just seed starting soil to a cup with reg. potting soil enhanced with fertilizer. I'm sure they'll be in the big white cups by the beginning of May. If yours are tiny and spindly, they need more light and warmth. You can also give them a weak solution of liquid kelp meal mixed with water. Tomatoes create huge root systems so they may need bigger cups/pots, too.

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  11. Your seedlings look great and will give your garden a good head start this year. Gomphrena is a favorite in my garden too.

    Several nurseries in our area use pesticide-free growers so it's getting easier.

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    1. Thanks! I do think a pesticide-free trend is starting due to consumer demand. Finally!

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  12. You're a woman of patience, determination and talent. Big congratulations on you. If this summer turns out to be a short one, you're way ahead in the gardening game.

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    1. You are so kind, Lee! It's exciting to feel like I have my own mini-nursery on my patio and in my basement. Watching a plant grow from a seed is thrilling to me. :o)

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  13. Your seedlings look so healthy! What a job you've done. I hope they reward you with beautiful flowers all summer. Also, on a side note--I was having a medical procedure early this morning and so when I opened your post with the sign "It will all be Okay", well..it was pretty cool.

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    1. Yay! It was meant to be. :o) I've been giving the seedlings a bit of tough love lately by putting them outside in a warm breeze to harden off and develop thicker stems. They always seem so relieved when I put them back under the grow lights. Life in the Greenhouse Spa is just so easy!

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  14. Great job! You've done much better with your seed starting than I've done. I'll have to copy your technique next year.

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    1. It works and it's easy! What more can you ask for? :o)

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  15. Oh wow!!! Way to go girrrrrl!!! You have my respect, such FANTASTIC results, I'm sure they will look fab in the garden and the wildlife can enjoy them, along with the people and safely!!! xxx

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    1. Thanks! I'm excited to add the ammi to my container garden since I killed it last year. It's rarely grown here, same with cerinthe. I'm hoping the ammi attracts hordes of beneficial insects. :o)

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  16. Well a loud Woop! Woop! to you on your huge seed success. Nothing beats that feeling when that tiny seed comes to life....
    And good for you, being pure in your process :-)

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    1. Thanks! Seeing those plants do so well has been incredible, especially considering I don't have a greenhouse. :o)

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  17. Oh my gosh, Tammy, I can't believe how successful you are growing your own plants from seeds! Congratulations, I would be very happy as well! This is all very encouraging to try it, too! I can't wait to see all these little plants planted out in your garden and add tons of color and joy :-). Wishing you a wonderful weekend!
    Christina

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    1. Thank you! Thank you! You should try it! Cerinthe would do very well for you, as would everything else I grew. I'm growing zinnias next. :o)

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  18. Look at you, mighty garden warrior princess!! I love your gumption! Way to go!

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    1. I do gumption well. :o) It's much a much nicer way of saying "bold and stubborn". But I'll take mighty garden warrior princess, too. :o)

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  19. Well done! I like the look of the Scarlet Flax even if it is a bit mouthy.

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    1. Thanks! I have a lone phacelia sprout but I'm hoping for more. The flax is a bit sassy. Perhaps I've made their accommodations a bit too cozy. Maybe they need a bit of tough love! :o)

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  20. You certainly are doing very well! I am jealous of your Gomphrena. They are such a nice plant but I have never tried them from seed as I would have to start them too early. You do have a green thumb.

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    1. Grow some gomphrena!! I started mine in late Feb. They were very easy to grow although they've been a bit whiny about the hardening off process. Getting used to real weather and sunlight is a slow process and they've been quick to share their opinion by wilting. Sheesh!

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  21. Wow ... I am so impressed! Your seed growing abilities are definitely WAY beyond mine. I don't think I'm familiar with ammi but I love it. I will have to do some research on it.

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    1. I'd never seen it either until last year when I saw it in a seed catalog and I fell in love. It's been really easy to grow. The secret to my success is to grow plants that don't need much help. :o)

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  22. Congrats on your successes!~ I just started some seeds ~1 week ago. Some seeds have sprouted (Hooray!) but the seedlings are still ....miniscule. :P

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    1. Minuscule is just fine. They all have to start somewhere. :o)

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  23. Great to see you have room for all these plants indoors while waiting for summer outside. I’d love to do the same but have nowhere to put the plants, my cooker is actually the best place for the 3 seed trays I have indoors still, and they have to be moved to the kitchen table every time I need the cooker. Oh, what don’t we do for our gardens!

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    1. How do you give them light while they're in the cooker? I'd probably cook them on accident. You are also probably starting a lot more plants than I am. But I'm getting ready to add more greenhouses next week and start more seeds. Yay!!

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    2. The seed trays only get natural light from the kitchen window, and the cooker is quite close to the window that’s why they have to stay there. It’s only a few plants, I am not growing much from seed, I never do as I don’t have anywhere to keep them. I have a few trays outside too with hardy plants so the seedlings can tolerate the cold nights we still have but that’s all. A grow light above the cooker would probably have been better for them but I hope to bring them outside soon :-)

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  24. It's so great to find solutions and Ideas that work the way we want them to.... Thanks for sharing your tips they are just wonderful!

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  25. Look at you go friend! My goodness did you just rock it! I am in awe of all that you accomplished pre gardening season...man!! This is just so awesome! Oh and I LOVE that you picked up some seeds at a Dave concert!!!! And it makes me sing to hear that there are local nurseries now selling plants without pesticides! Now I have to figure out if there are any local nurseries around here that do the same. Fantastic post just fantastic! A wonderful weekend to you! Nicole xo

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    1. Dave is a serious environmentalist. Dude walks the walk! My friends at Broad Run told me they started growing the plants after I vented about bee-killing pesticides. I was blown away! Made me feel so good. :o) Growing stuff this winter helped me deal with the "It's cold and I can't garden" blah's. It helps that I grow easy stuff. Your kids would love gomphrena. It has such weirdly cool flowers that look like little balls. Have a great week! :o)

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  26. You have been busy! I added Gomprena to my garden two years ago and have come to like this plant. I have always admired Ammi majus, but have never grown it. Maybe I'll add it to my garden this year. The ping pong balls are a great idea. Isn't it great that spring has finally arrived here.

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    1. I'd never heard of ammi until I saw it in a seed catalog last year and I just fell in love. I've always liked Queen Anne's Lace but dislike how aggressive/invasive it is. I am so relieved that spring has arrived! It's about damn time!

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  27. You are having amazing success with the seed starting. Hope spring weather settles for you soon so you can get all those plant babies where they need to be.

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    1. I'd love to get them all outside for good but our spring can be unpredictable so they've been bouncing back and forth between the grow lights and the patio for several days.

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  28. I am so impressed with your seedlings! It has been so cold here that I haven't planted any seeds, but I bought some on the weekend to get going. Snow if forecast for Tuesday however, so it still may have to wait a few days,,,

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    1. Thanks! I haven't planted any seeds outdoors yet, either except for a freebie pack of lettuce seeds. I started these inside in mid-Feb. It's a great way to deal with winter blah's. We have snow forecast for Tuesday night, too. So weird!

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  29. About a year ago I was planning to grow some plants from seed but it never happened. Very impressed by what you've done, though. Make a plan and assume it will work - a great approach to life and gardening! Your selection of annuals is very different from the ones I grow.

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    1. I'm a realistic optimist. I think most things will work as long as I've thought them through. If they don't work then it's a lesson in what NOT to do and I'll try again. But onward always. :o)

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  30. Do you EVER sleep? There are hours of work here and I am deeply impressed! I don't buy bedding plants - I grow my own, but only about 4 or 5 different ones. You are in a whole different league! Hurrah for the nurseries growing without pesticides!

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    1. Yes!! I love sleep! I just don't watch much TV, have a fairly high energy level, and my two kids are 19 and 22 and are off at University and the Army so I have been relieved of my sports/kids duties. Growing these plants is so satisfying. It feels like a kick in the ass to all the nurseries that send out plants full of pesticides. This weekend I'm starting nine different types of zinnias. Excited!!

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  31. Oh, you are so productive! I am always behind schedule on these things.

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  32. Tammy,
    I LOVE your ad hoc greenhouse using ping pong balls...what a super creative idea. My garden is a blank canvas! You've inspired me. Started zinnias and they are already peeping through the soil. To celebrate the cherry blossoms I made your white chocolate cherry cookies using Cointreau...those cookies are the bomb!

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    1. I am sorry I am so behind on replying to comments. I'm so glad you made the cherry cookies! I love them! Zinnias are one of my favorite flowers. I'll be starting mine soon, too. :o) I love the weirdness of the ping pong balls. :o)

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  33. Hi Tammy, I'm loving your balls. I'm too lazy to grow annuals and prefer plants that don't expire after going to seed. Do you find some of these annuals self-seed and spread about the garden? That could save you a lot of work (which might be taking up by weeding enthusiastic self-seeders out). It would be a dream to have an annual border that fully self seeds, every year with each plant ending up in a different place each season so the whole thing is always changing. Oh - and it should be completely maintenance free. Is that too much to ask?

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    1. Actually, I love the idea of a self-seeding bed! I have some self-seeding perennials in the garden but no annuals. Although, I'm hoping my annual black eyed susans will fill that job for me.

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  34. I salute you! I just had a conversation with a grower who uses no pesticides herself. She was frustrated by the heavy use of her suppliers, making her mission that much more difficult.

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    1. There needs to be an entire paradigm shift in the way we grow plants but the shift truly has to start with the consumer who needs to be willing to accept a less than perfect plant. Our desire for perfection - regardless of the cost - is what drives supply. The change starts with education, not only for gardeners but for the masses who enjoy temporary exterior seasonal decorating using flowers.

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  35. Fabulous array of seedlings, love the ping pong ball usage! I'm growing both of those ammo versions too, my zinnias are looking scarily leggy though. Did you water your winter-sown seedlings at all or did the plastic keep everything moist enough?

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    1. I didn't water them at all but did need to take off the plastic and water them this week when I realized they were frying a bit. Quite a bit of condensation builds up in there plus there are holes for moisture to run through so they stayed moist. Zinnias like a lot of sun and warm temps.

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  36. I am also looking for a nursery that grows without pesticides..

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