Friday, March 28, 2014

Little Seed

 Here's a post about seed starting.

Once upon a time, long long ago, my seed starting methods were kind of haphazard. I'd go around the yard and collect a bunch of nursery pots, the 4" kind, fill them with garden dirt, then empty my seed packets into each one. The more the merrier, was my adage.

I'd watch as the seedlings germinated - a tangled, leggy mess. Some would die from damp, most just lay there, struggling. Eventually I'd toss the lot in the compost and buy ready-grown starts 3 months later. It was mildly stressful, now that I stop to think about it.

As the years wore on I had more success, but I didn't much enjoy seed starting season. It always seemed such a high-maintenance process. So fraught with disaster. Then I happened upon the BBC Gardener's World magazine. All the gardeners used tidy, sectioned, black trays, special seed starting soil, and special heat mats. Their seedlings were strong and mesmerizingly green. Accordingly, because I am nothing if not highly impressionable, I bought some black trays, some seed starting mix, and a heat mat. All of a sudden I had organized trays of healthy seedlings. No damp anywhere. There was still the minor issue of emptying the entire packet in each module, but that was solved with some early but judicious thinning.

The spring I had 129 tomato seedlings jockeying for room in a small, plastic greenhouse AND on every available south-facing windowsill in the house, I had to admit that my More! More! More! seeding habit needed curbing. I live in a city lot - it's roomy but it's no farm. So I tried the One Seed/One Square method although if I 'm being perfectly honest I mostly did the Two Seeds/One Square method because it's hard to break old habits. It worked amazingly. So that's what I do now.

Sheila's Seed Starting Pictorial:

First, seed trays. Good for the city lot gardener. Cheap, durable if handled politely, and two can fit easily onto one large heat mat. Yes, you can use any old pot you have kicking around but these compact modules don't require a lot of soil, they won't tip over when you move the tray, AND they will hold one largish tomato/pepper until you transplant it out into the garden. Plus, they are easy to store.

Next, proper soil. I use a product called Sunshine Mix #4. Whatever you use should be well-draining or specially formulated for seed starting. Fill each module 3/4 full of soil and water well. Then add your SEED. Cover with a little soil. Water again, but only slightly.

Heat hats. I like these. Yes, they are an absolute pain to store the rest of the year but they add Instant Atmosphere to the process. They keep the soil moist, warm, and slightly humid. This is important if you are keeping your seeds in an otherwise unheated place, like this greenhouse. Yes, this IS the high-tech version of a plastic bag, but it holds its shape better than a plastic bag.
Heat Mats. I like these too. You can cut the germination time by at least 1/2, if not more, by using heat mats. They will also keep any tomato or pepper perfectly happy through the worst spring imaginable, until it's time to go out into the garden. Shop around: our local agricultural store charges 30% less than the local garden centre.
 Adequate storage. This photo isn't particularly brilliant but there are two double heat mats here, one under the bench and one in front of the bench. The trays under the bench stay until they're about 1/2" high, then get moved to a brighter, sunnier location. Lack of light will produce spindly, leggy seedlings.

Label. Label all your seedlings, even if you think your memory is stupendously amazing. My method is this: (plant name) Black Krim, (date) March 1st.

I always place the tags in the same place on each tray: middle centre. This way the tag won't catch the heat hat if you're like me and you like to constantly see how your little seedlings are doing.


Thin. Once the seedlings are about this high I thin them out and move them around a bit, so they aren't always on a heat mat. Tomatoes and peppers get most heat mat time. Some seeds, like annual flowers or quick sprouters like lettuce, don't get ANY heat mat time.

Rotate For Light. When the seedlings are up and growing, rotate the trays each day or two, so the light is evenly distributed. Switch sides on the heat mats, turn them around, and so on, so the seedlings have the opportunity to grow straight.

Growing up out of the nursery. If you're like me and you've got way too many seedlings, turf some of them out to the cold frame.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Hand In Glove

I don't know about you, but I am an injudicious gardening-glove picker-outer. I'm also cheap. Not the most fortuitous of combinations. Instead of acquiring sturdy finger protection, I often end up with flimsy, weak-walled sweat-havens that are only too happy to spend all their time impregnated with dirt, giving me pruney fingers.

A few weeks ago I ceased all this silliness. I decided to look for The Perfect Glove. I would still practice thrift, perhaps not quite so stringently, but even more critically, I would work on my injudiciousness. With those two thoughts in mind I made a list of everything I required in a glove:

1. Finger protection: thorns, biting bugs, glass, rusty nails, the odd attacking snake/squirrel/chicken.
2. I want my fingers to stay clean. My heart sinks when I peel off my gloves and my fingers are ingrained with hours of dirt. I wear gloves to AVOID this scenario, not encourage it.
3. Warmth. Who wants to dig around in the winter garden with numb digits? Not I.
4. Breathability: they should never, under any circumstances, turn my hand into a gross white prune.
5. They must be easy to remove and put on. Bonus points if I can put them on with one hand.

With that criteria in hand, I assessed my current gardening gloves. I had two types.

First, the bulk buy glove. 

Pro: Comfortable, breathable, with a useful grippy feature about them. Lightweight fabric makes them cosy to wear. Washable. Reinforced fabric across the knuckles. Leathery-like substance over the fingers. And I can put these babies on with my nose.

Con: They have irritating lumpy seams at the end of the fingers that continually irk me. And forget wearing them in the rain. Your hands will get wet, muddy, sweaty, AND they'll turn into prunes.

Rating: B (B+ if you only wear them in sunny weather)
Price: $

The Atlas GRIP.

I have, over the years, purchased many many pairs of these gloves.  Sold everywhere. Often on sale. At the moment I have five pairs kicking around, in varying stages of decrepitude.

Pro: These are great gloves if cheap and cheerful are your main criteria. The palm side is rubberized while the back is usefully elasticized. The rubber is thick enough to endure many a hearty rose pruning. The rubber is molded so that it WANTS to slide onto your hand, which gives them an edge in the Easy To Get On category.

Con: Theoretically the rubber/elasticized fabric combination seems a sound plan, but in execution it doesn't quite work. The rubber on the back of the finger tips extends only to the first joint - just enough to ensure that you'll be tempted to imagine them Dunk-Proof. But they aren't. And once that elastic gets a whiff of moisture these gloves become Graspy Cold Gloves of Hell. No protective coating over the knuckles, an omission I've rued more than once.

Rating: C+
Price: $ (I'd give them half a $ if I knew how to do it on the keyboard)


I needed more in the waterproofing category, with a little less cracking of rubber. A clerk at a garden centre told me I needed leather. It was an intriguing thought, so I went with this pair:

 The Gardening Store Specialty Glove.

Pro: Shockingly comfortable. My frugal soul is pained to admit that sometimes you DO get what you pay for. Leather knuckle cover. Sturdy leather finger tips. Highly breathable, with a clever hint of elastic around the back of the wrists (prevents dirt from tumbling into the finger stalls).

Con: We were inseparable until it started raining, whereupon I discovered that my lovely leather is useless when wet. They inhaled the water, the (non-leather) portions grew sodden, and they looked like giant, deformed mitts of mud. So not attractive. We had to part ways.

Rating: A (as long as it's not raining, but you could always just wear them around the house)
Price: $$$

With the knowledge that the rain wasn't going to be letting up any time soon, I went back to the garden centre and bought another pair. A waterproof pair. At the till I was told that these were really excellent gloves. That buoyed me considerably.

The Atlas "Best Damn Gardening Glove Ever" (or something to that effect)

Pro: Again, shockingly comfortable gloves. Your hand positively slides in (the word sinuously wouldn't go amiss here). The rubber extends well up the arm, which allows all sorts of watery scenarios, from rescuing bees in watering cans to working in the rain or wet. The rubber appears more durable than that of the Atlas Grip, which perhaps explains why they stamped Vinylove next to the size. It's how I felt, wearing these.

Con: Haven't found any yet, but perhaps working in hot sun would be one of them. Think hot pruney fingers. Fevered brow. Low comfort levels. That sort of thing.

Rating: A+
Price: $$

So there you have it: my life in gloves. What should I try next? What sort of gloves do you use? I know some say that comparisons are odious, but in this case I feel it's warranted.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

A Walk Through My Greenhouse

 Come along for the ride - all 14 minutes of it - of my greenhouse. The video had to be compressed and adapted so it might not be as clear as I intended! Feel free to ask questions.


Monday, March 10, 2014

Jake, Bly, and Astroman Go To The Beach

"Lucky there aren't any dogs around to sniff us."

"My Beiber hair is getting in the way of my eyes."

"I'm having trouble breathing in this environment."

"Keep the helmet on, Astroman."

"Let's climb up this wood face."

"Look at me - I can hold on to the wood AND smile for the camera!"

"Astroman is having Astroman hold on..."

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Head Shots

I don't normally take photographs in malls, but I made an exception for this particular display. I think shots like these need to be spread far and wide for all to see.

Now where do I get myself one of those headdresses?

Or do I have to make it myself?