Thursday, April 3, 2014

Why Wearing Protection Is Sometimes A Good Thing've planted your seeds. What next?

This is a post about creating prime conditions for your soon-to-be-seedlings, and your tender-just-planted-in-the-cold-cold-garden seedlings. As you might have guessed, it involves a lot of plastic.  

There's really only one thing you have to remember for your soon-to-be-seedlings: You want a moist warm, environment, but not SO warm and moist that you can grow mushrooms or molds. And once those slightly sprouted seeds dry out that's it. Game over.

If you have a greenhouse or cold frame, this is much easier, because you already have a brightly lit, warm, outdoor place to leave all those trays. No frost worries. No rain deluges. You can use all sorts of light-weight items to cover your trays. Lots of people swear by windowsills but I'm not a huge fan, simply because one usually needs to add in all sorts of artificial conditions, like grow lights or a fan, and that can be a pain to maintain on one's windowsill for 2-3 months.

Yes, I DID say 2-3 months. Sometimes longer. I start tomatoes and peppers in early February; they get planted in the garden late May.

Here's a quick and easy method for seeds in a single pot: an old ziplock and sticks to weight it down. Leave this on until the seedlings break the surface of the soil, then remove. If overnight temperatures plummet you might want to pop it on before your plant goes to bed at night.

Call me obsessive but whenever I get a large plastic bag like this one I hoard it. These are perfect tray bags: lightweight and unusually clear. This means they won't block too much light once the seedlings emerge, so you can leave it on cold days. If you're worried about it smothering the seedlings, stick a few chopsticks or pruning sticks upright around the perimeter, a few in the centre, then lay the plastic on top.

A ziplock on a tiny 9-cell. These are thinned tomato starts, and I'm keeping a lid on them for 10 days or so until they've recovered from being transplanted.

This is my preferred method with large trays of seedlings because it's easy to manage. One thing to remember: on days when the greenhouse can go from 40ºF to 100ºF in an hour you want to make sure you're around to REMOVE those heat hats...

Okay, now let's look at how you can protect your newly transplanted seedlings:

For your teeny little just-planted-in-the-garden seedlings (in my March garden that would be: peas, broad beans, arugula, purple sprouting broccoli, turnips, mizuna, and spinach), you want to provide a few things: transplant shock protection for the first week, protection from night frosts, and protection from rodents or slugs. You want those little seedlings to survive until they're too big to interest chewing, digging animals, taller than a slug (and thus hard to chew to a miserable stalk of nothing), and tough enough for the cool nights. This requires some cheap but essential resources. My go-to's involve Reemay and plastic. Glass has its place but it has one major problem: it's round. Most of my pots are square.

I bought these - I think they're called Hot Hats - at Lee Valley, a very dangerous place to visit. It will convince you that you need all sorts of cool, high-tech AND low-priced, items for your yard and garden. Thanks to Lee Valley I now have lovely rubber covers on my broken taps, solid plastic handles on my old weed buckets, and these square plastic plant covers. Being in Lee Valley is like being a cast member in The Lego Movie: you walk around thinking EVERYTHING IS AWESOME!!!

These Hot Hats are useless in hot weather because everything cooks in them, but the cold, damp days of spring were MADE for these puppies.
 A Hot Hat is covering rocket transplants. I have a rock on the top because the Hats tend to blow away in windy weather. No stalwart of the storm, these Hats.

Just don't do what I did and leave your Hot Hats on the ground when your teenager is weed whacking.


I was given these wire hoop houses by a family friend, and they really are fabulous. I can drape plastic over them AND they keep the cat from digging them up in his never-ending quest to find the perfect toilet spot. Blech.

The only issue with these is that mice like to scamper around inside them, so when the seedlings first go in I cover them with a wire tray. Until the mice lose interest.

Gardening requires stealth, I tell you.

Reemay is another invaluable cover for tender seedlings. I most use it for tougher seedlings: broad beans and brassicas. Plants that like cold temperatures.

Here are some broad beans with a single-sided sheet of Reemay (tip: plant the seedlings on the lee side of the Reemay). I've used bamboo canes as a support for the Reemay, attaching it with clothes pegs.

Did you know that broad beans of Olde Tymes had purple flowers? When I heard this at our local Seedy Saturday I couldn't stop myself - I had to buy some seeds. If you live near me come visit and I will give you seeds so you can grow some too.

 More Reemay, this time attached to another miniature hoop house. Underneath are several unusually large white sprouting broccoli plants. I started them in November and now they are about 8" high.

You're probably thinking "yeah, RIGHT, Sheila" aren't you? Well, I'm just going to leave you hanging on that one.

Mostly because I forgot to take a photo of them so I can prove my point but gosh do I really want to appear that competitive? Oh heck, of course I do. We gardeners are nothing if not shameless showoffs.

Okay, here's a use for the glass some of you are probably itching to use. These are little rose cuttings I took about a month ago, back when it was still really cold out. I jammed an old mustard jar on top of them and it's stayed there the entire time. Haven't removed it once. The rose cuttings look as if they've taken, so next warm sunny day I will remove the jar and transplant these cuttings to a pot. This rose is called Tahitian Sunset. It's a diva of a rose (the dreaded hybrid tea) but the flowers are so large and highly scented I cut it some slack.

 Finally, let's look at forcing. Forcing is when you encourage something to grow or produce ever-so-slightly before it really should be producing.

Back in February I put this clay pot over one of my two rhubarb clumps.

The trick is to place it over the clump long before you even see the white bulb-lets peeking through the soil. Leave it on, rain or shine, until the leaves of the rhubarb are well out of the soil and looking in need of some sun.

Here's why this is a fun thing to do: see the clump at the top of the photo? That's the forced rhubarb. The tragic little clump at the bottom didn't get the benefit of the terracotta pot.

And because this photo was taken 3 weeks ago, the bigger clump is now so large that I was able to pick some stalks and make our first rhubarb crisp three nights ago.


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