Sunday, March 29, 2009

Today is a beautiful spring day despite yesterday's cold and snow.

I finally seeded some carrots and will continue to seed a bit more for the next three weekends. I seeded them all at once last year and had one giant harvest that I didn't use up. It's a lesson I learned for this year, as I seed my lettuce, chard, spinach, and carrots a little at a time.

It's so exciting to see seedlings coming up in the garden. I'm most excited about the sugar snap peas, and I need to fix the trellis before they're tall enough to start climbing. I'm also thrilled to see the spinach doing well, as last year's fall spinach crop was foiled by the burglar breaking the window right above their pots. Even after picking them over, I just wasn't confident there were no tiny shards of glass on/in the seedlings.

I definitely need to take photos to post.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Repotting Seedlings: Reader Question

A reader, and good friend, emailed me to ask about steps to take with her seedlings. Here are her questions:

I've started most of my herbs (basil, thyme, oregano, sage, rosemary) and a few flowering plants (dianthus and forget-me-nots) indoors. My seeds are all sprouting and doing well. So, I'm thinking now what? How long can they survive in those tiny little seed-starting pods? Do I transplant them into a larger container before hardening them and putting them in the ground or is that an extra step that'll stress them out? What should I be looking for to know when they're ready to go into the ground?

Since this is my first time doing anything from seed, I feel like I need some guidance with knowing when and how to take the next step and would greatly appreciate you sharing any of your wisdom on the subject! :)


First of all, all plants are different and any special directions on seed packets should be followed. However, there are general guidelines that I've found work most of the time.

Repotting Seedlings

When: If you start your seeds in something very small, like a peat pod or those small cell packs, you'll usually need to repot the seedlings before they go in the ground. I try to do so when the seedlings have a couple true leaves (the second set of leaves, not the first set that emerge from the soil). Until then, the plant doesn't really need the nutrition of potting soil because the first set of leaves are actually a food source for the seedling. Another sign to watch for is roots growing out of the pod/container. Repot as soon as you start seeing roots. Waiting too long can result in a root-bound plant or roots that have gotten tangled in the netting of your peat pod.

How: Be gentle with your seedlings as you repot and you should be able to avoid stressing them out too much.

For peat pods, gently tear or cut away the netting that surrounds the peat. If the roots have gotten tangled in the netting, cut away as much netting as you can without damaging the roots. You don't want the netting to restrict new root growth, but it's perfectly fine to leave a little if it's tangled in roots.

For seedlings in plastic containers, very gently massage the plastic in order to loosen the seedling from its little home. Then, place your hand over the soil and grasp the very base of the seedling, turn the whole container upside down, and let gravity help you as you gently gently gently pull the seedling out of the plastic.

If you've used something biodegradable, like a toilet paper tube, small newspaper pot, or small Jiffy Pot (though, Jiffy Pots are usually big enough to last a while), then this is going to be easy-peasy. These can just be gently placed right into the next container. Unless you can tell it's already breaking apart, it can also help to "open" the old biodegradable container first so your plant's roots can spread more easily. With the toilet paper tubes, I usually pull back the bottom folds so that it's open. With Jiffy pots, gently cut or tear away the bottom. Newspaper is probably less of an issue, unless you've made a very thick paper pot. Note that if you know a plant you're growing doesn't handle transplants very well (like cucumbers or peppers), it'll probably be easiest to opt for one of these biodegradable options for the least amount of stress.

Exceptions: Sometimes I'll keep small plants in their toilet paper tube or peat pods until transplant, usually if they're small plants in the first place. Strawberries from seed, for example, tend to stay small until they're outside in the sun. I just watch the roots to make sure they aren't outgrowing their homes. However, I also add some extra nutrition by occasionally spritzing them with liquid Terracycle.

Also, if you're determined to jumpstart a plant that is so sensitive to transplanting that they're supposed to be direct seeded into the garden, you should at least start them in a sizable biodegradable container so there's only one simple transplantation to be done.

Deciding When to Put Them in the Ground

This has more to do with temperature and seasons than anything else, so read your seed packets. They will usually say something along the lines of, "Transplant outside after the last frost date" or "Transplant after danger of frost has passed." In Oklahoma City, that's April 15th... but you still need to check the weather forecast and use common sense, because the "last frost date" is an estimate. Learn more about that date here.

Aside from that, I don't like to transplant seedlings until they have at least 3 or 4 true leaves (or are strong looking, if true leaves aren't a consideration such as with green onions). And you should never transplant without hardening off first. You can google for detailed instructions on hardening off, but the basic idea is to expose your plants to an outdoor environment little by little. I start with an hour, then a couple hours the next day, then a few hours, then all morning or afternoon, then all day a couple times in a row. Just make sure you pick mild days and keep them out of the wind until they're strong.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Gardening on a Budget: Soil

Especially if you're a container gardener who wants to grow organically, the cost of soil can start looking pretty high. So let's look at a few ways to cut back on that cost.

  1. Screw the fancy "organic" soil that companies like Miracle Grow sell, because it's way expensive (and not all that great, in my experience). Instead, pick up those 40 pound bags of cheap soil with "compost" in the ingredients rather than "fertilizer." They're sometimes cheaper than that small bag of "organic" soil, and I've had great luck with them.
  2. If you're growing in-ground or in a raised bed, you don't need to add new soil every year. Compost is usually all you need to add.
  3. If you're a container gardener, you can often reuse your potting soil. The most important rule is to never reuse soil from diseased plants -- that stuff needs to be thrown into the deepest darkest corner of land where you won't grow anything you care about. If, however, your plants were healthy and strong, you can take out the old plant, mix in some compost, and reuse. Some people feel it's necessary to bake the soil (yeah, as in baking it in an oven), but I've never bothered. When I'm not 100% confident about reusing a pot of soil (often because a cat used it as a litter box!), I'll use it for non-edible plants just to be safe... or I'll use it to fill in holes in the backyard.
  4. Don't use containers any bigger than your plant will actually need.
  5. Use companion planting in you container garden. For example, why put basil plants into their own little pots if you're also growing potted tomatoes? Basil and tomatoes love each other, so go ahead and tuck that basil plant into the corner of the tomato's pot.
As a side-note, I don't recommend just sticking yard dirt into a container, especially if you plan on bringing it inside. Part of the benefits of container gardening is reduced pests and weeds, and yard dirt is full of them.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Beautiful Day

It's a beautiful day after all of the wintery mess we had this week. I spent a couple hours working on the garden and seedlings. I seeded radishes, spinach, and lettuce directly into the garden and I have most of the seedlings on the back steps for sun and hardening. It's a perfect, mild day for it.

It's also time to put broccoli and lettuce plants directly into the ground, but I just don't think mine are ready yet. None of them have anymore than one true leaf, so I'm just going to get them good and hardened off until they have a couple more.

If you're in Oklahoma City, get out there and enjoy today!

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Seedlings and Strawberries!

I just had to share pictures of my seedlings and new strawberry plants....

This is my primary vegetable seedling setup. It's an overcast day, but these guys normally get a pretty good amount of sun in the south-facing windows of the laundry room.

I also have a shelf in the laundry room where I usually put my seeds when I first start them, until they actually emerge.

Some of the more interesting seedlings I've been watching daily are...

The Alpine Strawberries, which are still teeny tiny:

The Burgundy okra, which has huge baby leaves and a touch of burgundy color on the stem:

The first of the Rainbow Swiss Chard, which I was surprised to discover is immediately colorful:

I also picked up two mature Junebearing strawberry plants at the Farmer's Market today. As much as I enjoy growing everbearing plants from seed, it's just nice to have a couple Junebearers for a little instant gratification. I went ahead and put them in a hanging basket that I can bring inside at night and on colder days:

On a sidenote, our kitties reap the benefits of my gardening hobby as well. I often grow cat grass to keep indoors for them. Our indoor-outdoor cat named Oz doesn't care much about it, but our indoor cat named Ali loves it. Though, she was clearly more interested in what my jeans smelled like this afternoon:

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Seed Swapping

Related to the recent post on acquiring seeds on a budget, a friend (Sara, who happens to be a co-director of the extremely hip Oklahoma City craft bazaar, DeluxeOK) and I got together yesterday to talk about her new garden and swap seeds. We were both impressed by how perfect seed swapping is for backyard gardening. We both had way too many seeds for what we actually wanted to grow, and trading those excess seeds allowed us both to plan for a wider variety of plants. I'm most excited about the soybeans I got from her stash!!! (And, amusingly enough, I was able to use up my snail-mail envelopes, which I never ever use anymore, as seed packets.)

Seriously, get together with some gardening friends and swap seeds!