Our teaching garden had a big day at Life Adventure Center of the Bluegrass’s Open House on April 10th. A man stopped by the environmental education table I had set up. Our teaching garden pepper and squash seedlings were center stage for all to see. He asked me a little about environmental education and our teaching garden. As I explained our little operation, he happened to mention that he was the “Governor’s Gardener.” I had to ask him to repeat what he had said as I was in disbelief. He even asked how he could help!
The Governor’s Gardener (GG) has already donated 1,000 tulip bulbs to our organization, which were delivered on Friday (3/13). Turns out the GG had a great time at the open house learning about our organization and what we do. So needless to say our teaching garden had a great boost of support in the last few weeks!
If you’d like to learn more about the Governor’s Gardener and the program he helps oversee, please visit http://greenteam.ky.gov/garden.
If you’re getting ready to start seeds for heirloom tomatoes (or any other seed), you need to make sure that you buy something that has “seed-starting mix” in its title. As I’ve mentioned in other posts, we used Pro-Mix and Espoma seed starter mix for our seedlings. Potting soil doesn’t cut it if you’re looking to start seeds. If you’re a composter, you can use compost for seed-starting mix as well.
To start seeds you want to make sure your seed-starting mix is wet using warm water. If you’re planning to plant a bunch of seeds, put some of your mix in a big pan or pot for easy access. Fill your containers or flats with the seed-starting mix and then put your seeds on top. Cap it off with more seed-starting mix that is also moist.
If you can create a set-up for your newly planted seedlings, it is best to water from the bottom. This allows the plants to draw up the water, which makes them hardier and prevents overwatering.
Yesterday afternoon Cara, Sarah, and I planted our little veggie seedlings in the teaching garden. We ended up with 10 rows of veggies altogether. Some we directly sowed and did not start from seeds. These tend to do better when direct sowed (ds).
From left to right we planted in rows
1) carrots & radish (ds)
2) mesculin, white chard, & arugula (all ds)
3) kale & red chard (ds)
8) (sickly, sad looking) lettuce
Things we learned
· Plant half as many seedlings of cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, and cucumber. We had about half a flat of each of these leftover. We’re keeping some on reserve in case some of our seedlings don’t make it. Otherwise, we will be donating them to our staff garden near our kitchen on our property.
· Trying to start onions from seed is extremely difficult. We had to scrap all of our “seedling onions.” The onions we planted are the ones that were rescued from our garden earlier this spring (which were planted last fall).
· Egg cartons are great for starting seeds but you can’t keep them in the carton for very long. We lost of all our cute little squash plants because we didn’t bump them up to a bigger pot fast enough. We will be directly sowing the rest of our squash seedlings next week in hopes of having some squash plants (for Cara and Sarah to eat).
· Starting lettuce from seed also did not seem to go very well. I couldn’t give up on them so I planted them in one of our open/unused rows. I also seem to have misplaced the other lettuce seeds I thought we had so if these little guys don’t take, I will have to go buy some more.
I’ve been slowly cleaning out the education building as most of our seedlings are outside now. I’ve taken all the rest of the seed starting materials including the leftover pro-mix and old flats down to the gardening shed as well. Only the peppers and squash are left inside.
I’ve also moved our new strawberry plants and the onions that were rescued from the garden, back down to the garden. They’re hanging out with the peas here in this picture. They’ll go in next week Tuesday with the rest of the plants.
We’ve started trying to harden off our seedlings. In preparation of our big planting day slated for tomorrow 4/26/2012, we have begun the transition process. Plants living in a nice warm building or greenhouse tend to get a little cranky if you take them and plant them directly in the ground. Imagine being in a hot tub and then jumping into a pile of snow. The overall feeling would most likely be of crankiness (and pain). Seedlings will go into shock if you take them directly from one temperature and plant them in another extreme temperature.
Hardening off seedlings means you are exposing your little plant babies to more (direct) sunlight, wind, and temperature variations than what they typically received as they were growing. The ideal transition time should be about a week or so. The first day put your seedlings outside for a couple of hours. The next day increase it to a half day or so. The next day increase it to a full day. Then you need to do the overnight hardening off. Soon they will be outside for a full day (just like they’ll be once you plant them).
It’s also a good idea to start their first couple of days in a more covered or sheltered environment like a patio or deck with a roof or awning. This way you’re not setting them out in direct sun and whipping winds the first day out in their new world. This is all about transition folks. You’ve taken so much time caring and bringing these little plants up. Give them as much attention now during this phase.
Another important point is if you have lots of critters around your property. You will want to harden off your plants on a table or other elevated structure rather than placing them directly on the patio or deck (allowing easy munching access for critters). As you can see in this picture, we’re taking a daring approach to hardening off.
Once again this takes planning. Thinking ahead of time helps but if you didn’t that’s okay too. A little bit of hardening off is better than none at all.
The peppers have arrived! Well at least I can start to see them. Now peppers require the warmest temperature to germinate. Some say close to 80’. Our education building is usually around 70 or so. No news on the spinach.
Big seedlings in some flats already (cucumbers, peas, broccoli).
Starting an egg carton collection at the office. I’ve heard that the fibrous ones are great for starting seeds. You’ll also find that I may be one of the cheapest (or most resourceful) people you meet. If there is any way that I can avoid buying something new, I will. I always aim to reduce, reuse, and recycle like any good 2nd grader is taught. My flat covers for this seed starting project began their lives as protective sheets for our new chairs at the education building. Saved me loads of money and helped reuse the wasteful plastic.