Sowing the Seeds of Love…and Tomatoes.

It’s about that time, my friends. For Floridians (or maybe just overeager ones like yours truly), late January is when a lot of us start sewing seeds indoors. It goes a little something like this: sow, sow, sow, pot up, pot up, pot up, harden off, harden off, harden off, plant in the garden, and pray we don’t get a freakish March frost.

Last year, I went a bit bonkers with purchasing heirloom seeds from Tomatofest. I’m a sucker for the pretty colors and vivid descriptions. And i may be a smidgeon indecisive. For my small garden, I purchased around 15 varieties of determinate and indeterminate tomatoes from tiny to mammoth, Thailand to Arkansas, yellow to black, and tart to sweet. Now I feel compelled to use them all before they expire. I act like it’s a sacrifice, but I’m a square foot gardener who loves a challenge. Spacing? What’s that?

In my favorite seed starting tray and using my favorite seed starting mix, I sowed Chadwick Cherry, Thai Pink Egg, Black Zebra, Arkansas Traveler, Healani, Martino’s Roma, Yellow Ripple Currant, and Hawaiian Currant tomatoes.

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Based on my last post entitled “My Tomato Cheers and Jeers of 2013,” I’m betting that the Thai Pink Egg and Healani tomatoes will do well. And if 2012-13 is any indication,  I’ll inevitably fail with the Black Zebras and won’t get a single one. Lousy, stinking, son of a…. I digress.

It’s a new beginning! This is every gardener’s most hopeful, positive Pollyanna-ish moment of the year. I’m feeling good. We’ve got a ton of good compost, lots of Azomite, and we’ve starting using bone meal (which, by the way, is fantastic for lots and lots of big, beautiful blooms). Here’s to a prolific tomato 2014!

Until next time, my fellow gardeners,

Jenna

Florida Fall Gardening: Starting Lettuce and Brassica Seeds Indoors

I’m quite fond of starting seeds indoors. Why? Because it’s easier. And because I have a small garden and can’t afford to waste precious space on things that might not even germinate. In the past, I’ve started all of my heirloom tomatoes and peppers indoors, then hardened them off appropriately before sending them out into the cruel, cruel world. This time, however, I’m trying something new. About 10 days ago, I sewed seeds for major hybrid broccoli, lime green brocoverde cauliflower, sweet Valentine romaine, and black seeded Simpson leaf lettuce.

I placed good quality organic seed starting mix in each compartment, and, initially, I thought I’d just put one seed in each compartment. Then I added a few more thinking I could tip the scale in my favor. I didn’t go overboard, though…I think. I labeled each row, watered gently with a spray bottle, and placed them in my sunroom. It’s the most humid and warm area of the house. I watered only when the mix felt dry-ish because seeds hate too much water.

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In about a week, this is what sprouted:

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There was a good show from the broccoli and cauliflower, but less from the lettuces. I wonder if I should have used a humidity dome. I wonder if the seeds from the black seeded Simpson lettuce were too old  (they were six months from expiring) as only one reared its cute little head. I wonder if the seeds are too finicky for the potting mix I used. I wonder if I could learn to communicate with seeds. (You think I’m kidding…)

I’d like to increase the seed germination rate next time. Thoughts? Advice? Words of wisdom?  I’m calling out to you, the big, beautiful blogosphere, for help.

Love and happy gardening,

Jenna

Safely Transplanting Indoor-Raised Plant Babies to the Great Outdoors

They grow up so fast, don’t they? Just a month ago, my little windowsill basil babies looked like this:

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Within one week…

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In three more weeks…

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They were getting too big for the pot. They all couldn’t stay in the same place or none of them would thrive. I had to eat them or transplant a few. I opted for the latter. I’m sure a lot of you avid gardeners have faced the pricking out and transplant dance…especially for things like lettuces and herbs that have tiny seeds. I’ve tangoed with this myself a time or two, and this was my first flawless performance. It’s been two days and they’re all in fantastic shape. (Feel free to applaud.)

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If you’ve never done this before or have done this with poor results, here are a few tips that might help:

  1. “Harden off” the plants before the 24-7 outdoor exposure. Start off with an hour or so, and then gradually increase the time outside. By the time you get to a full day’s worth of outside time, they’re ready to make the move.
  2. Choose an appropriate location that gets the right amount of sunlight, and prepare the soil by loosening it and removing any weeds.
  3. If they’re not in their own containers and in a clump like mine, carefully prick out the plants. Do this at the new site because you’ll want to get them in the ground ASAP.
  4. Dig a hole for each plant, and bury at least half the stem. Gently back fill the soil around the plant. Lightly tamp it down.
  5. Label each seedling if you’d like, and give it a good watering.

Of course Mother Nature can throw curve balls our way, but following these easy steps should help your plants to thrive in the great outdoors.

Let me know if you have any questions, and happy gardening!

Starting Pepper Plants Indoors for Florida Fall Gardening

Florida gardening is unique. We don’t winter over, so pests run rampant for most of the year. Starting seeds outdoors for things like peppers and tomatoes have proved unsuccessful (for me, at least). So I’ve really taken to starting plants indoors to make sure I’m planting healthy, hardened off, and well-adjusted plants in my garden. I like to give them a lot of TLC as I give them a head start. Also, I don’t have a lot of space, so I’ve got little room for error.

About three weeks ago, I began the indoor seed-starting project. Using a clean and sterilized a clean egg carton, I put some Miracle Gro seed starting mix in each compartment. I sewed four heirloom non-GMO Jupiter pepper seeds from Southern a Exposure Seed Co., four heirloom non-GMO Doe Hill pepper seeds from Southern Exposure Seed Co., and four California Wonder pepper seeds from Ferry-Morse. I marked the varieties with used wine corks on a bamboo skewer, so I’d know what I had growing. Yay, upcycling!

Humidity is very beneficial for seed germination, so I used a tray with a humidity dome that I got from my local gardening supply store. I placed the egg carton inside, sprayed each compartment with water from a clean spray bottle, put on the humidity dome, and placed the whole shebang in a sunny indoor location. I checked them and watered them lightly each day. This was the first adorable sprout that came up after about a week:

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I removed the dome after mostly all of the seeds germinated and popped up their little green heads. Sunlight would be their ally at this point. This is them two weeks later on my windowsill:

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As you can see, not all of the seeds germinated. All of the California Wonder seeds came up, though. I really wonder why they’re so dependable (maybe I should be afraid to ask?). Here are photos of each seedling variety:

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I’ll be potting up each of the babies this weekend, and when they’re about 6-8 inches above the soil line, I’ll start hardening them off little by little to get them acclimated to the outdoors. I’ll be sure to post on their progress, and, please, wish me luck in the meantime!

Happy gardening, everyone!

Successful Indoor Herb Gardening Experiment #1: Sweet Basil

The summer is very challenging for Florida gardening. Too much rain, too much humidity, and too much heat makes for very unhappy plants (and even less happy gardeners). About three weeks ago, I decided to try growing sweet Italian basil indoors because I just need to have fresh, organic herbs. I use basil a lot, so I decided to start with that.

I have a great south-facing window that lets lots of light in for at least six hours a day, several great planters with built-in drainage, potting mix, and plenty of viable seeds. There was absolutely no reason not to try.

I filled a small 8″ planter with a mixture of potting soil and a bit of homemade compost. I put about 20 seeds scattered along the top, and covered the seeds with about 1/4″ of soil. I watered lightly with a spray bottle because I didn’t want the seeds to rot and then I covered the pot over with a plastic bag. I’ve always found the humidity is very helpful for seed germination. I put the pot on a windowsill in a warm, sunlit room and every day, I checked to see if it needed water. I watered it once. In about five days, I had babies:

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I kept the bag off because I had plenty of germinated seeds. I then placed the pot in a south-facing, sunny window. In less than a week, they looked like this:

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I had to thin some of the seedlings to avoid crowding (and, quite honestly, I can’t believe they did as well with such a great germination rate), and after about two more weeks, here’s what they looked like (I took this photo this morning):

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I’ll have to thin them out again because there are way too many plants for this size pot. I may just use them in a recipe or salad and even try transplanting a few. I’ll be sure to post about the transplant. It seems like this indoor herb gardening experiment has gone well thus far. I think I’ll give parsley a go, too. I’ve even considered lettuce! Dare I?

If you try this at home, here are some tips to make your herby endeavor successful:

  • Pots with drainage holes are your friends
  • Make sure to use viable seeds that haven’t expired
  • Humidity is helpful for germination
  • Choose a bright, sunny location for your pots
  • Water regularly and keep evenly moist, not soaked, soil
  • Rotate the pot every day to make sure it gets even sunlight exposure
  • Don’t harvest until the plants get at least 6″ tall

I’d love to hear about your indoor gardening projects! Please feel free to share. I learn the most from those around me. 🙂

Happy gardening, everyone!