My seedlings suck. No really – they suck. After almost two months of nurturing well over a dozen tomato, eggplant, pepper and tomatillo seedlings under grow lights, it’s time I face the truth. They’re pathetic.
Eight weeks old and they’re only around four inches tall. If you’ve never grown your own plants from seed, let me tell you: this isn’t good.
I tried to be a good parent. I gave them what I thought was quality soil, a good warm spot and grow lights on a timer. OK, so maybe one of the lamps isn’t working all that well, and I didn’t get around to setting the second one up until three or four weeks after the seedlings started. That shouldn’t have made such a difference. But something did.
No, I didn’t include the sad seedlings in this slideshow. They’re just too pathetic for primetime viewing.
Setting out on their own
In spite of their apparent unsuitability, I put them outside to harden off. Hardening off means getting them used to living outdoors gradually, so as not to shock their wee botanical systems. I do it by putting them outside under a plastic bin for part of the day so they get light and sun, but don’t get too cool in the evening or dry out.
I had planned to leave them in their pots for a few more days until I had a chance to clear their new home of leftover winter and spring greens. But my two-year old forced my hand, by upending several pots and scattering the inhabitants all over the path.
As if those poor buggers weren’t suffering enough already! So, yesterday I planted all of them I the one spot I had cleared and called it a “seedling bed” (as if that had been the plan all along!)
I should probably ditch them – they may be so little because they’re diseased (from a bad batch of soil or something). If they don’t appear to recover in the next week, I’ll just buy some plants. Hey, I got no problem with that. Fresh tomatoes are more important than pride!
How do my seedlings grow?
Failure aside, I will definitely try again next year. (Maybe even later in the season if I’m feeling ambitious enough to start some fall plants indoors in July). I’ve had seed-starting success before, so I
will try not to won’t take this personally.
I started growing my own plants from seed two years ago. I do it ’cause it’s fun, it gives me something gardening-related to do when it’s too cold to plant outside, and it’s cheaper than buying plants.
My fancy-shmacy growing set-up consists of a shelving unit from Home Depot (to keep the plants away from my daughter’s little paws), a couple of $20 shop lights, and four 48″ fluorescent bulbs. My seed pots are re-purposed yogurt containers. (I’m not a fan of peat pots, which I find often do not breakdown as promised).
I picked up a bunch of cafeteria-type trays to hold all of these and reused some of those long black trays from a nursery purchase years ago. The whole thing was less than $100 and I’ll have it for years!
The seeds…well, they’re a different story. It’s really a matter of personal interest and restraint. You can spend $10 on a half dozen packets and be done with it – or spend closer to $100 and gets lots and lots of seeds! (Guess which one I did last year).
I don’t mind having lots of extra seeds ’cause I’ll use them for years. I disagree with the folks that say seeds only last two years and should be tossed if less than 85% are viable. (They’ll do germination tests in wet paper towels to get the percentage). If the seeds are old, and fewer may be viable, just plant more. Drop two in the pot instead of one. I two come up you can always thin them out later. Still cheaper than tossing unused seeds.
It’s HARD to resist those shiny colorful garden magazines with their beautiful pictures of lush ripe tomatoes and firm succulent melons. Have you ever seen the Bakers Creek heirloom seed catalog? The photos are so gorgeous my friend calls it “garden porn.” Even my frugal husband can’t resist recommending a few purchases for the garden when he thumbs through those catalogs. I’m an advocate of getting almost anything electronically, but I can’t stop requesting those catalogs They keep me warm and happy thinking of summer when the ground is covered with snow.
Other favorite catalogs: Southern Exposure Seed Exchange and Territorial Seed Company. While I’m plugging gardening companies (and no, I’m not getting anything for these endorsements), here are the folks I go to for live plants, seed potatoes and the like: Steele Plant Company (sweet potato slips ), Potato Garden (white seed potatoes), and J. W. Jung Seed Company (Jerusalem artichokes and berry bushes).
What’s coming up?
The rest of the garden is growing well. I set my sweet potato slips out last week and they’ve taken really well. As I’ve written before, I’m a huge fan of growing sweet potatoes. So, don’t be surprised if they get a dedicated post when they really get growing.
The white potatoes are also doing well. The early varieties are blooming, which means that I’ll be able to dig up some small “new” potatoes soon!
I had no success with these guys last year, but that’s probably because I planted them too late. Unlike sweets, white potatoes do not like heat so they have to be harvested before the DC summer really sets in. This year they were in the ground around St. Patrick’s Day and will be out by early July.
Snow and snap peas are coming in (and my kids are eating them as fast as they appear). The salad greens I planted near the door are looking and tasting great. The mulberries and strawberries are ripening and getting eaten right off the plants and the raspberries, figs and currants are showing the promise of great harvests. (I see a dedicated fruit post in the near future as well).
The Jerusalem artichokes (not from Jerusalem, not an artichoke) are growing strong, and are expected to completely take over the yard around 2014. Yes, they’re aggressive but they’re also yummy and easy to grow and harvest so I don’t mind.
Overall, the garden is doing well. I’ll keep an eye on my sad seedlings, empty out the rest of that bed, and head on over to the farmer’s market for some plants. I’m looking for tomatoes, eggplant, and peppers. Suggestions?
How does YOUR garden grow? Have any garden failures to confess? Successes to share? Leave ‘em in the comments below!
Danielle Meitiv is a writer, marine science geek, gardener and mother who goes barefoot whenever possible. Danielle is also a huge fan and sales affiliate for Holly Lisle’s online courses: How to Think Sideways: Career Survival School for Writers, and How to Revise Your Novel. Follow @Danielle_Meitiv on Twitter, and on Facebook: Danielle Meitiv’s Barefoot Blog, and Danielle Meitiv.