I’m Diggin’ Friday: Seed(ling)s of Discontent

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.

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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.

Garden porn

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.


21 thoughts on “I’m Diggin’ Friday: Seed(ling)s of Discontent

  1. Oh, I love your posts about gardening….but, I’m the world’s worst. I have a black thumb – that’s it! Everything I touch dies…like the Reaper. I’ve even killed a cactus plant before – something I was told would never happen! For now, I’ll live vicariously through you….

    My guy has a nice garden going out back, but I’m not allowed to touch!

    1. I’ve killed many a cactus so you’re in good company!

      I can’t seem to keep indoor plants alive. If Mother Nature isn’t there to water them occasionally, they’re out of luck.

      I’m ok with the seedlings (well, usually), but recently I managed to kill a stone plant! Now that’s talent.

      Thanks for stopping by

  2. I hope you are enjoying the process despite the outcome. Can’t you freeze the seeds to keep”m longer? How do you feel about sprouting?

    1. I am enjoying the process. Gardening is such fun and I love eating all the goodies! I harvested garlic today – will post on that later in the week.

      I’ve never tried freezing but I imagine it could work. Have you? Would love to hear about your experiences too!

  3. What an awesome garden. I love the view from your office. I love to garden, but don’t have much luck. I’m great at pulling weeds! My writer friend has spent the past ten years turning her back yard into an edible garden. I’m amazed at the things she grows. She just harvested her first crop of edamame and is now planting a couple tea bushes. Next on her list is a chicken coop!

    What’s your secret to growing cilantro? My husband & I have tried many times. It goes to seed but doesn’t come up again! Is there a certain time to pinch off the tops? We love cilantro.

    1. @Lynn – you are always welcome to pull weeds in my yard!

      This year is the craziest year for cilantro in our garden! I think it’s because the seeds overwintered. I let a bunch of last year’s plants go to seed, but I also sprinkled fresh seed around October. This way the seeds were able to germinate really early in the season, which probably added to my cilantro bounty. Not sure it would work in very cold zones. I’m in the DC area – Zone 7A. Where r u?

  4. I’m in the High Desert of So. Calif. It gets below 20 at times. So the secret is to plant the seeds in October? We’ll have to try that. Home grown cilantro would be great in my hubby’s salsa!

  5. Garlics are my favorites . Last year I rented in a house in McLean from a wonderful human being and a magical garden that had new flowers poping up every week but my experience was limited to occasional weeding. Now I will be living in a condo for a year so when it comes to gardens I visit friends in cabin john and Takoma park. It was from one these friends that I learnt about freezing. Hers work, at least statistically. While in the condo I will focus on sprouting.

    1. I harvested my garlic this week so stay tuned for a garlic-centric post tomorrow.

      Oh you meant indoor sprouting! (I thought I was missing out on some new seed-starting technique LOL). Yes, I love sprouting, especially in the winter when most of the garden is a snow-covered memory. I’m really fond of brassica sprouts including daikon radish – yum!

      Have you thought about a community garden patch (although I know they’re hard to get around here). What about garden shares? That’s when you work a patch of someone else’s yard in exchange for something: weeding or watering for them, sharing your harvest etc.

      Check out: http://www.sharingbackyards.com/browse/Washington,%20DC Looks like there’s a bunch of them in our area. Good luck!

  6. Thanks for the link. I checked it out already and will pursue that. I also had a quick scan of your garlic writing. I think your blog is becoming the foundation of a wonderful book. It is so pleasant to read and educational too.

    1. Thanks so much for the compliment. I’ve been thinking of doing a gardening book, so your comment really means a lot!

      Keep me posted on the garden share if you end up doing that. Would love to hear about your experiences.

      1. Following your suggestions I was able to identify two gardens not far from where I live now, near Montgomery Mall, and I have already contacted the owners waiting to hear from them and possibly go check out the places.

      2. Yeah! Please keep me posted on your efforts. Our conversation has inspired to write a blog post about gardening for folks w/o space (garden-sharing & community plots) and I’d love to include your experiences!

      3. I forwarded the link you gave me to a friend of mine who has a fairly good size yard in Takoma Park and finally lights went on in her head. She has offered me to use some of her space as my patch in return for weeding and a little portion of my harvest. So now I even have more than one options to choose from.

        Going back to your idea of people who don’t have a yard of their own, I wonder if there is potential here for some kind of a community alliance with developers who have parked land for future development and can let folks use it even if it is for one or two seasons. I don’t know if it is a workable idea but the idea came to me from my childhood experience growing up in a third world country where we would basically use any patch of land for our temporary soccer filed until it was built and then we would move on to the next spot we could use.

  7. There are other “soft-core” catalogues hard to live without….”Campmor.” Who doesn’t love getting that in the mail in the dead of winter.

    Props to the seed companies (NOT monsanto) for marketing their seed packs like candy at the hardware store cash registers. Can’t ever seem to get past them without buying something. Planting them…..that’s another story.

    1. I have enough seed packs to plant a half dozen football fields – and I still can’t resist the seed packs at the cash registers!

      I got myself off the Campmor list for just that reason. Always seemed to find something that I just couldn’t live without. 🙂

  8. Hi, I’m new to your sight and just wanted to let you know how much I enjoyed it. I’m going to plant some garlic this fall and see if I have any luck with it. By the way, are your tomato plants doing any better now that they are in the ground?

    1. Thanks so much for stopping by and letting me know. I’m glad that you’re going to try garlic – you won’t regret it!

      Ur, um…I went away for Memorial Day weekend and forgot to tell my dad to water them if the promised rains didn’t come. (oops!) The only survivors were one eggplant, one tomatillo, and two tomato seedings. They’re doing great 😉
      Got plants from the Farmers Market instead – put them in the ground and watered them ASAP!

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