Posts Tagged ‘lights for starting seeds’

Plant lots of tomato varieties for good success

Okay, I finally got my snow! I think maybe now I’m ready for spring!

It was crazy warm here on Sunday despite the snow and I spent the afternoon out on our deck planting my tomato, pepper, and eggplant seeds as well as some lettuce and spinach.

Kellogg's Breakfast, an heirloom variety, produces huge yellow tomatoes that are delicious.

Kellogg’s Breakfast, an heirloom, produces
huge, delicious yellow tomatoes.

As I was planting, I started thinking about how amazing these little seeds are! It’s hard to believe that these tiny entities can grow into a 6 foot tomato plant with a huge harvest of tomatoes or a pumpkin vine that produces a world record pumpkin!

But – back to my seeds. I did things a bit differently this year than I’ve done in the past.

For starters, I decided to try the Blue Ridge Organics Super Compost to start my seeds rather than using a potting mix like I normally do. My plants haven’t been growing very well the last couple of years so I thought I’d try a different growing medium. William from Blue Ridge Organics has convinced me that this stuff is gold so I’m giving it a shot. He did caution me to watch the moisture levels in my seed trays because the compost holds water really well and I will need to be careful not to overwater. No problem – I can do that. We’ll see how it works as a seed starting mix.

Each flat holds 18 of these larger sized pots.

Each flat holds 18 of these
larger sized cells.

The second thing I’m doing differently is that I am planting my tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants in larger cells rather than the smaller peat pots I usually use. Hopefully this will allow them to establish a more extensive root system without having to move them up to bigger pots before I transplant them outside. Maybe … we’ll see about that one.

I’m also starting some lettuce and spinach in smaller cells (72/flat)  so I can plant plugs in the garden and in some of my deck planters rather than direct seeding them.

Two varieties of Romaine lettuce, 'Freckles' and 'Winter Density'

Two varieties of Romaine lettuce, ‘Freckles’
and ‘Winter Density’, plus two mixes.

My sister Leslie has been doing this for years in Vermont and she grows the most beautiful lettuce. Of course, their growing season is shorter than ours and I think she mostly does it to get a jump on her vegetable garden in the spring. Still, I haven’t had very good luck with lettuce in the garden so I thought it would be worth trying. I’m also going to direct seed some spinach and lettuce in containers on the deck but I plan to mix a lot of the Blue Ridge compost into my containers to see if they’ll produce better than they did last year.

Four flats fit easily on one shelf with full lighting.

Four flats fit easily on one shelf with
good light coverage.

I planted four flats on Sunday including the flat of lettuce and spinach. These included 11 different varieties of tomatoes and 3 different types of peppers.

Four flats fit perfectly on one shelf of our plant stand. When Eric built it years ago, he made two shelves so we could start eight flats of plants. It has been a while since I’ve used more than just the top shelf but since I’ve already filled that one, I think I’ll need the bottom shelf, too. I still want to start some broccoli plants and eventually I will start my cucumbers and squash indoors so I can get a head start on those.

I really hope we have solved our deer problem with the high fence. The woodchuck may be a different matter …

A series of pulleys allows the lights to be raised and lowered easily.

A series of pulleys allows the lights to be
raised and lowered easily.

The plant stand Eric built works really well. Each shelf has a bank of 3 side-by-side 4 foot fluorescent light fixtures with a grow light and a cool white bulb in each fixture. The lights are joined together and rigged with pulleys at each end so they can be raised up as the plants grow. It is a great system that we’ve been using for years to start our vegetable plants indoors.

The plant stand is down in our basement which is unheated and stays pretty cool most of the time – especially in winter.

Last year, for my birthday,  Eric got me a 48″ seedling heat mat which covers one shelf perfectly.

The seedling heat mat really helps with germination.

The seedling heat mat really helps
with germination.

It has really helped with seed germination and growth – especially since the basement is so cold. We also have the plant stand surrounded on all sides with pieces of foam insulated sheathing to hold in the heat from the heating mat and also a little from the lights.

Each seed flat is covered with a clear plastic lid to keep the humidity up and the warmth in. I lower the lights so that they are about 2 inches from the plastic cover. Most seeds don’t need the light for germination but it does provide a little extra heat in the cool basement.

Plastic lids cover each flat.

Plastic lids cover each flat.

Once the seeds germinate and grow a bit, I’ll remove the plastic covers and move the lights to within an inch or two of the plants. This will keep the seedlings from getting leggy. As the plants grow, I raise the lights up but I always keep them close to the top of the plants. Sometimes I have to shift the flats around if the plants in one are growing faster. The tall plants can be put at one end and the lights can be raised higher at that end. It works out pretty well.

I’ll keep you updated on the progress of my seedlings as they begin to grow. I’m so excited to be starting the new gardening season!

Until next time – Happy Gardening!

The lights are lowered close to the covered flats.

The lights are lowered close to the covered flats.

Foam insulated sheathing keeps the heat in and the cooler air out.

Foam insulated sheathing keeps the warmth in and the cooler air out.

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