Saturday, April 2, 2016

The 2016 gardening season has officially begun! (... well for this blogger, anyway!)

Some may argue that it's a little early to be starting seeds here in the Toronto area, but with the weather being what it is today, I just couldn't help getting the gardening season started!

Oh, Mother Nature, you sure do love to toy with us! With that thought, I headed down to the basement to get the seed nursery set up.

My first job was to gather up all the trays, cell packs and pots that I had washed earlier and clear some space for the nursery. Next, I gathered together the planting materials and the seeds I was going to start.

There are many types of methods and equipment for starting seeds, but one of my favourites is a system from Jiffy, the makers of the original Jiffypots®, consisting of a specially partitioned tray covered by a clear plastic dome and sitting on a heated base. 

The tray is partitioned to hold 72 peat pellets in a 6x12 grid.  I counted the peat pellets I had on hand and discovered I had 45 of them and as I have 5 different varieties of tomato seed saved from last year, I can start 9 seeds of each type.  I prefer using the peat pellets for tomato seeds since tomatoes do not like to be transplanted and this allows me to up-plant the seedlings directly into 3" pots for hardening off, thereby minimizing the shock of transplanting by deferring it until the plants are large enough and hardy enough to be put into the garden.

I thought I had some popsicle sticks that I could use for plant markers, but I was mistaken so I had to cast my mind about for another solution. Doing laundry while I was preparing the seed nursery provided me with such, when, hanging up the latest load on my indoor clothesline with clothespin in hand, inspiration struck!

I wrap a length of 1 1/2 inch masking tape around one "finger" of a clothespin, making a flag large enough to write the name of the seed on both sides. I write the name on one side and then flip the clothespin vertically (i.e. if the "fingers" were pointing up, I flip them so they point downwards) and write the name again on the other side. The two sides should appear upside down to one another. This allows me to clip the pins on the edge of the clear dome cover while waiting for the seeds to germinate and then later, once the cover is removed, I can flip the pins over and clip them to the edge of the tray while the seedlings grow.

Next, I add enough warm water to completely submerge the peat pellets (the specially designed grid inside the tray holds the pellets firmly in place so they don't float) and I leave the tray alone for about 5 minutes to allow the pellets to absorb the water.

As they absorb water, the pellets expand upwards, contained within a biodegradeable mesh which forms the pellets into a small planting pot. There is a divot in the center of each pellet which becomes a planting hole to receive a seed once the pellet has expanded.

I find a bamboo satay skewer works wonderfully to fully open the seed holes and working variety by variety, I carefully place a seed in each peat pot then use my fingers to work a little of the peat back into the planting hole, filling it in.

When all peat pots have been planted, I place the tray on its heated base, clip the names on to the cover, place the cover over the base and plug the heater in. Next up are the giant marigolds.

Marigolds are the guardian angels of my garden because they keep so many pests, both insect and mammal, away from the vegetables. I usually plant them around the perimeter of the vegetable beds as well as around the pond to keep the raccoons out. I read recently that raccoons also do not like the smell of many common herbs, especially thyme and this seems to be borne out by experience. I do have a couple of common thyme plants growing along one edge of the pond and I have noticed that the raccoons always approach the pond from the other side. The trampled down ferns and irises are a dead giveaway of their nocturnal frolicking. So, this year I will try increasing the coverage of herbs around the pond and hopefully between them and the marigolds, I can, if not deter the raccoons then at least control their movement.

Having used all my peat pellets on the tomatoes, I decided to start the marigolds in cell packs.  I chose a half-tray to hold six 6-cell packs for a total of 36 plants.  I may need more, so I may be starting some later, but for now this it.

I fill each cell pack with sterile seed starting medium. I always use a mix that is labelled specifically for starting seeds rather than regular potting soil or soil from the garden to give my seeds the best chance for successful germination. 

Using the bamboo satay skewer again as a mini-dibber, I make a small seed hole in the center of each cell, then drop in a marigold seed and cover the hole in. Once all six cell packs are planted, I mist the tops of them using a spray bottle, thoroughly wetting the planting medium without disturbing the just-planted seeds.

Using the same technique, I sow two 4-cell packs with jalapeno pepper seeds. These are a total experiment as I saved the seeds from supermarket peppers last year, processing them as I did the tomato seeds. The peppers they came from could quite well have been irradiated or gassed for transport and the seeds could very well be sterile, but who knows? I could end up with jalapeno pepper plants! I always figure it's worth a try.

Once I have all the seeds planted, I add enough warm water to each of the trays so the bottoms of the cell packs and peat pots are sitting in water, cover each tray with it's clear plastic cover, lower the grow lights until they are barely above the tops of the tray covers and put the lights on a timer to come on at 6am and turn off at 10pm.

The covers are just slightly ajar to allow a bit of moisture to escape and outside air to circulate in. I'll check daily for signs of sprouting and add water if needed.  Fingers crossed!

Meanwhile, despite the wintry weather, I was heartened to discover three more miniature irises bravely in bloom in another spot in the garden. I definitely did not plant these ones, so they are spreading on their own (or maybe with a little assistance from the squirrels!).  At any rate, I think they are lovely and they make me believe that spring has indeed arrived.

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