I documented the kickoff of my seed starting efforts back in March. The results turned out to be less than satisfactory. I managed to kill about half the starts, usually because I forgot to water them after coming home from a late night at work.. By replanting I was able to salvage the tomatoes except for Opalka, a paste, which I replaced with purchased plants of Blue Beech. The peppers, given their long germination time, didn’t fare as well, so I planted out without Padron, Jimmy Nardello, sweet Red Cherry, and Tiburon Ancho.
I used 3/4” soil blocks for the tomatoes, intending to put them in 2” soil blocks when they got their first true leaves. The trouble with that size soil block is it has very small mass and quickly dries out if not watched and watered frequently, particularly in the bone dry inside air during a New England winter. They are also annoying with their tendency to fall over and roll around in the tray, scrambling any attempt I make to keep them sorted and identified. The 3/4” blocks are attractive because they are efficient and conserve space on the heat mat. I may try to devise some type of physical barrier to keep them upright and stationary in the trays I use.
The peppers were an experiment. I tried starting seeds in a medium, planning to transplant the germinated seedlings into 1 1/2” soil blocks after they germinated. I used a diatomaceous earth medium called UltraSorb, an automotive product used as an oil absorbent for garage floors. This was placed in a Styrofoam egg carton with holes in the bottom for drainage. The contents of each cell is easily marked on the size with a ball point pen.
This scheme did not work very well, but I am impressed with the UltraSorb. The major problem again is keeping the seeds/seedlings moist. The quantity of UltraSorb in the cells is small and coupled with its great aeration properties, the cells dry out quickly. It would be nice to use the carton lid for a tray to bottom water the cells, but the style of carton I have has the projection you see above to protect the eggs from crushing that interferes with that.
The other problem with the egg carton method and starting 10 types of peppers and eggplant is the wide range of germination times. With one grow light, a lot of space was taken by all the brassicas so there was no room for the heat mat. Once some peppers in the carton started germinating, they had to go under the grow light (without heat), so that extended the germination time for the rest. The big plus from trying this was the amazing, bushy root structures that the seedlings developed in the UltraSorb (which I did not photograph). That’s why I am going to try this again, hopefully with some better techniques to keep the medium from drying out.