Sunday, April 5, 2015

Next Up, Tomatoes




My attempt to salvage my shallot growing season has somewhat succeeded. With poor germination rate and the suicidal tendencies of my shallot seeds and seedlings, I tried pre-germinating some additional seeds in a damp paper towel in a plastic bag. They were kept warm by placing the baggie on top of one of the lighting units. After about a week, I had seeds sprouting. It was a bit challenging to get the sprouts into soil. The roots grew in a corkscrew pattern, as you can see below. Trying to get the sprout into a planting hole with the root downward was made harder by the shape and the fact the seed head was heavier. Simply dropping the seedling caused the seed to flip around and land in the hole with the root pointing skyward. I finally tried enlarging  the hole and laying the seedling in sideways.




The shallot seedlings did figure out which way is up, with a little help from gravity. These are planted in Lambert’s All-Purpose Potting Mix amended with a little kelp meal, and I am hoping it does not crust as bad as the McEnroe potting soil.



The peppers are still on the heating mat, although some have started to sprout (the Padron, Jimmy Nardello and Stocky Red Roaster peppers). It is not unusual for peppers to take 2-3 weeks to germinate, so they will need to stay on the heating mat or the process may take even longer.




To get the tomatoes going with the peppers hogging the heat mat, I decided to pre-germinate them using the same paper towel in a baggie trick I used for the shallot seed. The top of one of the grow lights will provide enough heat that I should get germination fairly quickly. Below you can see the last 7 seeds from my Sunkist packet, from which I am hoping to get 6 seedlings to populate a 6-cell flat. The damp paper towel was folded over, its edges tucked under, and placed in a zippered sandwich bag. Sunkist was a great tomato for me last year and every one of the fruits I picked was as perfect as the photo on the seed packet, so I want these seeds to germinate.




The paper towel method was a very fast way to sow seed and I did 7 varieties in about 30 minutes. The bags are sealed so I don’t have to worry about the towels drying out, and the top of the lamp provides a gentle heat that will not cook the seeds. I placed a dish towel over the bags to provide a little more insulation. Last year I killed a lot of my seedlings by failing to water them in time. One failed experiment was the use of UltraSorb in an egg carton to pre-germinate some seeds. Posters on the Tomatoville forum raved about the results they got with UltraSorb, but posters on Tomatoville must have nothing else to do besides watch their seeds germinate. Forget to water just once before going off to work and you find when you get home the experiment is cancelled along with the gardening season.




I have two other trays of seedling that are doing well. All of the Brassicas have germinated and are putting on true leaves. The tray below has 3 types of kale, 2 broccolis, rapini, and 2 types of kohlrabi. In the past I have tried to sow kohlrabi directly with poor results, so hopefully I get better results with transplants.




Most of the lettuces/greens have germinated. The ones that have not are the Caribe cilantro (cilantro takes forever to germinate when I sow it, but self-sows freely all over the place) and the Green Wave mustard and Marshall lettuce, which are old seed and will have to be re-sown. Notice how flat and low to the soil the seedlings are growing, which I believe is an indication they are getting plenty of light from my new grow lamps.




So the seed starting is going well. I just need somewhere to eventually plant. I have not had a chance to visit the garden yet, so I have no idea what condition it is in. Hopefully most of the snow has melted. However, given the topography of the land, there are acres of fields that have to melt and drain, and the surface water flows through the garden on its way to Great Brook. So things could be very soggy for a time. At least the lettuces are going into a container on the deck, so that will probably be the first planting I do.


  1. Cilantro is like that. I just let it self sow where ever it wants - occasionally transplanting seedlings. It is so much easier than starting them indoors. I'm trying the same for fennel this year too. We will see how it goes.

  2. I have never tried the "germinate on a paper towel" method, so I don't know this, but would the seeds not right themselves automatically whichever way you put them in the soil after germination? Certainly this happens with big seeds like beans - you can put them in whichever way up you like and the sort themselves out.

  3. Those shallot seedlings look great - when I was planting my sprouted shallot & onion seeds, I didn't really worry about which way they were facing; I just planted them which ever way they happened to fall into the hole. Like you said, I think they just finger out which way is up as I had very few that didn't come up (which I think is more likely because of my issues with watering).

    I am a BIG fan of pre-germinating. I did that with all of my pepper seeds and plan to do the same with my tomatoes in the next week or so.

  4. I hope winter loosens its grip on your part of the world soon and the garden dries out. There's lots of good stuff you've got started. I've got a couple of pepper varieties on paper towels, some really old seeds that I don't want to have taking up precious heat mat space unless they are viable, otherwise all the peppers and tomatoes are in pots vying with the cats for a warm spot.

  5. I had the same problem with my shallots dying off. A whole package of shallot seeds was planted, and only 30 seedlings are left of the couple hundred that sprouted. I did leave them out on a night it got a lot colder than predicted, maybe shallots are more tender than onions and leeks. Your seedlings are looking great though.


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