Posts Tagged ‘greenhouse’

Okay, I’ve been promising updates and pictures for a long time, and I’m going to do my best to get them out to you!  If it’s any consolation, I think about blogging all the time!  As I’m doing all these wonderful gardening activitites with my grandfather, I’m composing blog posts the whole while, trying to capture and remember each precious moment.  But when I get home, I crash, and put off blogging.  I’m just finding it so challenging to both live a rich and rewarding life, and at the same time, write about it.  Sometimes, the living takes all my energy.

How we start the seedlings.

I showed you the pots of the seedlings growing a couple of weeks ago, and now I’m going to show you how we get the whole thing started!  In this next series of pictures, we will be planting the summer crop of tomatos.  Before we begin, though, take a moment and think on the last really ripe, juicy, homegrown tomato you had.  Mmmmmmm.  That’s what this is all about. 

seedling pots

These are the seedling pots.  We use these each year to start our seedlings for the plants that aren’t sown directly into the garden.  I’ve just washed these in a bleach solution in order to kill any fungus or bacteria from last year and have set them out in the sun to dry and burn off the bleach.  When they are dry, I’ll put them back into the water to soak them, letting the terra cotta absorb water so that it won’t dry out the seedlings and wick moisture away from the seeds.  That would be counterproductive.  The reason they have holes in the bottom of the pot is not so that water will drain out, like in the bottom of a flower pot, but so that water will seep up and into the soil.  We don’t water the seedling pots from the top, because that would cause the top of the soil to form a hard crust as it dries and make it harder for the seedlings to break through.  Instead, we set the pots down in a tray of water and let them soak it up into the pot.  Also, we want the seedlings to establish strong roots going down, not reaching up for surface water.  Who knew that this was going to be so scientific? 

Our toolsThese are our seeding tools.  I happen to love this picture, because none of these tools were purchased from an uppity suburban garden shop.  No sir-ee, these are handmade tools specific to this job, what we like to call a Grandpa Special in our family.  The screen is used for sifting the soil into the pots, removing any leaves or large chunks of dirt in order to create a more uniform growing medium.  It’s really just a piece of quarter-inch hardware cloth folded up to fit exactly the width of the seedling pot.  The round thing is a device my grandpa made about twenty years ago to tap down, or firm in, the soil.  But don’t think it’s just a round piece of wood he found laying around somewhere!  This is a quarter-inch thick tapper-thingama-giggie so that he can be sure his seeds are set a quarter-inch below the surface.  And of course, my favorite tool is the Clorox bottle-cum-dirtscooper.  Brilliant!  Nothing goes wasted at Carter Acres!

fillingHere is Grandpa, sifting the soil into the seedling pots.  He puts that Rubbermaid lid down so that he can put the overflow soil back into the mix.  Even dirt doesn’t go wasted here!  We fill the pot all the way to the top, leaving the screen resting on top of the pot, and just sliding it back and forth.  That way, the screen both sifts and levels at the same time.  Didn’t I tell you this was scientific?  I’m not kidding, these are the thoughts about the process that my granddaddy shared with me. You can’t get this kind of education from reading a book!

PackingNext, we gently tap the soil down to a quarter-inch below the rim of the pot, using our special tapper-thingama-giggie tool.  Firming in the soil gently allows the capillary action of the soil to distribute the moisture evenly through the whole pot.  By using our thumbs along the edge of the rim, we can tell when we’ve tapped it deep enough, but no deeper!  This is important.  Remember, this is science.


 SeedingYou might not believe this, but eventually, we actually put seeds in the pot! We put the seeds in this special seeding tool, which looks suspiciously like a scrap of metal flashing.  Hmmmm.  The important thing at this stage is to get a uniform spread of seeds across the soil, without piling too many in any one area.  This way, the seedlings have room for healthy root development, and it’s easier to separate them later into their individual pots if they are not all grown together.  Grandpa likes to tap on the edge of the special tool with his pocket knife, but I just use my finger.  My pocket knife is a little bigger and more unweildy…  After we’ve seeded the pot, we tap the seeds down gently so that they make even contact with the soil.  This helps the moisture in the soil to break down the enzyme coat on the seed more evenly, and hopefully they will all develop at about the same rate.

vermiculiteNext, we use our sifter again to add a quarter-inch layer of vermiculite over the top of the seeds.  Vermiculite is much lighter and more porous than regular potting soil, which allows the seedlings to break the surface of the soil more easily with their cotyledons (or first leaves).  It’s important to use the botanical names for things when engaged in scientific endeavors.   Once we’ve filled the top of the pot with the vermiculite, then we can tap it ever-so-lightly with the tapper-thingama-giggie in order to smooth the surface and improve the capillary action of the soil.  Whew, are you tired yet?  And this is just one pot!  We did about 30 of these altogether!

finished seed potsHere are our finished pots!  We’ve laid a plant label in each pot to keep our varieties straight, and marked the label with the date of seeding.  Here’s something interesting and very scientific that you will want to know:  The reason we fill the pots up to the top of the rim, instead of leaving a space, is so that mold and bacteria can’t grow there due to poor air circulation and damp conditions.  So, if you get moss and mold growing on the top of your flowerpots, you can avoid it by filling your pots all the way to the top with dirt!

Greenhouse boundAs I mentioned in this earlier post, we keep the seedling pots at the house until they start greening up, so that we can watch them carefully and monitor their special watering needs.  Once they have broken the surface and the stems start showing green, we can move them to the greenhouse.  This seems to involve Grandpa loading them on top of a garden cart, not in it, and pulling it up a hill.  Yes, I tried several times to get the cart away from him and do it myself, but this is one proud and stubborn 85-year-old!  If my mom sees this picture, she’ll be very mad at me for letting Grandpa do this while I just took pictures, so shhhhhhhhhh, don’t tell her!

In the greenhouseHere are our seedlings in their new home, the greenhouse.  We’ve buried them in potting soil on the greenhouse tables in order to keep their temperature regulated.  For about two weeks we will keep them here and water the soil around the seedling pots in order to keep them moist, but not damp.  This also helps the developing root system extend itself out in search of more moisture.  Finally, because we occaisionally have incursions of squirrels in the greenhouse, we’ve covered the seedlings with hardware cloth screens to protect them from critters.   [The rickety looking contraption in the background is a sophisticated pvc-frame that my grandpa made a few years ago for growing hothouse tomatos in the winter.  It has since been repurposed for use as a warming tent with tarps when we had a cold snap earlier this week.]

So, that’s the seedling process.  It’s a lot of steps, but as you can see, each one has purpose and is carefully considered for the optimum in seeding success.  Science, after all, is what separates seeding from …uh…just putting seeds in dirt.  I guess.


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